Anatomist, Surgeon….Vet?

What do these three areas of expertise have in common? Well, a gentleman called Sir Christopher John Nixon for starters.

Christopher Nixon was born in Dublin on 29 June 1849. He was educated at Terenure College, where he was amongst the first fifty pupils enrolled after the school opened in 1860. He subsequently studied at the Catholic University School of Medicine (CUSM), Cecilia Street. He became a licentiate of the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland (RCSI) in 1868 and of the Royal College of Physicians of Ireland (RCPI) in 1869 at the tender age of twenty.

After spending two years in Paris, Nixon returned to Dublin and took up the position of demonstrator in anatomy in CUSM Cecilia Street c.1873. He then gained his BA and MB in 1878 and hon. LLD in 1881 from Trinity College Dublin. Continuing his career in CUSM Cecilia Street, Nixon held the positions of professor of anatomy and physiology (1881-1886), professor of medicine (1887-1914) and dean of the faculty (1890-1895). His drive, influence and improved teaching methods meant that CUSM Cecilia Street was seen as the leading medical school in Ireland by 1900.

But where do the animals come in? I hear you ask. There had been efforts made to establish a veterinary school in Ireland but up until 1894 they had been unsuccessful. In Leinster House on 6th March 1894 Nixon called together a group of like minded individuals and they outlined what needed to be done to successfully found a veterinary college. It is interesting to note that amongst this group there are a number of high profile surgeons; J.W. Moore, Rev. Samuel Haughton, Prof. D.J. Cunningham, W. Thornley Stoker (Bram’s brother by the way), Edward Hamilton and Sir Charles Cameron.

Under Nixon’s leadership a royal charter was issued and the Royal Veterinary College of Ireland (RCVI) was established in 1895. He was appointed the RCVI’s first president and held that position until his death in 1914. The new college was based in Ballsbridge and opened its doors in 1900. Veterinary surgeons educated at the college were examined and registered by the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons (RCVS) in London. The College was taken over by the Department of Agriculture and Technical Instruction (DATII) in 1914 which owned, controlled and staffed it until the Second World War.

During his time as President of the RCVI, Nixon held a variety of medical positions including; Senior Visiting Physician to the Mater Misericordiae Hospital (1881-1914), member of the General Medical Council (1897-1914), President of the RCPI (1900-1902) and was the Consulting Visiting Physician to the Central Lunatic Asylum in Dundrum (1882-1914). He also received many honours being made a knight bachelor (1895), baronet (1906) and Privy Council in Ireland (1914).

Sir Christopher John Nixon died at the age of 65 in his home in Roebuck Grove, Milltown, Co. Dublin. Nixon’s association with veterinary science and UCD is not forgotten. In December 2000, the same trowel used by Nixon to lay the foundation stone for the first veterinary college in Ireland in 1900 was used to lay the foundation stone of the current state of the art UCD School of Veterinary Medicine. This historic and momentous event was witnessed by Nixon’s great grandson and great granddaughter. Nixon would be extremely proud of the amazing work that is carried out helping all walks of animals in that facility today, as an animal lover and owner I know I am!

Sweeney looking majestic!

My Sweeney looking majestic!

  • This post was researched and written by Meadhbh Murphy, Archivist, UCD Archives.

2 thoughts on “Anatomist, Surgeon….Vet?

  1. Michael French says:

    I had the good fortune to live in Sir Nixon’s residence, Roebuck Grove, in 1956. My father was assigned to the American embassy and we rented the house from a Captain Stewart for a year while he and his family spent time in Spain. It was a great privilege to live in the house and an experience never forgotten.

    • Maria Boylan says:

      Hi Michael.
      My family and I were the last residents of Roebuck Grove.
      We lived there from 1965-1979.
      It was a beautiful house and so magical to grow up in!

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