Quekett, John Thomas (DNB00)

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QUEKETT, JOHN THOMAS (1815–1861), histologist, born at Langport, Somerset, on 11 Aug. 1815, was the youngest son of William Quekett and Mary, daughter of John Bartlett. The father was at Cockermouth grammar school with William and Christopher Wordsworth, and from 1790 till his death in 1842 was master of Langport grammar school. He educated his sons at home, and each of them was encouraged to collect specimens in some branch of natural history. When only sixteen John gave a course of lectures on microscopic subjects, illustrated by original diagrams and by a microscope which he had himself made out of a roasting-jack, a parasol, and a few pieces of brass purchased at a neighbouring marine-store shop. On leaving school he was apprenticed, first to a surgeon in Langport, and afterwards to his brother Edwin, entering King's College, London, and the London Hospital medical school. In 1840 he qualified at Apothecaries' Hall, and at the Royal College of Surgeons won the three-years studentship in human and comparative anatomy, then first instituted. He formed a most extensive and valuable collection of microscopic preparations, injected by himself, illustrating the tissues of plants and animals in health and in disease, and showing the results and uses of microscopic investigation. In November 1843 he was appointed by the College of Surgeons assistant conservator of the Hunterian Museum, under Professor (afterwards Sir) Richard Owen [q. v.], and in 1844 he was appointed demonstrator of minute anatomy. In 1846 his collection of two thousand five hundred preparations was purchased by the college, and he was directed to prepare a descriptive illustrated catalogue of the whole histological collection belonging to the college, of which they constituted the chief part. In 1852 the title of his demonstratorship was changed to that of professor of histology; and on Owen's obtaining permission to reside at Richmond, Quekett was appointed resident conservator, finally succeeding Owen as conservator in 1856. His health, however, soon failed, and he died at Pangbourne, Berkshire, whither he had gone for the benefit of his health, on 20 Aug. 1861.

In 1841 Quekett succeeded Dr. Arthur Farre as secretary of the Microscopical Society, a post which he retained until 1860, when he was elected president, but was unable to attend any meetings during his year of office. He was elected a fellow of the Linnean Society in 1857, and of the Royal Society in 1860.

In 1846 Quekett married Isabella Mary Anne (d. 1872), daughter of Robert Scott, Bengal Civil Service, by whom he had four children. There is a lithographic portrait of Quekett in Maguire's Ipswich series of 1849, and a coloured one by W. Lens Aldous.

Quekett's work as an histologist was remarkable for its originality and for its influence upon the anatomical studies of the medical profession in this country. His ‘Practical Treatise on the Use of the Microscope’ (1848, 8vo) did much also to promote the study among medical men and amateurs, and among those who came to him for instruction was the prince consort. His work in this direction is commemorated by the Quekett Microscopical Club, which was established in 1865, under the presidency of Dr. Edwin Lankester [q. v.]

Quekett's chief publications were: 1. ‘Practical Treatise on the Use of the Microscope,’ 1848, 8vo; 2nd edit. 1852; 3rd edit. 1855, which was also translated into German. 2. ‘Descriptive and Illustrated Catalogue of the Histological Series … in the Museum of the Royal College of Surgeons,’ vol. i. ‘Elementary Tissues of Vegetables and Animals,’ 1850, 4to; vol. ii. ‘Structure of the Skeleton of Vertebrate Animals,’ 1855. 3. ‘Lectures on Histology,’ vol. i. 1852; vol. ii. 1854, 8vo. 4. ‘Catalogue of the Fossil Organic Remains of Plants in the Museum of the Royal College of Surgeons’ (in conjunction with John Morris (1810–1886) [q. v.]), 1859, 4to. 5. ‘Catalogue of Plants and Invertebrates …’ 1860, 4to.

Twenty-two papers by him are also enumerated in the Royal Society's ‘Catalogue of Scientific Papers’ (v. 53–4), mostly contributed to the Microscopical Society's ‘Transactions,’ and dealing with animal histology. One of the most important of these is that on the ‘Intimate Structure of Bones in the four great Classes, Mammals, Birds, Reptiles, and Fishes, with Remarks on the Value of the Knowledge in determining minute Organic Remains,’ Microscopical Society's ‘Transactions,’ vol. ii. 1846, pp. 46–58.

The third brother, Edwin John Quekett (1808–1847), microscopist, born at Langport in 1808, received his medical training at University College Hospital, and practised as a surgeon in Wellclose Square, Whitechapel. In 1835 he became lecturer on botany at the London Hospital; he was elected a fellow of the Linnean Society in 1836. It was at his house in 1839 that the meetings were held in which the Royal Microscopical Society originated. He died on 28 June 1847 of diphtheria, and was buried at Sea Salter, Kent, near the grave of a Miss Hyder, to whom he had been engaged, but who had died of consumption. His name was commemorated by Lindley in the Brazilian genus of orchids, Quekettia, which contains numerous microscopic crystals. Fifteen papers stand to Edwin Quekett's name in the Royal Society's ‘Catalogue of Scientific Papers’ (v. 53), mostly dealing with vegetable histology, and contributed to the ‘Transactions’ of the Linnean and Microscopical Societies, the ‘Phytologist,’ the ‘Annals and Magazine of Natural History’ and the ‘London Physiological Journal’ between 1838 and the date of his death. In 1843–4 he was one of the editors of the last-named journal (Proceedings of Linnean Society, i. 378).

William Quekett (1802–1888), rector of Warrington, Lancashire, the eldest brother, born at Langport, on 3 Oct. 1802, entered St. John's College, Cambridge, in 1822, and, on his graduation, in 1825 was ordained as curate of South Cadbury, Somerset. In 1830 he became curate at St. George's-in-the-East, where he remained until 1841. To his efforts was due the establishment of the district church of Christ Church, Watney Street, of which he acted as incumbent from 1841 to 1854. His philanthropic energy here attracted the attention of Charles Dickens, who based upon it his articles on ‘What a London Curate can do if he tries’ (Household Words, 16 Nov. 1850) and ‘Emigration’ (ib. 24 Jan. 1852). In 1849 Quekett, with the co-operation of Sidney Herbert, founded the Female Emigration Society, in the work of which he took an active part. In 1854 he was presented by the crown to the rectory of Warrington, where he restored the parish church, and died on 30 March 1888, soon after the publication of a gossiping autobiography, ‘My Sayings and Doings.’ [Rev. William Quekett's My Sayings and Doings, 1888, 8vo; Proceedings of the Linnean Society, 1861–2, p. xciii; and information from J. T. Quekett's diaries, and papers furnished by his son, Arthur E. Quekett, esq. M.A.]

G. S. B.