Rainey, George (DNB00)

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RAINEY, GEORGE (1801–1884), anatomist, was born in 1801 at Spilsby, Lincolnshire, and was sent to school at Louth. He was apprenticed to a doctor first at Horncastle and afterwards at Spilsby, where he supplemented his imperfect school training by a diligent course of self-education in Latin, Greek, and mathematics, as well as in professional studies. After serving as assistant to a Mr. Barker, a surgeon at Spilsby, and adding to his income by private teaching, he entered with very inadequate means, as a student of St. Thomas's Hospital in 1824, still supporting himself chiefly by tuition. He obtained the membership of the Royal College of Surgeons in 1827.

For the next ten years Rainey was an active and very successful private teacher of anatomy, at a time when the imperfection of the medical schools made that profession a more important one than it is now. In 1837 his health broke down, and, being threatened with consumption, he was sent to the south of Europe, where he resided for five years, chiefly in Italy. On returning to London he decided not to enter on medical practice, and was appointed curator of the museum and subsequently, in 1846, demonstrator of anatomy and of the microscope at St. Thomas's Hospital, an appointment which he held till his death on 16 Nov. 1884. For some years before his death he was in receipt of a government pension for his services to science.

Rainey was one of the old school of pure anatomists who had no other profession, and for many years was recognised as one of the ablest anatomical teachers in London. While closely occupied in teaching, scientific research was almost his sole recreation, and he made several important investigations in various branches of science. One of his favourite subjects of inquiry was the production of organic or quasi-organic forms by physical processes, and the deposition of mineral substances in organised bodies. On this he published a book ‘On the Mode of Formation of Shells, of Bone, and other Structures by Molecular Coalescence, demonstrable by certain artificially formed products,’ London, 1858, 8vo, as well as other memoirs. These researches have been important, not only as to their immediate object, but as tending to explain the formation of urinary calculi, and leading to subsequent researches on this subject, especially those of Vandyke Carter and Ord.

Another of Rainey's early researches was ‘An Experimental Enquiry into the Cause of the Ascent and Descent of the Sap, with observations on Endosmose and Exosmose,’ London, 1847, 8vo. To elucidate these and similar processes he made experiments extending over many years on ‘the existence of continued currents in fluids, and their action in certain natural physical processes,’ described in four papers in the ‘St. Thomas's Hospital Reports’ (vols. i. ii. iii. v.).

He also published several papers on points of minute anatomy, normal and pathological, in the ‘Philosophical Transactions’ (vol. cxl. 1850, vol. cxlvii. 1857), ‘Proceedings of the Royal Society’ (vol. v. 1846), the ‘Medico-Chirurgical Transactions’ (vols. xxviii. xxix. xxxi. xxxii.), ‘Transactions of the Pathological Society’ (vols. iii. iv. v. vi.), and elsewhere.

Rainey was an indefatigable observer with the microscope, and taught its use to students as early as 1846, when the instrument was little employed in medicine. He was celebrated for his skill in the use of minute injections, and published some papers in the ‘Quarterly Journal of Microscopical Science.’ His name is commemorated in ‘Rainey's Capsules,’ a term still often quoted, especially in German pathological works, referring to minute parasites (now known as psorosperms) which he detected in the muscles. All his work was characterised by the most scrupulous accuracy and conscientiousness.

A man of simple habits, absorbed in scientific pursuits, Rainey lived a somewhat solitary life, but among his friends were Dr. Hodgkin the physician, Mr. Grainger the physiologist, and Sir Richard Owen, who valued Rainey's work very highly. His own immediate pupils, among them Dr. Bristowe and Dr. William Ord, have warmly acknowledged the value of his stimulus and guidance in scientific research, and of his powerful moral influence, which was dominant over many generations of students.

His portrait, in crayons, by his son, Mr. William Rainey, member of the Institute of Water-Colour Painters, is at St. Thomas's Hospital.

[Memoir by W. W. Wagstaffe in St. Thomas's Hospital Reports, vol. xxii. 1894 (with portrait); personal recollections.]

J. F. P.