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John Abernethy
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John Abernethy

John Abernethy was the name of a famous grandfather and grandson.

Reverend John Abernethy (October 19,1680 - December, 1740) was an Irish Presbyterian church leader. He was born at Coleraine, County Londonderry, where his father was Nonconformist minister. In his thirteenth year he entered the University of Glasgow, and on concluding his course there went on to Edinburgh, where his he soon moved in the most cultured circles. Returning home, he was licensed to preach from his Presbytery before he was twenty-one. In 1701 he was called to accept charge of an important congregation in Antrim; after an interval of two years, mostly spent in further study in Dublin, he was ordained there on August 8 1703. He became a noted debater in the synods and assemblies of his church and a leading evangelist. In 1712 he was devastated by the loss of his wife (Susannah Jordan). In 1717 he was invited to the congregation of Usher's Quay, Dublin, and also to what was called the Old Congregation of Belfast. The synod assigned him to Dublin. After careful consideration he refused, and remained at Antrim. This refusal aroused disapproval; and a controversy followed, Abernethy standing firm for religious freedom and repudiating the ecclesiastical courts. The controversy and quarrel bears the name of the two camps in the conflict, the Subscribers and the Non-subscribers. Abernethy and his associates sowed the seeds of the struggle (1821--1840) in which, under the leadership of Dr Henry Cooke, the Arian and Socinian elements of the Irish Presbyterian Church were thrown out. Much of what he contended for, and which the Subscribers opposed bitterly, was silently granted in the lapse of time. In 1726 the Non-subscribers were cut off, with due ban and solemnity, from the Irish Presbyterian Church. In 1730, although a Non-subscriber, he moved to Wood Street, Dublin. In 1731 came the greatest controversy in which Abernethy was involved. It was nominally about the Test Act, but actually on the entire question of tests and disabilities. His stand was against all laws that, upon account of mere differences of religious opinions and forms of worship, excluded men of integrity and ability from serving their country. He was nearly a century in advance of his age. He had to reason with those who denied that a Roman Catholic or Dissenter could be a man of integrity and ability.

See Dr Duchal's Life, prefixed to Sermons (1762): Diary in Ms., 6 vols. 4to; Reid's Presbyterian Church in Ireland, iii. 234.


John Abernethy (April 3, 1764 - April 20, 1831), was an English surgeon, the grandson of Reverend John Abernethy , was born in London, where his father was a merchant. Educated at Wolverhampton grammar school, he was apprenticed in 1779 to Sir Charles Blicke (1745-1815), surgeon to St Bartholomew's Hospital, London. He attended the anatomical lectures of Sir William Blizard (1743-1835) at the London Hospital, and was employed to assist as demonstrator; he also attended Percival Potts surgical lectures at St Bartholomew's Hospital, as well as the lectures of John Hunter. On Pott's resignation of the office of surgeon of St Bartholomew's, Sir Charles Blicke, who was assistant-surgeon, succeeded him, and Abernethy was elected assistant-surgeon in 1787. In this capacity he began to give lectures at his house in Bartholomew Close, which were so well attended that the governors of the hospital built a theatre (1790-1791), and Abernethy thus became the founder of the medical school of St Bartholomew's. He held the office of assistant-surgeon for twenty-eight years, till, in 1815, he was elected principal surgeon. He had before that time been appointed lecturer in anatomy to the Royal College of Surgeons (1814). Abernethy was not a great operator, though his name is associated with the treatment of aneurism by ligature of the external iliac artery. His Surgical Observations on the Constitutional Origin and Treatment of Local Diseases (1809)--known as "My Book", from the great frequency with which he referred his patients to it, and to page 72 of it in particular, under that name--was one of the earliest popular works on medical science, He taught that local diseases were frequently the results of disordered states of the digestive organs, and were to be treated by purging and attention to diet. As a lecturer he was exceedingly attractive, and his success in teaching was largely attributable to the persuasiveness with which he enunciated his views. It has been said, however, that the influence he exerted on those who attended his lectures was not beneficial in this respect, that his opinions were delivered so dogmatically, and all who differed from him were disparaged and denounced so contemptuously, as to repress instead of stimulating inquiry. The celebrity he attained in his practice was due not only to his great professional skill, but also in part to the his eccentricity. He was very blunt with his patients, treating them often brusquely and sometimes even rudely. He resigned his position at St Bartholomew's Hospital in 1827, and died at his residence at Enfield.

A collected edition of his works was published in 1830. A biography, Memoirs of John Abernethy, by George Macilwain, appeared in 1853.


From an old 1911 Encyclopedia