Conference Paper

The anatomical and anthropological wayfaring of Matthew Robertson Drennan (1885-1965)

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Abstract

Matthew Robertson (Maxie) Drennan, anatomist and physical anthropologist, studied under Daniel John Cunningham at the University of Edinburghand obtained a Bachelor of Medicine and Bachelor of Surgery with distinction in 1910. Drennan was appointed as resident surgeon in gynaecology at the Edinburgh Royal Infirmary in 1911 and became senior demonstrator in anatomy at the university. He specialised in advanced anatomy and embryology,andemigrated to South Africa in 1913 to become a lecturer in anatomy at the South African College (SAC), known today as University of Cape Town. He briefly worked under Robert Black Thomson, a former student of Sir William Turner, before starting a general practice inthe small town of Aliwal North in 1914. His brief academic intermission was interrupted by the outbreak of World War I (1914-1918). Drennan joined the South African Medical Corps in 1915 and was deployed to German South West Africa (now Namibia). Drennan’s military campaign was short lived after contracting enteric fever and he was forced to return to Cape Town. He returned to the SAC in 1916, after a prolonged period of recovery, in order to replace Thomson who was offered a part-time military service at the time. Drennan became chair of Anatomy in 1919 and held this appointment until his retirement in 1955. He is best known for his expertise in human osteology and physical anthropology, specifically paleoanthropology. Drennan was a talented artist and patient instructor of anatomy to many. This paper aims to provide a biographical account on one of two great Scottish figures in the history of medicine in South Africa.

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