Lives of the fellows

John Emile Cosnett

b.31 October 1925 d.28 November 2012
BSc Wits(1944) MB ChB(1948) MRCP(1955) MD(1966) FRCP(1976)

John Emile Cosnett was a neurologist in Durban, South Africa. He was born in Bethlehem, Orange Free State, South Africa, the son of Leslie Cosnett, a farmer, and Charlotte Cosnett, a nurse and the daughter of a medical missionary. He was educated at Bethlehem Primary School and then Kingswood College, Grahamstown, Cape Province. He then studied medicine at the University of the Witwatersrand, qualifying in 1948.

He was an intern at Baragwanath Hospital, Johannesburg, during 1949 and a resident medical officer at Springkell Tuberculosis Sanatorium from 1950 to 1951. He was then a junior registrar at Groote Schuur Hospital, Cape Town, and a medical registrar at Addington Hospital, Durban.

He then went to the UK, as a senior house officer at New End Hospital, Hampstead, London, and passed his membership examination of the RCP.

From 1955 to 1958 he was a senior registrar at the department of medicine, King Edward VIII Hospital, Durban. He subsequently moved to Edendale Hospital in Pietermaritzburg, Natal, as principal physician and head of the medical department. This he did very successfully for some 20 years, providing a high level of service and valuable guidance and training for aspiring physicians. In 1966 he completed his MD dissertation on neurological disorders in the Bantu, based on his experiences at Edendale.

John then decided to concentrate on his major interest, clinical neurology, and applied for a post in the department of medicine at King Edward VIII Hospital, as acting head of the neurology unit, which was not yet an independent department. He was principal physician there and, later, an associate professor of neurology. He worked in the department until his retirement in 1993.

He published numerous articles, including papers on neurological topics, medical history and on the maladies of various characters in the writings of Charles Dickens.

John was a most astute physician with a quiet, patient approach and exceptional ability to concentrate on the problem at hand and reach a conclusion in the most efficient manner. Many young doctors were inspired by his acumen, knowledge and wisdom, and the way in which he applied them in the clinical situation. He was known too for his touches of dry humour, which he introduced not infrequently, but never inappropriately, into his conversation.

Outside medicine, he enjoyed reading, gardening, photography and archaeology, and took part in several digs. Archaeology was an interest stimulated by the teaching of Raymond Dart, Robert Broom and Lawrence Wells while on his BSc course at Witwatersrand.

Following his retirement, John and his wife Wendy née Sproule, whom he had married in 1955, gave up their home in Durban and moved to Northern Ireland, to live near their son Gregory, a GP, and his family. Their daughter Jane had died in 1977.

The memory and influence of John Cosnett as a physician, role model and friend will long remain.

Dennis J Pudifin

[Brit.med.J., 2013 346 1080; SAMJ Vol.103 No 3(2013)]

(Volume XII, page web)

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