Quain, Sir Richard (1816–98), physician and medical writer, was born 30 October 1816 at 75 Lower Main St., Mallow, Co. Cork, eldest son of John Quain of Carrigoon and his wife Mary, daughter of Michael Burke of Mallow. His grandfather was Daniel Quain of Carrigoon; his cousins were Jones Quain (qv) and Richard Quain (qv), both of whom had distinguished medical careers. Educated at Cloyne diocesan school under the Rev. Julius Armstrong, he was then apprenticed to Dr Fraser, a surgeon in Limerick. In January 1837 he entered the medical school of University College, London, where both of his cousins were then teaching. Awarded a scholarship, he graduated MB (1840) and won a gold medal in physiology. He worked in University College Hospital as a house surgeon and then as house physician, graduating MD (1842) with a certificate of special proficiency and another prize medal. Elected a fellow of University College Hospital (1843), he became a member of the Royal College of Physicians of London (RCP) in 1846.
In 1848 he became assistant physician at the Chest Hospital, Brompton, and was elected a fellow of the RCP in 1851. He became full physician at Brompton (1855), and was appointed by the crown as a member of the senate of the university of London in May 1860. In November 1863 he was crown nominee on the general medical council, and in 1865 served on a royal commission investigating cattle plague. He was a prominent member of the pharmacopoeia committee, serving as treasurer and later secretary, and oversaw the publication of the second edition of the British Pharmacopoeia in 1867. He was also involved in later publications of the committee. Maintaining a high profile in the RCP, he served as a member of council in 1867, 1868, 1877, and 1882. He delivered the Lumleian lectures in 1872 and the Harveian lecture in 1885, and was elected vice-president of the RCP in 1889.
Like his two cousins he published medical writings, contributing a number of articles to Transactions of the Medico-Chirurgical Society. He edited A dictionary of medicine: including general pathology, general therapeutics, hygiene and the diseases peculiar to women and children (1882). By 1887 this had run to twelve editions and remained a key reference work for decades. In 1885 he published The healing art in its historic and prophetic aspects, which had been the subject of his Harveian lecture of the same year. He made the study of heart disease his speciality and was one of the first to use the microscope in his researches. In an 1850 paper, ‘Fatty degeneration of the heart’, he recognised that degenerative softening of the myocardium was often preceded by an obstruction of the coronary artery and the symptoms of angina. Quain's work was referred to by William Stokes (qv) in his Diseases of the heart and aorta (1854). He maintained a thriving and fashionable private practice at 67 Harley St. Among his patients were Thomas Carlyle and his wife, Jane, Sir Edwin Landseer, and Benjamin Disraeli.
Elected a fellow of the Royal Society in 1871, during the course of his medical career he was awarded numerous honours including an honorary MD from the RUI (1887), an honorary fellowship of the RCPI (1887), an LLD from Edinburgh University (1889), and an honorary MD from TCD (1890). In 1890 he was appointed physician extraordinary to Queen Victoria, and was created a baronet in 1891. Elected president of the general medical council in 1891, he was reelected on the expiration of his five-year term of office in 1896. He was an active member of the Pathological Society and the Cork Historical and Archaeological Society. He died 13 May 1898 and was buried in Hampstead cemetery.
He married (1854) Isabella Agnes, daughter of Capt. George Wray of the Bengal army, of Cleasby, Yorkshire: they had four daughters. A portrait by Sir John Millais, is in the Royal College of Physicians, London.