Gordon, Alexander (1818–87), professor of surgery, was born in Saintfield, Co. Down, in 1818, the son of Alexander Gordon, surgeon and physician at Saintfield. Initially educated in Belfast, he received his medical training at the University of Edinburgh, where he graduated MD and became a licentiate of the Royal College of Surgeons in Edinburgh (1841).
Gordon returned to Ireland to begin private practice in Belfast and was appointed demonstrator of anatomy at the RBAI before he was promoted to the chair of anatomy in 1847. His rapid advancement as a teacher at Belfast's most prestigious school perhaps made it inevitable that Gordon was appointed the first professor of surgery, in 1849, at the newly opened Queen's College, Belfast. His impact on the medical school was enormous and, as well as being an inspirational and popular teacher among the students, his innovative research made him an expert on anatomy and the principal authority on the treatment of fractures. He designed several types of splints, notably ‘Gordon's splint’ for the treatment of Colles' fracture which became universally adopted. In the course of his research he built up an invaluable collection of fractures for the Belfast medical school and published several texts highlighting his research: On the treatment of fractures of the lower extremity of the radius (1861) and Treatise on the fractures of the lower end of the radius (1875) were the key works.
As well as his work at Queen's, Gordon had a large private consulting practice, with patients throughout the north, and acted as attending surgeon (1845–8; 1858–70) and consulting surgeon (1873–6) at Belfast General Hospital. He was also president of the Belfast Pathological Society and gave several lectures to the Belfast Natural History and Philosophical Society. In 1878 his students, colleagues and friends presented him with a life-size oil portrait (which was subsequently hung in the examination hall of Queen's College) and an illuminated address in recognition of his services to both the college and to medicine. He was fond of country life, especially in his native Co. Down, and he built a house as a retreat from Belfast near the shores of Strangford Lough at Comber.
Single-minded, and often short-tempered, Gordon was devoted to the study of anatomy and fractures, and his work in these fields did much to secure the high reputation of the nascent medical school at Queen's College, Belfast. He retired in 1886 and died 29 July 1887 in the house in Saintfield where he had been born, leaving a widow, son and daughter.