Knott, John Freeman (1853–1921), surgeon and author, was born 5 June 1853 at Kingsland, near Frenchpark, Co. Roscommon, the only son of William Knott (1798–1887), farmer and bailiff; his mother may have been a daughter of a John Freeman. He was educated at Kingsland national school while also receiving lessons in Latin and Greek from Dean Burke of Boyle. By 1874, at the age of 21, he was in charge of the forty-five-acre family farm at Kingsland and Tonroe, and acting as bailiff to the local landlord. That same year he decided to pursue a medical career and enrolled at the RCSI, Dublin, where he was taught by Charles Cameron (qv) and William Stokes (qv). He excelled at anatomy, headed his class, and was awarded the Mapother prize (1875) and a gold medal by the Pathological Society for a monograph later published as An essay on the pathology of the oesophagus (1878). In May 1877 he took the conjoint diploma of the College of Physicians and Surgeons, Ireland. After graduation he visited leading European medical centres before returning to Dublin to take up a resident post at the Richmond hospital while establishing a practice at 34 York St. (1878) and gaining a reputation as a successful ‘medical crammer’. He was appointed fellow of the RCSI (1880) and a member of the RCPI (1881) and subsequently enrolled in the medical school of Dublin University, where he graduated BA (1886), MB (1887), and MD (1889).
Despite his qualifications, he was unable to secure a position on the staff of a teaching hospital and unsuccessfully applied for chairs of anatomy in Dublin, Belfast, and Sydney. He began contributing articles and reviews to journals such as the Dublin Journal of Medical Science and the Medical Press & Circular. His writings came to the attention of Thomas Heazle Parke (qv), a former fellow student, who asked him to ghost-write his memoir of H. M. Stanley's Emin Pasha relief expedition, My personal experiences in equatorial Africa (1891), and his subsequent Guide to health in Africa (1893). Meanwhile he began contributing to North American journals such as the New York Medical Journal, American Medicine, St Louis Medical Review, St Paul Medical Journal, Medical Record, and Canadian Practitioner & Review, and the Westminster Review, while also contributing unsigned articles to the Freeman's Journal. It is estimated that his published reviews, editorials, and essays exceeded 2,000 in number. His articles were noted for their unusual and arcane subject-matter, such as spontaneous combustion, female circumcision, kissing, phrenology, Walter Ralegh's (qv) cordial, and the pathologies of Napoleon and Lord Byron. He also wrote biographical articles on eminent physicians and surgeons such as Bernard Connor (qv) and Michael Servetus.
He was elected MRIA in February 1883 and contributed papers on anatomical abnormalities to its Proceedings in the same year. His medical publications include a third edition of E. D. Mapother's Manual of physiology, and of the principles of disease (1882) and a translation of Eugène Louis Doyen's Operative surgery (1913). In 1910 he moved from York St. to 2 Sallymount Terrace, Ranelagh, where he died 2 January 1921 from influenza. At the time of his death he was said to have owned a large and valuable collection of unique books. His papers are held by the RCSI.
He married first (1873) Elizabeth (‘Bessie’) Shera (1851–79) of Boyle. Soon after he set up practising medicine in Dublin and was about to let the farm, she died of dysentry, 26 March 1879. She had spent five years running the farm with hired labour, while he was away completing his studies. He married secondly (1881) Phillipa, daughter of Lt.-col. James Balcombe, and had two children from his second marriage: John, a physician, and Eleanor (qv), a noted Celtic scholar and the first woman to become MRIA (1949).