IFFLAND, ANTHONY VON (baptized Antoine), physician, surgeon, and epidemiologist; b. 3 March 1798 at Quebec, son of John (Johann) Iffland and Marie-Madeleine Bibeau, dit Portugal; d. 7 Dec. 1876 at Quebec.
Anthony Iffland’s father was born in Germany in Hutten (county of Hanau, later integrated with Hesse-Cassel); he served with troops of Hesse-Hanau in America during the Revolutionary War, and settled in Quebec as a farmer and tavern-keeper. Anthony, though baptized in the Roman Catholic Church, opted for the Protestant religion of his father, and identified with the English-language community.
Soon after he started medical practice, Anthony added von (the German particle of nobility) to his name. Though he later also adopted the style of doctor of medicine, like most practitioners of his time he was licensed without a medical degree. He had apprenticed in surgery with the senior medical examiner for the district of Quebec, Dr James Fisher*, former chief surgeon at the garrison. Iffland completed his medical studies in England at the London Hospital, passed the examinations of the Royal College of Surgeons of England in January 1818, and obtained his licence as physician and surgeon in Quebec in July. At that time, only five of 31 medical practitioners in the district of Quebec and 51 in the district of Montreal possessed the md degree.
Iffland was secretary and lecturer in anatomy as well as general practitioner at the Quebec Dispensary, privately established toward the end of 1818 as a general medical centre and clinic for indigents and immigrants. His medical colleagues were Pierre-Jean de Sales Laterrière*, Charles-Norbert Perrault*, and Augustin Mercier*. When the dispensary failed in 1820 for lack of money, Iffland was unable to combine, as he had hoped, private practice with a clinic for the indigent sick. In 1821 he travelled on an arduous government assignment to vaccinate people for smallpox in the isolated, and therefore vulnerable, district of Gaspé.
In Quebec City Iffland had been harassed for his procurement of cadavers at a time before satisfactory legal provision of bodies for medical research, and he felt it impossible to continue his work in anatomy there. Also, with the closing of the dispensary he must have had serious financial problems. Consequently he spent many years in the garrison town of William Henry (Sorel), where there was only one other doctor, and the nearby parish of Saint-Michel-de-Yamaska. In 1836 he married Elizabeth Allen, daughter of a prominent merchant and landowner in William Henry, and sister of the town schoolmaster; they were to have three children. To supplement his income he served as commissioner of census for Richelieu County in 1831 and 1835, as well as preventive officer of customs from 1824 until 1832. Although from 1830 he continuously held a commission as justice of the peace, he appears not to have exercised the function.
Like many English Canadians, Iffland was an early supporter of the idea of the union of Upper and Lower Canada. But despite an effort, unsuccessful, to win election to the legislature for Gaspé in 1834, Iffland was not a political person. The campaign in Gaspé was widely cited in the press as an instance of corrupt electoral practice. Iffland and his electors arrived at the poll at the appointed day and hour only to discover, too late to intervene, that the venue had been changed, and they could not vote.
With recurrent epidemics of Asiatic cholera in Canada beginning in 1832, and later of typhus, Iffland became concerned with the care of the victims and generally with questions of public health when he moved back to Quebec. An important centre for sick travellers, who often brought epidemic diseases, was the Marine Hospital (later the Marine and Emigrant Hospital), where in the winter of 1836–37 Iffland became resident physician and resumed teaching. The hospital served as a focus for medical teaching and training until the incorporation in 1845 of the School of Medicine of Quebec [see Joseph Painchaud]. This school was functioning in 1848 and was absorbed by the faculty of medicine of the Université Laval in 1852.
After a further stage as a country doctor at Saint-Michel-de-Yamaska, between 1838 and 1847, Iffland returned to Quebec to work closely with Dr James Douglas* for most of his subsequent career. First at the private hospital in Beauport set up by Douglas to care for typhus patients, he was then on the staff of the Lunatic Asylum that Douglas cofounded with Charles-Jacques Frémont* and Joseph Morrin* on government contract to provide modern progressive facilities for the insane. In 1852 Iffland moved to the Quarantine Station at Grosse Île (Montmagny County), about 33 miles downstream from Quebec to assist Douglas at the Quarantine Hospital. He succeeded him in the position of medical superintendent in 1860, until his own retirement to Quebec in 1867. At his death he was the dean of physicians in the old capital.
He had been the secretary of various medical commissions, notably Dr Wolfred Nelson*’s commission on the state of hospitals and asylums held during 1848–49, and the committee to investigate the cholera epidemic of 1854. He became corresponding member of the Epidemiological Society of London in 1856, the year he served as vice-president of the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Lower Canada. He wrote minor articles on medical cases, the profession, and public health.
Although Iffland’s long medical career was not in any sense outstanding, it is of interest because it spanned a period of considerable scientific and political change, and because of the variety of his preoccupations. As an epidemiologist he did not hesitate to risk his life in the care of cholera victims and of those suffering from the other contagious diseases that proliferated with increased immigration. Yet Iffland’s early interests and talents were blunted for lack of consistent opportunities in his profession. Although his first love was anatomy, early in his career it proved impossible to continue research in that field openly. A devoted, though often disappointed practitioner, Iffland tended to resist a purely comfortable routine life. But, inevitably drawn to administrative tasks under financial pressure, he was overshadowed by more creative medical men who were his friends, and with whom he worked.
Anthony von Iffland’s writings include the following: “Apperçu d’un voyage dans le district de Gaspé pendant les mois de mai, juin, juillet et une partie d’août 1821, par le Docteur Von Iffland,” Revue d’histoire de la Gaspésie (Gaspé), VII, no.1 (1969), 19–41; “The duties and responsibilities of physicians to insane asylums,” British American Journal of Medical and Physical Science (Montreal), IV (1848–49), 154–57, 177–78; “Sheets from my portfolio,” British American Journal of Medical and Physical Science (Montreal), IV (1848–49), 24–26, 109–11, 137–38.
PAC, MG 30, D62 (Audet papers), 16, pp.332–39. Canada, Province of, Sessional papers, XXI (1863), pt.5, no.66; XXV (1865), pt.1, no.14; XXVI (1866), pt.3, no.6. Canada, Sessional papers, I (1867–68), pt.8, no.40. Quebec Mercury, 27 Nov. 1834. Morgan, Bibliotheca Canadensis, 384. Abbott, History of medicine, 50, 54–55, 63. Ahern, Notes pour l’histoire de la médecine, 539–41. C.-M. Boissonnault, Histoire de la faculté de médecine de Laval (Québec, 1953). E. D. Worthington, Reminiscences of student life and practice (Sherbrooke, 1897).