Born in Duncansville, Ohio, Kerr graduated from Jefferson Medical College in Philadelphia, arrived in Hong Kong in 1854, and as successor to Peter Parker, was in charge of the Ophthalmic Hospital in Canton for 44 years. He also founded in 1898 the first Refuge for the Insane in China at Canton, where he served until his death.
It is estimated that during his career in China he treated 780,000 patients and performed 48,000 surgical operations. Kerr also translated 34 volumes of medical works into Chinese, was the author of many articles and treatises, and taught 150 Chinese medical students. One of his students in 1886 was Sun Yat-sen, who later became the first president of the Chinese republic.
Robert E. Speer, in the Monthly Missionary Survey, wrote of him,
“Vast as was his distinctly medical work, Dr. Kerr was above all things a missionary. He never lost an opportunity to preach Christ. Kindly, just, dignified in his manner, he was always at work doing good and commending Christ to the Chinese…. He was a missionary first, and all his medical knowledge was used to commend the Gospel.”
He was buried in the Protestant cemetery outside Canton, near three of his missionary colleagues, Dr. Dyer Ball, Dr. Henry V. Noyes, and Dr. Joseph C. Thomson.
This article is reprinted from Biographical Dictionary of Christian Missions, Macmillan Reference USA, copyright (c) 1998 Gerald H. Anderson, by permission of The Gale Group; Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., Grand Rapids, Michigan. All rights reserved.
- C. C. Seldon, “Life of John G. Kerr,” Chinese Medical Journal (April 1935); William Warder Cadbury and Mary Hoxie Jones, At the Point of a Lancet: One Hundred Years of the Canton Hospital, 1835-1935 (1935), pp. 101-143.