Robertson, Douglas Moray Cooper Lamb Argyll (DNB12)

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ROBERTSON, DOUGLAS MORAY COOPER LAMB ARGYLL (1837-1909), ophthalmic surgeon, born in Edinburgh in 1837, was son of Dr. John Argyll Robertson, surgeon and lecturer in the extra-academical school of medicine and president of the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh in 1846. His father took a special interest in ophthalmic surgery and was one of the founders of the Edinburgh Eye Dispensary in 1822. Douglas was educated successively at the Edinburgh Institution, at Neuwied in Germany, and at the universities of Edinburgh and St. Andrews. He graduated M.D. at St. Andrews in 1857, and in the same year was appointed house surgeon at the Royal Infirmary, Edinburgh. He then went to Berlin to study ophthalmic surgery under von Graefe. On his return to Edinburgh he acted for several sessions as assistant to Prof. John Hughes Bennett [q. v.], and in that capacity conducted the first course of practical physiology held in the University of Edinburgh. He was succeeded by Prof. William Rutherford [q.v. Suppl. I]. In 1862 he was admitted F.R.C.S. Edin- burgh, and published his observations on Calabar Bean in the 'Edinburgh Medical Journal.' He proved that its alkaloid, physostigmin, more commonly known as eserin, led to constriction of the pupil of the eye and thus provided a satisfactory myotic, the want of which had long been felt by oculists. This discovery attracted universal attention and made the young Edinburgh surgeon famous. In 1867 he was appointed assistant ophthalmic surgeon to the Royal Infirmary under Dr. William Walker, whose colleague he became in 1870. In 1882 Dr. Walker retired, and Argyll Robertson remained the sole ophthalmic surgeon to the Infirmary until 1897, when he was appointed consulting surgeon. He lectured on his subject for many years during each summer session. In 1869-70 he published in the 'Edinburgh Medical Journal' the records of the cases which showed that disease of the spinal cord is sometimes associated with loss of light reflex of the pupil, which still retains its movement on accommodation. This condition was christened by common accord 'the Argyll Robertson pupil,' and its value as an aid to diagnosis has steadily increased.

Robertson was president of the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh for 1886-7. He was the first president (1893-5) of the Ophthalmological Society of Great Britain to be chosen from the ophthalmic surgeons who practised outside London; he presided over the International Ophthalmological Clongress in Edinburgh in 1894, and over the Edinburgh Medico - Chirurgical Society in 1896. In 1896 the University of Edinburgh conferred upon him the honorary degree of LL.D. He was also surgeon oculist in Scotland to Queen Victoria and later to King Edward VII.

Argyll Robertson attained much repute as a golfer. He won the gold medal of the Royal and Ancient Club five times, and that of the Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers thrice. He was the first captain of the Royal Colleges Golf Club and presented to it a handsome scratch medal, which is known by his name and is awarded annually for the best scratch score. This medal he won himself on two occasions. He was also fond of shooting and was a member of the Royal Archers of the King's Body-Guard for Scotland, and he was a good curler and fisherman.

Robertson was one of the earliest in the United Kingdom to adopt ophthalmic surgery as an independent profession throughout his career; previously a surgeon adopted this branch of work after a longer or shorter experience of general surgery. As an operator he was neat, rapid, and resourceful, and he introduced into practice several new methods of procedure, especially that of trephining the sclerotic for the relief of glaucoma.

On retiring from practice in 1904 he settled at Mon Plaisir, St. Aubyn's, Jersey, where he took charge of the eldest daughter of the Thakur of Gondal, a former pupil at Edinburgh, and afterwards his friend. In 1892 and 1900 Robertson visited India and on a third visit in the winter of 1908-9 he died at Gondal, India, on 3 Jan. 1909; he was cremated on the banks of the river Gondh, the Thakur Sahib himself kindling the funeral pyre of his guru and friend.

He married in 1882 Carey, fourth daughter of William Nathaniel Fraser of Findrack and Tornaveen, Aberdeenshire, but had no family.

His portrait, painted by Sir George Reid, was presented to him by members of his profession before he retired from practice. A replica hangs in the Surgeons' Hall at Edinburgh.

[Edinburgh Med. Journal, 1909, N.S. ii. 159 (with portrait); Lancet, 1909, i. 208; Brit. Med. Journal, 1909, i. 191, 252 (with portrait); Hole's Quasi Cursores, 1884 (with portrait).]

D’A. P.