Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Lee, Robert (1793-1877)

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LEE, ROBERT (1793–1877), obstetric physician, second son of John Lee, was born at Melrose, Roxburghshire, in 1793. He entered at Edinburgh University in 1806, being intended for the church, but he afterwards selected a medical career, and graduated M.D. in 1814. He also became a member of the Edinburgh College of Surgeons. In 1817 he came to London and took charge of a patient suffering from epilepsy. He spent the winter of 1821-2 in medical study in Paris. Returning to England he became a licentiate of the Roval College of Physicians, and began practice in London as an obstetric physician. After a severe illness, he gave up a medical appointment which he bad obtained under the East India Company on receiving the appointment, through the good offices of Dr. A. B. Granville [q. v.], of physician to Prince Woronzow, governor-general of the Crimea and adjacent provinces. Lee left England for Odessa in October 1824, and was presented to Czar Alexander a few days before the czar's sudden death. Lee's account of the 'Last Days of Alexander and the First Days of Nicholas' was sent to the 'Athenæum,' to counteract the impression that Alexander did not die a natural death. He returned to England with Prince Woronzow in 1826, and again began practice as an accoucheur. In 1827 he was elected physician to the British Lying-in Hospital, and began to lecture on midwifery. In 1829 he became lecturer on midwifery in the Webb Street school. In 1830 he was elected F.R.S., and also secretary to the Royal Medical and Chirurgical Society, an office which he held until 1836. In 1834 he obtained through Lord Melbourne the regius professorship of midwifery in the university of Glasgow, but resigned it after delivering his introductory address, and returned to London. In 1835 he was appointed lecturer on midwifery and diseases of women at St. George's Hospital, and held the appointment until 1866.

From the time of his settling in London in 1827 Lee occupied much time and labour in investigations as to the pathology of diseases of women, puerperal fever, &c., and in prolonged dissections of the ganglia and nerves of the uterus. A list of thirty-one papers and memoirs on these subjects is given in the 'Lancet.' 22 March 1861, pp. 885-6. Many of them were published in the 'Transactions' of the Royal Medical and Chirurgical Society, and others were read before the Royal Society. Owing to differences of opinion as to the value of his discoveries the society awarded him no medal, and unfairly suppressed some of his papers. Lee's version of his treatment by the Royal Society, with many letters from distinguished anatomists approving his work, is given in detail in the work numbered 8 below. Owing in part to Lee's dissensions with the society, the Marquis of Northampton resigned the post of president, and Dr. Roget that of secretary, in 1849.

Lee was admitted a fellow of the Royal College of Physicians in 1841, and delivered the Lumleian lectures in 1856-7, and the Croonian lectures in 1862, and was Harveian orator at the college in 1864. He worked indefatigably till 1876, when he retired from practice. He died at Surbiton Hill, Surrey, on 6 Feb. 1877, aged 84, and was buried at Kensal Green. His portrait by S. Pearce is in the possession of his family.

Lee was an indomitable worker, and made numerous discoveries of permanent value. He was somewhat dictatorial and intolerant of opposition ; but his treatment by the Royal Society cannot be justified. His preparations are now at Cambridge. His most valuable contribution to obstetric practice is his 'Clinical Midwifery.' containing the history of 545 cases of difficult labour. With this may be coupled his 'Three Hundred Consultations in Midwifery.'

Lee wrote: 1. 'On the Structure of the Human Placenta, and its Connection with the Uterus,' 4to, plates, Lond. 1832. 2. 'Researches on the Pathology and Treatment of the . Diseases of Women,' 8vo, Lond. 1883. 8. 'Pathological Observations on the Diseases of the Uterus,' pt. i. plates, folio, 1840. 4. 'Anatomy of the Nerves of the Uterus,' plates, folio, Lond. 1841. 5. 'Clinical Mid-wifery,' 12mo, Lond. 1842; 2nd edition, 1848. 6. 'On the Ganglia and other Nervous Structures of the Uterus.' plates, 4to, Lond. 1842. 7. 'Lectures on the Theory and Practice of Midwifery,' 8vo, Lond. 1844. 8. 'Memoirs on the Ganglia and Nerves of the Uterus,' plates, 4to, Lond. 1849. 9. 'On the Ganglia and Nerves of the Heart,' plates, 4to, Lond. 1849. 10. ' Memoir on the Ganglia and Nerves of the Heart,' plates, 4to, Lond. 1861. 11. 'Clinical Reports of Ovarian and Uterine Diseases, with Commentaries,' 12mo, Lond. 1853. 12. 'Treatise on the Employment of the Speculum in the Diagnosis and Treatment of Uterine Diseases,' 8vo, Lond. 1858. 13. 'Three Hundred Consultations in Midwifery,' 12mo, Lond. 1864. 14. 'History of the Discoveries of the Circulation of the Blood, of the Ganglia and Nerves, and of the Action of the Heart,' plates, 8vo, Lond. 1865. 15. 'A Treatise on Hysteria,' 8vo, Lond. 1871. He also published 'Engravings of the Ganglia and Nerves of the Uterus and Heart,' &c, Lond. 1858, 4to.

[Lancet, 1851, i. 332-7, with portrait; Memoir in No. 8 (supra) ; Munk's Coll. of Phys. ill. 266-9.]

G. T. B.