James Joseph Magennis VC Frances Elizabeth Clarke Stewart Parker Samuel Beckett Sam Hanna Bell William Carleton John Hewitt Rosamond Praegar Bernard (Barney) Hughes

Thomas George Wilson (1901 - 1969):
Surgeon, medical administrator; writer


Thomas George Wilson was an accomplished surgeon and medical administrator whose many talents also extended widely beyond that profession. 

Wilson was born at 3 Maryville Park, Belfast to Robert Charles Wilson, businessman and “furniture warehouseman”, and Frances Lucinda née Kellett.  He was the younger of two sons (the elder, Charles Herbert became an anaesthetist in the Royal City of Dublin Hospital in Baggot Street, Dublin), and had a sister, Frances Edna who became an honorary anaesthetist at All Saints’ and St. Mary’s Hospitals, London). The family moved to Dublin where Thomas and his brother attended Mountjoy School; and after a teenage plan to run away to sea was aborted at Howth, Thomas enrolled at the University of Dublin and graduated BA, MB, BCh, BAO in 1923.  Attracted to obstetrics as a career he attained the Licence in Midwifery at the Rotunda Hospital (1924) and became an “extern maternity assistant”.  However, he soon changed his plans from midwifery to ear, nose and throat surgery and was appointed house surgeon to the ENT Department of the Cheltenham General and Eye Hospital taking the Fellowship of the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland (FRCSI) by examination in 1927. He returned to Dublin on appointment as assistant surgeon to “Togo” Graham at the Royal City of Dublin Hospital (Baggot Street).  Other consultant and specialist appointments soon followed: at Dr. Steevens’ Hospital, at Drumcondra Hospital , The National Children’s Hospital, Harcourt Street, and for several decades (1928-1966) was laryngologist at Mercer’s Hospital. His distinguished curriculum vitae  continued to grow: Consultant to the Royal Hospital, Donnybrook (1935-1969), honorary aurist to the Mageaugh Home, Dublin, and laryngologist to the Royal National Hospital for Consumption, Newcastle. Combined with these was a rewarding private practice (most of the above were honorary consulting posts) and the beginnings of an impressive professional publication list which finally ran to no fewer than 40 articles in ENT-related subjects alone between 1926 and his death, and a text-book Diseases of the Ears, Nose and Throat in Children (London and New York, 1955; 2nd edition, 1962).  

“TG”, as he was widely known, was now a leading figure in Dublin medicine with residence and rooms at 26 Upper Fitzwilliam Street and later at 3 Fitzwilliam Square. He became a Fellow of the Royal Academy of Medicine in Ireland and founded its section on the History of Medicine in January 1956 acting as Honorary Secretary until 1963 when he became President of the section as he had previously been President of the section of Laryngology and Otology (1946-1948). In 1937 he was elected a Member of the Royal Irish Academy and a Fellow of the Royal Society of Medicine in London.  However, it was as an office holder at the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland that he was most influential.  A Fellow since 1927 he joined the Council in 1944 becoming Vice-President (1956-7), President (1958-61) and Secretary and Honorary Librarian in 1962, and in 1963 was the principal founder of the Journal of the College and served as its editor for the next five years (1963-8).  His presidency was a time of exceptional expansion in the work and influence of the College and especially academic initiatives. Most particularly was the creation of the Faculty of Anaesthetists (November 1959) and the Faculty of Radiologists (December, 1960) and the establishment of various international reciprocal arrangements for post-graduate study and examination.  There were also far-sighted purchases of adjoining properties to allow for physical expansion of the College and its campus which in turn allowed many of the academic and professional activities which have been a feature of the College during the last 30 years. These achievements were recognised with the award of honorary fellowships of The Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh (1961), of London (1963) and of the United States of America; with his being Felix Semon Lecturer at the University of London (1964), elected to membership of the exclusive James IV Association of Surgeons (founded in 1965) and being elected President of the section of Laryngology of the Royal Society of Medicine (1966) having already been President of the Collegium Amicitae Sacrum, a scientific grouping drawn from all over the world, during its meeting in Dublin in 1958.  He was also a founder member (in November 1970) and first President of the Irish Otolaryngological Society aimed to bring together amicably the leading ENT specialists from all corners and both parts of the island of Ireland. 

Wilson, however, was more than a successful and popular surgeon and collegiate administrator and planner: he also had considerable literary and artistic talents which are well exemplified in his biography, still not superseded, of the Victorian polymath (and father of Oscar) Sir William Wilde (Victorian Doctor, London: Methuen & Co. Ltd, 1942), which contains over sixty illustrations all executed by himself as indeed were the illustrations in his 1955 text-book (loc cit supra) and in his later book The Irish Lighthouse Service (Dublin: Allen Figgis Ltd, 1968) which as well as a number of pen-and-ink drawings had two colour plates reproducing his oil paintings “The Relief of Inistearght” and “Hook Point Lighthouse”. When he died he was preparing a West of Ireland Sketch Book. He also painted the watercolour picture of the façade and fore-court of Dr. Steevens’ Hospital which hangs over the fireplace of the Colles Room in the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland, most appropriately since, when President, Wilson was largely responsible for raising the funds and planning the extension, and the Colles Room’s furnishings were mainly according to his design. His artistic talents were recognised by his election to honorary membership of the Royal Hibernian Academy (RHA) to accompany his professorship of anatomy at the College of Art, and the unusual privilege of being allowed to hang two paintings annually at the RHA; however “experts” familiar with his work opine that his most accomplished style and medium were watercolours and etching! Among his other literary/medical interests was Swiftian studies on which, starting in 1939, he published several important articles arguing that amongst other ailments the Dean suffered for many years from Ménière’s disease (vertigo, nausea, tinnitus, etc), a diagnosis the aural medical fraternity now accept.  For his literary and other achievements in the general field of the Arts he was awarded an honorary Doctorate of Literature in 1941 by Dublin University, interestingly the year before the publication of his biography of Sir William Wilde, his major work in the field which was first published in 1942. 

Wilson is remembered well into the twenty-first century. In build tall, alert, handsome and athletic, forceful in argument, dominant in company without being domineering, loquacious though never boring, courteous without being obsequious, witty without labouring his wit, Wilson was in many ways formidable and could overawe strangers and juniors by appearing at times brusque, even peremptory to them; but amongst friends and at ease he could be extremely entertaining.  A good rugby player in College and a keen follower thereafter, his interest turned increasingly to the sea where he became the owner of a 24-footer which he named Fenestra, claiming that he purchased it from the proceeds of the fenestration operation then coming into use by otologists in Dublin.  He became a Commissioner of Irish Lights and in 1968 its Chairman, and among the Commissioners’ duties were to visit annually the entire island’s lighthouses and lightships which by all accounts involved a jovial maritime tour. Characteristically, he wrote a book to commemorate the centenary of the service (The Irish Lighthouse Service, loc cit supra). 

On 5 September 1928 Wilson married Mary Hume Babington, daughter of Sir Anthony Babington, KC, prominent lawyer and politician in Northern Ireland, and they had four children – Lucinda (*1929), Anthony (*1931), Thomas (*1934) and Prudence (*1940).  Thomas and Anthony were educated at Eton College, and Thomas followed in his father’s footsteps by becoming a Fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons, though it was the Edinburgh College and not the Irish one, and practised as an otologist holding consultant posts at St George’s Hospital, London, and in the Dublin Federated Voluntary Hospitals.  TG Wilson himself during the year he was Chairman of the Commissioners of Irish Lights, had a coronary thrombosis but recovered.  However, he died suddenly in London on 6 November 1969 from another heart attack.  He had been staying at the Royal Hospital, Chelsea, in the very flat from where Sir Christopher Wren had set out with his first plans for St. Paul’s Cathedral three centuries before. 

As a postscript: In October 1942, in the depths of World War Two when the Irish Free State was neutral in its “Emergency” and Northern Ireland was part of a belligerent power, Wilson’s name was on the public’s lips when he was charged with hindering, on 21 August 1942, the arrest of a person liable to internment and was duly prosecuted for assisting a British serviceman, who for some reason was stranded in the Free State, to cross into Northern Ireland.  Found guilty at his trial on 27 October, Wilson was fined £200 and sentenced to 12 months’ imprisonment, later suspended on the arrangement of a personal bail of £500, and was bound over to keep the peace for two years.  His defence barrister happened to be a certain JA Costello, SC who became Taoiseach six years later for his first term in that office. 



Born: 1 July 1901
Died: 6 November 1969
Peter Froggatt
Bibliography:

JB Lyons, An Assembly of Irish Surgeons: Lives of Presidents of the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland in the 20th Century (Dublin: Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland and The Glendale Press, 1983, pp. 141-147); Dictionary of Irish Biography, vol  9, 983-5 (Royal Irish Academy/Cambridge University Press, 2009 & www.dib.cambridge.org);  Gearoid Crookes:  Dublin Eye and Ear: The Making of a Monument (Dublin: Town House and Country House, 1993, p.151 (photograph);   Obituaries; Journal of the Irish Medical Association, 63, Feb 1970, p.71;   “TG Wilson, Litt. D., MB, BCh, BAO, FRCSI”, British Medical Journal, 22 November 1969, pp 500-501; personal knowledge and acquaintanceship