Lives of the fellows

Roy Samuel Dobbin

b.22 November 1873 d.10 March 1939
OBE(1919) MB BCh BAO Dubl(1899) MD Dubl(1903) FCOG(1929) *FRCP(1932)

Roy Samuel Dobbin was born at Bresagh, co.Down, the son of Alexander and Mary Ann (Ringland) Dobbin. On April 28th, 1891, at the age of eighteen, Dobbin went to Trinity College, Dublin, from Corrig School. He was interested in music and art, subjects which at the time did not receive much attention from the undergraduates. A few years later he entered the Medical School. He worked hard, but although examinations did not present any difficulties to him, he seemed to dislike presenting himself for them, and sometimes his friends had to shepherd him into the examination hall, or when the time came he would be found elsewhere, making music or pictures, quite oblivious of the college calendar. In spite of this he won the special prize in his year for clinical surgery at Sir Patrick Dun’s Hospital.

In 1899 Dobbin was appointed resident surgeon at Steevens’ Hospital, which post he held for two years. For a short time he was resident assistant at Swift’s Hospital. In 1902 he became pathologist to Steevens’ Hospital, and for a time it seemed he would make the study of this subject his life-work. Early and late he could be found in the laboratory, so deeply engaged in his investigations that such worldly matters as food and temperature were completely forgotten, and more than once one had to drag him away from his work stiff with cold and half-starved. His admiration of Arthur Vernon Macan and W. C. Neville aroused his interest in obstetrics, and as a result Ernest Tweedy, master of the Rotunda, nominated him as assistant master. Within a year the post of professor of obstetrics and gynaecology was created in the Royal School of Medicine, Cairo, and Dobbin was urged to become a candidate for the chair.

The chair carried with it the position of senior obstetric surgeon and gynaecologist to Kasr-el-Aini Hospital. With limited accommodation at his disposal Dobbin had to cope with the problem of satisfying the enormous needs of the one million population of Cairo, and provide adequate practical instruction in midwifery to the students. Only those who had the privilege of working under him realised the ability which he brought to bear upon his work, the enthusiasm he could inspire in his assistants, and the great devotion to duty, self denial, and courage of the true pioneer which enabled him to overcome those difficulties. At that period meddlesome midwifery was the rule, and drastic surgery was the fashion. Thanks to his teaching, gentleness and art became the foremost rule. As an operator he was bold, but extremely careful about details, and from those early days he was a true apostle of the principle that healthy tissue should never be unnecessarily sacrificed. His kindness and devotion to the poor and his untiring punctuality won the admiration and respect of his assistants and students.

When the war broke out in 1914 Dobbin at once joined the R.A.M.C, with a captain’s commission, and was eventually sent as a surgical specialist to the Expeditionary Force in France. After the war he became deeply interested in book collecting. His library contained scarce and valuable books, many of which were illustrative of British midwifery. His collection also included the works of Vesalius, Servetus, Estienne, and Raynalde. The complete manuscript of the work of Zaynu’d-Din Isma’il of Jurjan, known as Dhakhira-i-Khwarazmshahi, or the Treasure of the King of Khwarazm, he presented to the College in 1938, together with other Arabic manuscripts, both medical and non-medical. After his death the library received a number of books bequeathed by him, including four incunabula. His only other hobby outside his profession was music; he was an excellent pianist.

In September 1937 the Order of the Nile was conferred upon him in recognition of his distinguished services to the faculty of medicine. At a meeting of the faculty council of Cairo University held on March 28th, 1939, the following resolutions were passed:
1. That a gold medal for proficiency in gynaecology and obstetrics be founded, and that it be named ‘The Roy Dobbin medal’.
2. That a ward in the gynaecological section be named ‘The Roy Dobbin’.

He did not marry.

Richard R Trail

* He was elected under the special bye-law which provides for the election to the fellowship of "Persons holding a medical qualification, but not Members of the College, who have distinguished themselves in the practice of medicine, or in the pursuit of Medical or General Science or Literature..."

[Brit.med.J., 1939, 1, 698; Irish J. med. Sci., 1939, Apr., 178-82; J. Obstet. Gynaec. Brit. Emp., 1939, 46, 569-79 (p); Lancet, 1939, 1, 791-2.]

(Volume V, page 106)

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