Lives of the fellows

Jack Abbott Hobson

b.22 April 1910 d.27 February 1977
BSc Manch(1931) MB BCh(1934) DPM(1936) MD(1941) MRCP(1947) FRCP(1961)

Jack Hobson was born at Rossendale, Lancashire, the son of Frederick James Hobson, architect, and his wife Sarah Elizabeth. He spent his early years in Rossendale and attended Bacup and Rawtenstall Grammar School, where he gained a state scholarship to the University of Manchester medical school. He had a brilliant career both at school and university, gaining many prizes. After appointments as house physician at the Manchester Royal Infirmary in 1935, and assistant medical officer at the Cheadle Royal Infirmary 1935-1936, he began his career in psychiatry, first at the Prestwich County Mental Hospital in 1936, and later that year as assistant medical officer at St Luke’s Woodside Hospital, where he was to spend most of his professional life. In 1939 he was awarded the Gaskell gold medal and prize of the (then) Royal Medico-Psychological Association. This medal and prize he shared with Eliot Slater; 1939 was a vintage year for British psychiatry.

He joined the Royal Navy Volunteer Reserve in 1939 as a specialist in neuropsychiatry. He served until 1946, attaining the rank of surgeon lieutenant commander. After leaving the Navy he served for two years as chief assistant in the department of psychological medicine at St Mary’s Hospital until 1948, when he was appointed consultant psychiatrist to the Middlesex Hospital and St Luke’s Woodside Hospital, becoming senior consultant psychiatrist in 1960, until his retirement in 1975. St Luke’s Woodside Hospital was a private non-profit making hospital, which elected to join the Middlesex Hospital when the National Health Service came into existence in 1948, and it then became the inpatient psychiatric department of the Middlesex Hospital.

Hobson’s special interest in psychiatry was forensic psychiatry, also alcoholism and drug abuse. His main ambition was to achieve the abolition of capital punishment, and he was a founder member of the Society for the Abolition of Capital Punishment with Koestler, Lord Gardiner, Victor Gollancz and Mr Silverman. In the 1950s, Jack Hobson took a prominent part in some of the most notorious murder trials, particularly those of Christie and Straffan. His behaviour in the Court Room was impeccable, and he withstood attacks from prosecuting counsel much more effectively than many of his contemporaries engaged in other notorious trials. The degree of diligence and thoroughness he displayed in the investigation of these cases can be appreciated only by those who were intimately associated with him at the time.

His early writings were on the use of d-Tubocurarine in the control of electrically induced convulsions, and he was a pioneer in the use of muscle relaxants. He also wrote papers on the treatment of sequelae of head injuries, the treatment of alcoholic patients and termination of pregnancy.

Psychiatry was by no means the whole of Jack Hobson’s existence; indeed he was a tremendously gifted man. He took part in archery, including the making of bows; he was interested in mountaineering and speleology, repeatedly visiting the caves of his beloved Lancashire; he dabbled in musical composition, and was always interested in chess, where he reached county levels. He played bridge and reached international standards. He painted in oils and pastels. Another interest was antique navigational and scientific instruments, which he restored with meticulous accuracy, and he also restored antique furniture. He was fascinated by the American West, and he invented a game based on the town plan of Tombstone.

Yet another interest was Shakespeare, and he wrote a couple of papers on Shakespeare’s Falstaff. He was always keen on sport; he swam and boxed for the University, he was a first class player of snooker, a competent skiier and towards the end of his life took up golf. This immense list of interests illustrates another of Jack Hobson’s traits, that of taking up a subject, pursuing it with immense vigour until he had achieved a high degree of expertise, and then transferring his attention to something different.

His chief quality was his pursuit of truth, whether in religion, ethics, philosophy or science, and this involved him in the precise meanings of words. He was intrigued by words and language and the correct expression of ideas and concepts, and this meticulousness restricted his own literary output.

He married three times. He had a daughter Diana by his second wife. His third wife was Doreen Mary, née Bottone, by whom he had three children -Sarah, Prudence and Jack.

Soon after he retired on 1 September 1976, he developed the illness from which he died six months later in the Middlesex hospital which he loved and served so well, it was indeed tragic that he did not have more years in which to develop further his multitudinous talents, and to enjoy the company of his wife (also a consultant psychiatrist) and his family.

AW Beard

[Brit.med.J., 1977, 2, 130]

(Volume VII, page 269)

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