Adams, Robert

Robert Adams (1791-1875)

Robert Adams was born in 1791, son of a Dublin solicitor. He attended Trinity College Dublin and the Royal College of Surgeons, and was apprenticed to William Hartigan, a leading surgeon of the time. He graduated licentiate of the RCSI in 1815, and then toured the leading hospitals of the continent.

He returned to Dublin and was appointed as surgeon to Jervis Street and Richmond hospitals, and was given his membership of the Irish College of Surgeons in 1818. He did not get his formal MB until 1842 – 27 years later!

He founded a medical school in his home stables in Marlborough Street, but this was burnt down by a mob, angry at the practice of body snatching. Undeterred, he went on to found a new school with Bellingham, in Eccles Street.

He was fond of horses, and was extremely sociable with an extensive repertoire of anecdotes, which he seldom repeated. He lived in 22 St. Stephens Green, next to Abraham Colles.

He founded the Richmond Medical School with fellow surgeon, Richard Carmichael in 1827. He was a prolific writer, contributing over 100 papers to medical literature on pneumonia, hernia, joint disease, ulcers, apoplexy, vascular disorders and rheumatic gout.

In 1827, he described a person with a slow pulse of 30/min, suffering from blackouts, making the first association of cerebral symptoms with abnormal cardiac rhythm.This was confirmed by Stokes about 20 years later, who recognised Adam’s description.   Stokes-Adams syndrome is the first of the Irish eponyms in medicine. The Italian physician, Morgagni, is also associated with this condition. Adams also described mitral valve disease in detail.

Adams had an interest in rheumatism, a condition from which he himself suffered, and was the first to describe a synovial popliteal cyst at the back of the knee.This is now known as Baker’s cyst, after an English physician.

Adams was formally appointed surgeon to the Richmond Hospital in 1838, and was also a consultant to the Rotunda and Sir Patrick Dun’s. In 1847 he assisted John McDonnell in the first Irish operation under anaesthesia.

In 1861, Adams became Professor of Surgery in TCD at the age of 70. He was on the senate of the new Queen’s Colleges, and was also appointed Surgeon to Queen Victoria in Ireland. He died in 1875 aged 84 years, working to within a few weeks of his death. He was an enthusiastic teacher, and is remembered for his brilliant clinical investigatory skills.


Coakley, D. 1997, Irish Masters of Medicine, Town House.

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