Arthur Jacob, Irish ophthalmologist, is born on June 13, 1790, at Knockfin, near Maryborough, Queens County (now Portlaoise, County Laois). He is known for founding several hospitals, a medical school, and a medical journal. He contributes to science and academia through his 41-year term as Professor of Anatomy at the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland (RCSI) and as the first Irish ocular pathologist. He is elected President of RCSI in 1837 and 1864.
Jacob is the second son of John Jacob, M.D. (1754–1827), surgeon to the Queen’s County infirmary, Maryborough, by his wife Grace (1765–1835), only child of Jerome Alley of Donoughmore. He studies medicine with his father and at Dr. Steevens’s Hospital, Kilmainham, Dublin, under Abraham Colles. Having graduated M.D. at the University of Edinburgh in 1814, he sets out on a walking tour through the United Kingdom, crossing the English Channel at Dover, and continuing his walk from Calais to Paris.
Jacob studies at Paris until Napoleon‘s return from Elba. He subsequently pursues his studies in London under Sir Benjamin Collins Brodie, Sir Astley Cooper, and Sir W. Lawrence. In 1819 he returns to Dublin, and becomes demonstrator of anatomy under Dr. James Macartney at Trinity College Dublin. Here his anatomical researches gain for him a reputation, and he collects a museum, which Macartney afterwards sells to the University of Cambridge.
On leaving Macartney, Jacob joins with Robert James Graves and others in founding the Park Street School of Medicine. In 1826 he is elected Professor of Anatomy and Physiology at Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland (RCSI), and holds the chair until 1869. He is elected President of RCSI in 1837 and 1864. He founds an Ophthalmic Hospital in Pitt (now Balfe) Street in 1829 and in 1832, in conjunction with Charles Benson and others, he founds the Baggot Street Hospital, Baggot Street, and later practices there after the opening of a dedicated eye ward. His younger rival, Sir William Wilde, subsequently founds the competing St. Mark’s Ophthalmic Hospital in Lincoln Place (beside Trinity College) in 1844.
In 1839, with Dr. Henry Maunsell, Jacob starts the Dublin Medical Press, a weekly journal of medical science, and edits forty-two volumes from 1839 to 1859, in order “to diffuse useful knowledge… to instil honourable principles, and foster kind feelings in the breast of the student” among other desirable aims. He also contributes to the Dublin Journal of Medical Science. He takes an active part in founding the Royal Medical Benevolent Fund Society of Ireland and the Irish Medical Association.
At the age of seventy-five Jacob retires from the active pursuit of his profession. His fame rests on his anatomical and ophthalmological discoveries.
In December 1860 a medal bearing Jacob’s likeness is struck and presented to him, and his portrait, bust, and library are later placed in the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland. He dies at Newbarnes, Barrow-in-Furness, Cumbria, England, on September 21, 1874. He is buried at Mount Jerome Cemetery, Dublin.
In 1819 Jacob announces the discovery, which he had made in 1816, of a previously unknown membrane of the eye, in a paper in the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society. The membrane has been known since as membrana Jacobi and forms the retina. Apart from his discovery of the membrana Jacobi, he describes Jacob’s ulcer, and revives cataract surgery through the cornea with a curved needle, Jacob’s needle. To the Cyclopædia of Anatomy he contributes an article on the eye, and to the Cyclopædia of Practical Medicine treatises on Ophthalmia and Amaurosis.
(Pictured: Photograph of a marble bust of Arthur Jacob on the main staircase of the Royal Victoria Eye and Ear Hospital, Dublin, Ireland)