seamus dubhghaill

Promoting Irish Culture and History from Little Rock, Arkansas, USA


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Birth of William Whitla, Physician & Politician

william-whitlaSir William Whitla, Irish physician and politician, is born at The Diamond, Monaghan, County Monaghan on September 15, 1851.

Whitla is the fourth son of Robert Whitla, a woolen draper and pawnbroker, and his wife Anne, daughter of Alexander Williams of Dublin. His first cousin is painter Alexander Williams. Educated at the town’s Model School, he is articled at fifteen to his brother James, a local pharmacist, completing his apprenticeship with Wheeler and Whitaker, Belfast‘s leading pharmaceutical firm. Proceeding to study medicine at Queen’s College, Belfast, he takes the LAH, Dublin, and the LRCP and LRCS of Edinburgh in 1873.

With his qualifications Whitla obtains a post as resident medical officer at the Belfast General Hospital. He next spends some time in London, at St. Thomas’s Hospital, where he meets his future wife, Ada Bourne, daughter of George Bourne, a prominent Staffordshire farmer. She is a ward sister and friend of Florence Nightingale and a member of The Salvation Army.

The pair are married in 1876, settling in Belfast where Whitla establishes a general medical practice. He is awarded the MD of the Queen’s University of Ireland in 1877, with first class honours, gold medal, and commendation.

Whitla is appointed physician to the Belfast Royal Hospital and the Ulster Hospital for Children and Women in 1882. He holds post at the Belfast Royal Hospital and in the Royal Victoria Hospital, of which it is the forerunner, until his retirement in 1918. He succeeds Seaton Reid as professor of materia medica at the Queen’s College in 1890 and is twice president of the Ulster Medical Society (1886–1887, 1901–1902). Appointed a Knight Bachelor in the 1902 Coronation Honours list published on June 26, 1902, he is knighted by the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, George Cadogan, 5th Earl Cadogan, at Dublin Castle on August 11, 1902.

In 1906 Whitla is appointed a governor of Methodist College Belfast and he takes a keen interest in the school’s affairs. In 1919, he retires as Professor of Materia Medica in the university.

A strong unionist, Whitla is elected to parliament in 1918, serving until 1923 as representative of the Queen’s University at Westminster. He is appointed honorary physician to the king in Ireland in 1919 and is subsequently university pro-chancellor.

During the 1920s Whitla’s public appearances are fewer and, after a stroke in 1929, he is confined to his room. Lady Whitla dies in 1932. He dies at their Belfast residence, Lennoxvale, on December 11, 1933, and is given a civic funeral two days later. He is buried at Belfast City Cemetery.

During Whitla’s lifetime his gifts to his profession include the Good Samaritan stained glass window erected in the Royal Hospital and a building to house the Ulster Medical Society. At his death Lennoxvale is bequeathed to Queen’s University as a residence for the Vice-Chancellor. The university also is his residuary legatee and acts on his suggestion that the available funds should provide an assembly hall. The Sir William Whitla Hall is opened in 1949.

Whitla also leaves £10,000 to Methodist College Belfast to build a chapel, library or hall. The Whitla Hall at the Methodist College is opened in 1935.


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Laying of the Rotunda Hospital Foundation Stone

rotunda-hospitalThe foundation stone of the Rotunda Hospital, a maternity hospital in Parnell Street, Dublin, is laid by the Lord Mayor of Dublin on July 9, 1751.

The hospital is founded by Bartholomew Mosse, a surgeon and man-midwife who is appalled at the conditions that pregnant women have to endure, in George’s Lane as the Dublin Lying-In Hospital in March 1745. Lying-in is an archaic term for childbirth, referring to the month-long bed rest prescribed for postpartum confinement. The venture is very successful and Mosse raises money through concerts, exhibitions and even a lottery to establish larger premises.

The hospital moves to new premises, designed by Richard Cassels, where it becomes known as “The New Lying-In Hospital” in December 1757. The rotunda itself, which is designed by James Ensor, is completed just in time for a reception hosted by the Marquess of Kildare in October 1767. Extensive new rooms, designed by Richard Johnston and built adjacent to the rotunda, are completed in 1791.

Records indicate that around 1781, “when the hospital was imperfectly ventilated, every sixth child died within nine days after birth, of convulsive disease; and that after means of thorough ventilation had been adopted, the mortality of infants, within the same, in five succeeding years, was reduced to one in twenty.” This issue is not limited to the Lying-In-Hospital. In that era, ventilation improvement is a general issue in patient care, along with other issues of sanitation and hygiene, and the conditions in which surgeons such as Robert Liston in Britain and elsewhere, have to operate. Florence Nightingale famously works on the design of safe and healthy hospitals.

By the early 19th century the facility becomes known as the Rotunda Hospital, after its prominent architectural feature. The first Caesarean section in Ireland is undertaken at the hospital in 1889.

The Rotunda Hospital, as both a maternity hospital and also as a training centre (affiliated with Trinity College Dublin) is notable for having provided continuous service to mothers and babies since inception, making it the oldest continuously operating maternity hospital in the world. It is estimated that over 300,000 babies have been born there.

Rotunda Hospital is currently managed by RCSI Hospitals.


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Death of War Correspondent William Howard Russell

william-howard-russellSir William Howard Russell, an Irish reporter with The Times and considered to be one of the first modern war correspondents, dies in London, England on February 11, 1907.

Russell is born in Tallaght, County Dublin on March 28, 1820. As a young reporter, he reports on the First Schleswig War, a brief military conflict between Prussian and Danish troops in Denmark in 1850.

Initially sent by editor John Delane to Malta to cover British support for the Ottoman Empire against Russia in 1854, Russell despises the term “war correspondent” but his coverage of the conflict brings him international renown, and Florence Nightingale later credits her entry into wartime nursing to his reports. The Crimean medical care, shelter and protection of all ranks by Mary Seacole is also publicised by Russell and by other contemporary journalists, rescuing her from bankruptcy.

His dispatches are hugely significant as for the first time the public can read about the reality of warfare. Shocked and outraged, the public’s backlash from his reports leads the Government to re-evaluate the treatment of troops and leads to Florence Nightingale’s involvement in revolutionising battlefield treatment.

On September 20, 1854, Russell covers the battle above the Alma River, writing his missive the following day in an account book seized from a Russian corpse. The story, written in the form of a letter to Delane, is supportive of the British troops and pays particular attention to the battlefield surgeons’ “humane barbarity” and the lack of ambulance care for wounded troops. He later covers the Siege of Sevastopol where he coins the phrase “thin red line” in referring to British troops at Balaclava.

Following Russell’s reports of the appalling conditions suffered by the Allied troops conducting the siege, including an outbreak of cholera, Samuel Morton Peto and his partners build the Grand Crimean Central Railway, which is a major factor leading to the success of the siege.

Russell spends December 1854 in Constantinople on holiday, returning in early 1855. He leaves Crimea in December 1855 to be replaced by the Constantinople correspondent of The Times.

In 1856 Russell is sent to Moscow to describe the coronation of Tsar Alexander II and in the following year is sent to India where he witnesses the final re-capture of Lucknow.

In 1861 Russell goes to Washington, D.C., returning to England in 1863. In July 1865 he sails on the SS Great Eastern to document the laying of the transatlantic telegraph cable and writes a book about the voyage with color illustrations by Robert Dudley. He publishes diaries of his time in India, the American Civil War and the Franco-Prussian War, where he describes the warm welcome given him by English-speaking Prussian generals such as Leonhard Graf von Blumenthal.

Russell retires as a battlefield correspondent in 1882 and founds the Army and Navy Gazette. He is knighted in May 1895 and is appointed a Commander of the Royal Victorian Order (CVO) by King Edward VII on August 11, 1902.

Sir William Howard Russell dies on Februry 11, 1907 and is buried in Brompton Cemetery, London.


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Birth of War Reporter William Howard Russell

william-howard-russellSir William Howard Russell, reporter with The Times and considered to be one of the first modern war correspondents, is born at Lily Vale, Tallaght, County Dublin, on March 28, 1820.

As a young reporter, Russell reports on a brief military conflict between Prussian and Danish troops in Denmark in 1850. Sent by editor John Delane to Malta in 1854 to cover British support for the Ottoman Empire against Russia, Russell despises the term “war correspondent” but his coverage of the conflict brings him international renown. Florence Nightingale later credits her entry into wartime nursing to his reports. The Crimean medical care, shelter, and protection of all ranks by Mary Seacole is also publicised by Russell and by other contemporary journalists, rescuing her from bankruptcy.

Russell is described by one of the soldiers on the frontlines as “a vulgar low Irishman, who sings a good song, drinks anyone’s brandy and water, and smokes as many cigars as a Jolly Good Fellow. He is just the sort of chap to get information, particularly out of youngsters.” This reputation leads to Russell being blacklisted from some circles, including British commander Lord Raglan who advises his officers to refuse to speak with the reporter.

His dispatches are hugely significant. For the first time the public is able to read about the reality of warfare. Shocked and outraged, the public’s backlash from his reports lead the Government to re-evaluate the treatment of troops and lead to Florence Nightingale’s involvement in revolutionising battlefield treatment.

On September 20, 1854, Russell covers the battle above the Alma River. The story, written in the form of a letter to Delane, is supportive of the British troops though pays particular attention to the battlefield surgeons’ “humane barbarity” and the lack of ambulance care for wounded troops. He later covers the Siege of Sevastopol.

Following Russell’s reports of the appalling conditions suffered by the Allied troops conducting the siege, including an outbreak of cholera, Samuel Morton Peto and his partners build the Grand Crimean Central Railway, which is a major factor leading to the success of the siege. Russell leaves Crimea in December 1855.

In 1856, Russell is sent to Moscow to describe the coronation of Tsar Alexander II and in the following year is sent to India where he witnesses the final re-capture of Lucknow.

In 1861, Russell goes to Washington, returning to England in 1863. In July 1865, he sails on the SS Great Eastern to document the laying of the Transatlantic Telegraph Cable and writes a book about the voyage with color illustrations by Robert Dudley. He publishes diaries of his time in India, the American Civil War, and the Franco-Prussian War, where he describes the warm welcome given him by English-speaking Prussian generals such as Leonhard Graf von Blumenthal.

He is awarded the title of Commander of the Royal Victorian Order by King Edward VII. Russell later accuses fellow war correspondent Nicholas Woods of the Morning Herald of lying in his articles about the war to try to improve his stories.

In the 1868 General Election, Russell runs unsuccessfully as a Conservative candidate for the borough of Chelsea. He retires as a battlefield correspondent in 1882 and founds the Army and Navy Gazette. He is knighted in May 1895.

Russell dies on February 11, 1907 and is buried in Brompton Cemetery, London.