Browse Fellows


www Lives

Biographical entry Lawson, Sir Arnold (1867 - 1947)

KBE 1920; MRCS 14 May 1891; FRCS 8 June 1893; MD Brussels 1891; LRCP 1891.

4 December 1867
19 January 1947
Ophthalmic surgeon


Born 4 December 1867, fourth of seven sons of George Lawson, FRCS, and Mary, his wife, daughter of William Thomson, MD, surgeon in the Indian Medical Service (Crawford's Roll of the IMS, Bengal list, No 965). George Lawson had been invalided home from the Crimea, and later became surgeon to the Middlesex Hospital. He practised at 12 Harley Street, belonged to the first generation of general surgeons who specialized in ophthalmology, and became oculist to Queen Victoria.

Arnold Lawson, who was educated at Merchant Taylors' School, then in Charterhouse Square, followed in his father's footsteps. He entered Middlesex Hospital Medical School with the senior entrance scholarship in 1886, won the Hetley clinical prize in 1889, and was senior Broderip scholar in 1890. He qualified in 1891 and took the Brussels doctorate the same year. He served as clinical assistant to Sir John Tweedy at Moorfields and joined his father in consultant practice, continuing at the same house after George Lawso's death in 1903. He was ophthalmic surgeon to the Children's Hospital, Paddington Green from 1896 to 1910, and also to the Hospital for St John and St Elizabeth. He was appointed to the staff at the Royal London Ophthalmic Hospital, Moorfields in 1900, becoming surgeon in 1907 and consulting surgeon when he resigned in 1914. He had been elected assistant ophthalmic surgeon to the Middlesex Hospital in 1910, and was ophthalmic surgeon from 1914 to 1932, when he retired and was elected consulting ophthalmic surgeon. He was also consulting ophthalmologist to Epsom College and to the Royal Hospital and Home for Incurables at Putney Heath.

During the first world war Lawson served as a civil surgeon at King Edward VII's Hospital for Officers from 1914 to 1919. In 1915 on the formation of St Dunstan's Hospital for Blinded Soldiers and Sailors Lawson was appointed ophthalmic surgeon. He threw himself eagerly into this work, and was largely responsible for developing the training of the war-blinded in skilled trades and crafts, and for encouraging them to seek their own livings and regain their self-respect and self-reliance by partaking in the competitive effort to overcome their disabilities living in a community of fellow blind men away from over-sympathetic and protective relations. He was created KBE for his services in 1920. He resigned his staff post at St Dunstan's in 1920, but continued to take an active interest in its work and was for many years chairman of the ophthalmic advisory board. In 1918 and again in 1921 he was laid aside for some months with an obscure breakdown of tuberculous origin.

Lawson took a leading part in the affairs of the Ophthalmological Society. His father had been an original member of it, and Lawson was one of those who supported Edward Treacher Collins and successfully retained the identity of the Society at the time of the merging of medical societies in 1907. The Society's fine library was however merged with that of the Royal Medico-chirurgical Society and others in the great new library of the Royal Society of Medicine. Lawson was a frequent contributor at the meetings of the Ophthalmological Society, and his first paper, dealing with a case of his father's, was published in its Transactions in 1897. He gave the Society a life-time of invaluable service as honorary treasurer. In the Royal Society of Medicine he served as president of the ophthalmological section. He was also several times an officer of the ophthalmological section at annual meetings of the British Medical Association, in 1899, in 1906, and at Edinburgh in 1927 when he read a very useful paper on Antiseptics in modern ophthalmic surgery. He gave much time and work to the Royal Medical Benevolent Fund, and when Sir Thomas Barlow, FRCP, died in his hundredth year in 1945 Lawson succeeded him as its president. During the war of 1939-45 he served as a civil ophthalmic consultant to the Royal Navy.

Lawson married in 1904 Helen Hargreaves Clark, elder daughter of Andrew Clark, surgeon to the Middlesex Hospital and honorary surgeon to King George V. Lady Lawson died on 9 March 1944. Sir Arnold Lawson died on 19 January 1947 at 12 Harley Street, aged 79, survived by two sons and a daughter. He had been seeing patients only a month before. The funeral service was at All Saints' Church, Margaret Street, and a memorial service was held in the chapel of the Middlesex Hospital on 29 January. Lawson was a man of great personal charm. He took no part in professional politics, but as the distinguished son and son-in-law of distinguished surgeons was a prominent and popular figure in his specialty. Gold was his chief recreation and he was a member of the club at Littlestone on the Kentish coast. His eye-surgery, while old-fashioned in technique, was based on a profound knowledge of medicine. He had studied intensively the bacteriology of the normal conjunctival sac, and was always open to adopt the aid of new scientific advances.

Diseases and injuries of the eye, by George Lawson, 6th edition by Arnold Lawson, London, 1903.
The treatment of eye disease by radium, with Sir James Mackenzie Davidson. Brit med J 1910, 2, 1491.
Diseases of the iris and ciliary body; sympathetic ophthalmitis; cataract, in Latham and English, System of treatment, 1912.
War blindness at St Dunstan's. London, 1922. 148 pages.
Antiseptics in modem ophthalmic surgery. Brit med J 1927, 2, 1128.

Sources used to compile this entry: [The Times, 21 January 1947, p 9e, 24 January, p 7b, funeral, 25 January, p 7e, appreciation of his work for the Navy by P T N, 30 January, p 7e, memorial service; Brit med J 1947, 1, 161, with portrait, and p 870, will; Lancet, 1947, 1, 198, with portrait and appreciation by Sir Ian Fraser, MP, chairman of St Dunstan's; Brit J Ophthal 1947, 31, 251-254, with portrait].

The Royal College of Surgeons of England