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Biographical entry Doran, Alban Henry Griffith (1849 - 1927)

MRCS Jan 24th 1871; FRCS June 10th 1875; LSA 1871.

London, UK
23 August 1927
London, UK
Anatomist, General surgeon and Pathologist


Born in Pembroke Square, Kensington, the only son of Dr John Doran (Dict. Nat. Biog.) by his marriage with Emma, daughter of Captain Gilbert, RN, and was the grandson of John Doran, of Drogheda. John Doran, Alban Doran's father, lived in the very centre of Victorian literary and artist society. He was intimate with Douglas Jerrold, with Thackeray, with Frith the painter, and a host of others. And of these great men he had many stories to tell. He was editor of the Athenaeum for a time and of Notes and Queries, and is best known for his standard book on the actors -His Majesty's Servants.

Alban Doran received his early education at a school in Barnes. When he was 18 he entered St Bartholomew's Hospital, where he won many prizes. He served as House Surgeon to Luther Holden, as House Physician, and as Assistant Demonstrator of Anatomy. He gave up teaching in a year's time, and being a skilled and delicate dissector, he became in 1873 Assistant in the Museum of the Royal College of Surgeons under Sir William Flower. Thus began his life-long connection with the Hunterian Museum. Soon afterwards Flower fell ill, and Doran acted as his Museum Secretary, thus establishing relations with such eminent men as Owen and Huxley, whom he always remembered with enthusiasm. It was during this period possibly that he showed Alfred Tennyson over the Museum, the poet taking the utmost interest in all he saw and thus somewhat belying the assertion of anti-vivisectionists, who rank him from the evidence of one of his poems as anti-surgical and therefore one of themselves - and this although he disclaimed any anti-vivisectionist bias.

On the return to duty of Sir William Flower, Doran helped him in his work as a craniometrist. His attention was drawn to the middle ear in mammals, and he took up the subject enthusiastically, exploring the large stores of mammalian skulls in the Museum and finding a great number of auditory ossicula, which he mounted on glass. It only then came to his knowledge that Professor Hyrtl had written a monograph on the subject, based on a considerable number of specimens. At that time the College received very frequently the bodies of animals which had died in the Zoological Gardens, and these furnished him with additional materials. With the help of Mr Ockenden, for many years an assistant in the Gardens, he dissected out the auditory ossicles of an elephant. The collection of ossicula thus acquired was displayed, as they may still be seen, in wide shallow boxes. The ossicula auditus were exhibited at a meeting of the Royal Society, and a little later a monograph on the subject was published, with engravings by C Berjeau, in the Transactions of the Linnean Society.

Doran looked back on his early period in the Museum with much fondness. His collection of ear bones is still regarded as a standard one. His Linnean Society paper was elaborate, and in the evening of his life nothing pleased him so much as a reference by a present-day authority to his early monograph. Even as he lay on what proved to be his deathbed, his interest was at once aroused when a friend mentioned to him that the accuracy of his description of the ear bones of the golden mole had been highly commended in a monograph just communicated to the Royal Society, and thereafter he relapsed into the lament that there were two important gaps in his collection of auditory ossicles in the Museum of the College he had never succeeded in filling up. Such an instance is characteristic of Doran's attitude to the world; it was knowledge, not money, that he thought of.

Doran was not exclusively devoted to anatomy; he became well known as a pathologist. For some years he held the appointment of Pathological Assistant at the College of Surgeons, and for eight years he laboured with Sir James Paget and Sir James Goodhart in the compilation of a catalogue of the pathological specimens in the Museum.

In 1877 he was elected an Assistant Surgeon to the Samaritan Free Hospital for Women, where he had Sir Spencer Wells, Dr Bantock, and Knowsley Thornton for colleagues, and took part in that development of gynaecology with which their names, as well as his own, will always be associated. At the Samaritan he came under the direct influence of Spencer Wells, who perhaps more than any other man can be called the originator of modern abdominal surgery. Doran became well known as an ovariotomist at the Samaritan. He was attached to the Hospital for over thirty years, and established there his claim to be a fine operator and an individual thinker. Before operating, he was said by Leslie Ward, who refers to him at some length in his memoirs, to have been the picture of nervousness, but the moment the operation began he was masterly.

Owing to failing eyesight, Doran retired from private practice in 1909. After his father's death he had lived with his mother - to whom he was devoted - in Granville Place, and continued there after her decease, till he moved to a flat in Palace Mansions, West Kensington. On his retirement he returned as a volunteer officer to the Hunterian Museum, and joined with Shattock (qv) in re-arranging the obstetrical and gynaecological collections, and with Dr. John Davis Barris, he mounted a small instructive group of normal and deformed pelves. He had been elected President of the Obstetrical Society in 1899 and had held office for many years. When the Society was merged in the Royal Society of Medicine, he was active in promoting the transfer of its museum as a loan collection to the College.

From 1912 onwards his energies were largely devoted to the compilation of a descriptive catalogue of the obstetrical and other instruments in the Museum, to which Sir Rickman Godlee added the appliances and instruments used by Lister. This catalogue has been of great service to those interested in the subjects above indicated. His second task was the preparation of a descriptive catalogue of the great collection of obstetrical instruments presented to the College by the old Obstetrical Society. This undertaking involved Doran in a laborious and prolonged historical inquiry into the evolution of obstetrical instruments, and nowhere is his accuracy and breadth of scholarship so apparent as in this catalogue - in reality a text-book of reference. Having finished this task, he then proceeded to prepare a new catalogue, one for which there was great need, of the great collection of surgical instruments and appliances preserved in the Museum of the Royal College of Surgeons. His memory for fact or the written word was prodigious, and to the very last he could give a correct reference to an obscure fact or passage in a long-forgotten periodical. He was a veritable encyclopaedia of knowledge.

His last visit to the College was in June, 1927, when he arrived attended by a nurse. His sight had nearly gone, but in the Instrument Room, to which he was guided, he brightened up and gave lucid and instructive accounts of such objects as W R Beaumont's (qv) palatal sewing-machine, which he was very dimly able to distinguish with his remaining eye, the other being obscured by cataract. His had been a long race with bodily affliction, and while still visiting the College about once a week, he had repeatedly exclaimed: "I hope to finish my Catalogue before I have to give up altogether." That he did finish it in time was a vast satisfaction to him, and to all who loved him seemed a triumph.

Some days before his death, Doran was taken to St Bartholomew's Hospital to be operated on for glaucoma. He fainted during, or just after, the operation, and died on Aug 23rd, 1927, in the Ophthalmic Ward of his old hospital. He never married. The College Collections possess many portraits of this remarkable man.

Doran's bibliography is truly enormous, one of the longest in our Library Catalogue. It contains some 130 separate titles, and must be left to some future bibliographer to compile. Throughout his life he was a keen Shakespearean scholar. Doran joined the salaried staff of the British Medical Journal as sub-editor in the early eighties and did admirable work. He was the first editor of the Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology of the British Empire, in which many biographical notices appear often from his pen.

"Morphology of the Mammalian Ossicula Auditus." - Trans. Linnean Soc., London, 1875-9, 2nd ser., i (Zool.), 371, with plates lviii-lxiv. See also Jour. Linnean Soc. (Zool.) xiii, 185; and Proc. Roy. Soc., xxv, 101.
Clinical and Pathological Observations on Tumours of Ovary, Fallopian Tube, and Broad Ligament, 1884, 8vo, London.
Handbook of Gynaecological Operations, 8vo, London, 1887. (For an account of this important work, see the author's obituary in Lancet, 1927, ii, 529.)
"Guide to Gynaecological Specimens, Museum of the Royal College of Surgeons, England."
"Medicine," Chapter 14, Shakespeare's England, 1916.
Articles on "Diseases of Fallopian Tubes" in Allbutt and Playfair's System of Gynaecology, 1906, and Encyclopaedia of Medicine, iii.
"Subtotal Hysterectomy for Fibromyoma Uteri: 40 Additional Histories." - Proc. Roy. Soc. Med., 1911.
"Osteomalacia - the Broughton Pelvis in the Museum of the Royal College of Surgeons." - Jour. Obst. and Gyncaecol, 1912, xxi, 65.
"Dusée: his Forceps and his Contemporaries," 8vo, 2 plates, London, 1912; reprinted from Jour. Obst. and Gynaecol., 1912, xxii, 117.
"Dusée, De Wind, and Smellie: an Addendum," 8vo, London, 1912; reprinted from Jour. Obst. and Gynaecol., 1912, xxii, 203.
"A Demonstration of some Eighteenth Century Obstetric Forceps," 8vo, plates, 1913; reprinted from Proc. Roy. Soc. Med. (Sect. History), 1913, vi, 54, 76.
"Burton ('Dr Slop'): his Forceps and his Foes," 8vo, plates, London, 1913 ;
reprinted from Jour. Obst. and Gynaecol., 1913, xxiii, 3, 65.
"The Speculum Matricis," 8vo, plates, London, 1914; reprinted from Jour. Obst. and Gynaecol., 1914, xxvi, 133.

Sources used to compile this entry: [Jour. Obst. and Gynaecol. Brit. Emp., 1927, xxxiv, 546, with a remarkable pencil sketch - reproduced as a full-plate illustration - by Cuthbert Lockyer. Lancet, 1927, ii, 520, with portrait. Brit. Med. Jour., 1927, ii, 473, with portrait (a good likeness). Personal knowledge].

The Royal College of Surgeons of England