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Biographical entry Jessop, Walter Hamilton Hylton (1853 - 1917)

MRCS July 20th 1880; FRCS Dec 11th 1884; MA MB Cantab 1882; JP.

16 February 1917
Ophthalmic surgeon


Born at Cheltenham, the son of Walter Jessop. His father, who was in partnership with William Dalton, had been House Surgeon at the Charing Cross and Westminster Ophthalmic Hospitals. At the time of his son's birth he was Surgeon to the General Hospital and Dispensary, to the Ophthalmic Dispensary, and to the Dispensary for Women and Children in Cheltenham. Walter Jessop was educated at the Bedford Commercial School, where he gained the Harpur Exhibition of £200. He then proceeded to the Hartley Institute at Southampton and began to work for the Indian Civil Service. He was given a Tancred Studentship in medicine tenable at Caius College, Cambridge; matriculated on Oct 1st, 1872, and graduated BA in 1876, proceeding MB in 1882 and MA in 1886. He entered St Bartholomew's Hospital in October, 1876, and served the offices of House Surgeon to Alfred Willett (qv) and Ophthalmic House Surgeon to Henry Power (qv) and Bowater J Vernon (qv). In the course of his duty he contracted a severe attack of diphtheria with subsequent paralysis of his vocal cords, the effects of which never completely disappeared.

In 1882 he was appointed Assistant Demonstrator of Anatomy at St Bartholomew's Hospital with W J Walsham, W Bruce Clarke, and C B Lockwood as his colleagues. He served from 1882-1894, and during the latter years, as full and Senior Demonstrator, he was in charge of the rooms. These years were times of anxiety and trouble. He married and shortly afterwards lost his wife, who left him with an infant daughter; he took a large house and, like the majority of his contemporaries who were seeking hospital appointments, paid his rent by taking resident pupils at the rate of £126 a year each. The fee was not always paid regularly and the pupils often required a firm controlling hand. During these years, too, Jessop had determined to devote himself to ophthalmic practice. He became attached to the staff of the Central London Ophthalmic Hospital, after being a Clinical Assistant at Moorfields, and acted as Ophthalmic Surgeon to the Western General Dispensary, and later to the Foundling Hospital and to the Children's Hospital at Paddington Green.

He was elected Junior Ophthalmic Surgeon to St Bartholomew's Hospital in October, 1894, in succession to Henry Power, who retired on reaching the age limit of 65. The election, which involved a personal canvass of the Governors, was keenly contested, and at the poll Jessop obtained 98 votes, Ernest Clarke 27 votes. He succeeded to the office of Senior Ophthalmic Surgeon on the retirement of Bowater J Vernon in 1901, and then rapidly obtained a large practice. Being a Liberal in politics, he took No 73 Harley Street on the site of a house once occupied by W E Gladstone. He had later in life a country house on the river bank at Sutton Courtney, Berks, where he was appointed a JP for the county. In 1915 he was elected President of the Ophthalmological Society.

Jessop made an exhaustive research in 1885 on the action of cocaine on the eye, and the conclusions at which he arrived were confirmed by other observers, The results show that he could have done good scientific work had he chosen, but he preferred to devote his energies to the clinical side of ophthalmic surgery. He delivered the Hunterian Lectures at the Royal College of Surgeons in 1887-1888, taking as his subject the anatomy and physiology of the intra-ocular muscles of the eye, and in 1888 he communicated a paper on the same subject to the International Ophthalmic Congress. From 1885 every volume of the Transactions of the Ophthalmological Society contains some contributions by him, and in 1898 he published an excellent Manual on Diseases of the Eye, of which a second edition appeared in 1908.

During the War he acted as Ophthalmic Surgeon at the First London General Hospital whilst carrying on his work at the different hospitals with which he was connected, as well as his own private practice. He added to the fatigue - somewhat unnecessarily - by living at Sutton Courtney, rising very early to swim in the river, and returning late in the evening. He died of pneumonia after a few days' illness on Friday, Feb 16th, 1917, and was cremated at Golder's Green. He married twice and left a daughter by his first wife.

Jessop made a unique position for himself in the ophthalmological world; and he was probably the best known of the English ophthalmic surgeons to his brethren on the Continent of Europe, for he was an assiduous attendant at the various International Congresses of medicine or ophthalmology and was usually present at the Annual Meetings of Ophthalmic Surgeons held at Heidelberg and Paris. The latter years of his life were much occupied in arranging for a British Journal of Ophthalmology to be financed by a limited liability company, of which he was appointed the managing director. The journal was to incorporate the Royal London Ophthalmic Hospital Reports, the Ophthalmic Review, and the Ophthalmoscope. The suggestion came originally from Professor Straub, of Amsterdam, but Jessop was the moving spirit in the enterprise. He also acted as librarian of the Bowman Collection when the library was transferred from the Ophthalmological Society to the keeping of the Royal Society of Medicine.

His habits portrayed in a striking way the 'herd instinct'. He was gregarious and was never so happy as when he was surrounded by troops of his friends. He was a lover of music and of art, and had made a first-rate collection of Whistler etchings, examples from which were shown at the Royal Academy Exhibition in 1917. The collection was dispersed in the United States after his death. He was a good sportsman, President of the Hospital Football Club, and from very early days to the end of his life he kept a boat on the Thames. He was appointed a Junior Grand Deacon in the United Grand Lodge of Freemasons in 1905.

Sources used to compile this entry: [St Bart's Hosp Jour, 1894, ii, 1 and 2; 1917, xxiv, 63 and 64, with portrait. Lancet, 1917, i, 310, with portrait. Personal knowledge].

The Royal College of Surgeons of England