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Biographical entry Poland, Alfred (1822 - 1872)

MRCS Aug 4th 1843; FRCS Aug 12th 1847.

21 August 1872
Ophthalmic surgeon


The son of William Poland, of Blackheath; born in London and educated at Highgate, in Paris, and at Frankfort. In 1839 he became an articled pupil to Aston Key, and thus enjoyed advantages of the favoured class of students at Guy's Hospital. After qualifying he became Demonstrator of Anatomy, Assistant Surgeon to Guy's Hospital in 1849, Surgeon in 1861, and was placed in general charge of the Ophthalmic Department previously under France. From 1848-1861 he was Surgeon to the Royal Ophthalmic Hospital, Moorfields, but he gradually dropped out of ophthalmic practice, being hindered by ill health induced by a purulent affection contracted in the wards.

In 1867 he had to give up lecturing, and in 1870 he also gave up his consulting-rooms at 42 Finsbury Circus, EC, and lived in his father's house at Blackheath. In spite of a violent cough, he continued to see patients at Guy's Hospital, his last visit being on Aug 17th, 1872.

Poland's reputation as a teacher of surgery and as an expert operator was mainly confined to the Hospital and the pupils attached to him. He died of consumption on Aug 21st, 1872. His Triennial Prize Dissertation on "The Origin, Connection and Distribution of the Nerves of the Human Eye and its Appendages" was awarded an honorarium of fifty guineas, the actual prize having been won by Henry Gray (qv) in 1848. His manuscripts of this and of the Jacksonian Essay on "Gunshot Wounds and their Treatment" are in the College Library. His Fothergillian Prize with the Gold Medal was for the essay on "Injuries and Wounds of the Abdomen" at the Medical Society of London, 1853. With Sir Samuel Wilks he edited the Guy's Hospital Reports (1843-1865) and contributed thereto numerous papers.

Sir Samuel Wilks says:-
"If Poland could have been kept for hospital duties only his position would have been an admirable one, being a good surgeon, an expert operator, and an excellent teacher. His systematic method was much appreciated by the students. With them he was a great favourite, although his unprepossessing appearance made it seem unlikely. Probably ill health and domestic trials tended to make him quite reckless of professional success. It was said of him with great truth that if Poland had been shut in a room containing not a single book, but only pens and paper, he could have written a complete work on surgery: not in a vague way, giving merely general descriptions, but in a systematic manner detailing the distinct forms and varieties of the diseases then in his mind."

Sources used to compile this entry: [Wilks and Bettany's Biographical History of Guy's Hospital, London, 1892, 351. Lancet, 1872, ii, 318. Brit Med Jour, 1872, ii, 282. Med Times and Gaz, 1872, ii, 338].

The Royal College of Surgeons of England