Browse Fellows


www Lives

Biographical entry Johnson, George Lindsay (1853 - 1943)

MRCS 24 January 1881; FRCS 11 December 1884; BA Cambridge 1875; MA 1880; MB 1882; BCh 1884; MD 1890.

10 July 1853
1 August 1943
Durham Durham
Ophthalmic surgeon


Born at Manchester on 10 July 1853, the younger son of William: Johnson, ironmaster and manufacturer, and Emma, his wife, youngest daughter of George Fife Angas, of Lindsay Park, Angaston, South Australia, for whom see DNB. He was educated at Amersham Hall near Reading and then in Germany, at Bonn, at Kornthal in Wurttemberg, and at Stuttgart. He was in Strasbourg when the Prussians seized it in 1870, and barely escaped with his life. He also spent a year on an uncle's ranch in South Australia and later worked there as a surveyor. He then studied at Owen's College, Manchester and at Göttingen University before going up to Caius College, Cambridge. He took his clinical training at St Bartholomew's Hospital, qualifying at the age of twenty-seven.

Specializing in ophthalmology he served as registrar at the Royal Westminster Ophthalmic Hospital, at the same time studying the comparative anatomy of the eye by dissecting at the Zoological Society's gardens; a research of which he later contributed studies to the Royal Society. He was also for a time on the staff of the Royal Eye Hospital, and served as consulting ophthalmic surgeon to the Western General Dispensary, the West End Hospital for Nervous Diseases, the French Hospital, Dr Barnardo's Homes, and New College, London, NW. For twenty years he examined in theoretical applied optics for the Spectacle Makers Company of London. With R Brudenell Carter, FRCS, he made pioneer experiments in colour-photography and also devilled for Carter in his role of medical correspondent of The Times. Johnson retained his interest in photography, wrote much on the subject, and served as a member of council of the Royal Photographic Society. He was also throughout life an active free-lance medical journalist.

In 1911 at the age of fifty-seven, he emigrated to South Africa for the sake of his health, and settled first at Johannesburg, where he became ophthalmic surgeon to the railways and practised privately. In 1916 he moved to Durban, and retiring in 1930 continued there for the remaining thirteen years of his life. He was appointed ophthalmic surgeon to HM Forces in Natal, with the rank of captain in the South African Medical Corps. He was a corresponding member of the Royal Italian Society of Sciences and the Kaiser William Society for the Promotion of Sciences at Berlin, and an Honorary Fellow of the American Academy of Ophthalmology and Otolaryngology.

Johnson married twice: (1) Emily Maria Schreiber; their two sons were killed in the first world war; (2) in 1903, Eliza Susan Rooth of Pretoria, who also died before him, leaving one son; at the time of their marriage she was Mrs Klinck, a widow. Johnson died at 4 Evans Road, Durban, Natal on 1 August 1943, aged 90.

Lindsay Johnson was a versatile man and from his cosmopolitan education a fluent linguist, speaking French, German, and Italian, to which he added Afrikaans soon after settling in South Africa. He was sarcastic and irascible in manner, but essentially kindly and most generous. In later years he took a deep interest in spiritualism and wrote a successful book on personal survival, although his outlook was on the whole sceptical and he had said: "What you believe is of no consequence, what you do is the only thing that matters. Do all the good you can and make no fuss about it". Towards the end of his life he became very deaf, but hoped to live to be a hundred years old, "as my blood currents are in good order and my brain as strong as ever". Johnson amused himself with experiments in photography and in devising optical instruments of precision, among which he invented a macula sensitometer. He also enjoyed motoring and exploring.

Johnson was a frequent contributor to ophthalmological journals, to the Proceedings of the Zoological Society, to the Journal of the London Spiritualist Association, Light, and to the South African Medical Journal and its predecessors. He had intended to contribute chapters from his autobiography to the SA med J, but never did so.
His principal works include:
A new method of treating chronic glaucoma. London, 1884.
Pocket atlas and textbook of the fundus oculi, with drawings from the life by Arthur W Head. London, 1911.
The vitreous, zonule and ciliary processes. SA med J 1941, 15, 357. Contributions to the comparative anatomy of the mammalian eye chiefly based on ophthalmoscopic examination. Phil Trans Roy Soc London 1901, 194B, 1-82 and plates 1-30; ... of the reptilian and amphibian eye. Ibid 1927, 215B, 315-352 and plates 20-25.
Photographic optics and colour photography. London, 1909.
Photography in natural colours. London, 2nd edition 1914; 4th, 1922.
The great problem and the evidence for its solution [on personal survival of death] 1928; 2nd edition, 1935; American edition 1936.
The weird adventures of Professor Delapine of the Sorbonne. London, 1916.
The land of the little moons.

Sources used to compile this entry: [SA med J 1943, 17, 268; Light, London Spiritualist Association, 1943, 63, 282, eulogy by Aubrey Turle; further information given by Mrs Alice Pollock, and by his nephew the Rev Alan Douglas Johnson, Rector of Christ Church, Ashton-under-Lyne, through Lee, Scott and Co, solicitors, Manchester].

The Royal College of Surgeons of England