Adair, Robert (1710/11?–1790), surgeon, was born in Ireland and trained in Dublin as a surgeon. He was obliged to leave the country when detected in a love affair, apparently with a married woman, who may have been Laetitia Pilkington (qv), divorced by her husband Matthew (qv) in 1738. Adair was penniless, and set out to walk to London from Holyhead; en route he gave medical assistance to a lady whose carriage had overturned, and in gratitude she gave him 100 guineas (£105), took him to London, and provided him with an entrée into the best society, where his skills and charming personality ensured success in his profession.
He was made (1738) a member of the London Company of Barber Surgeons; was appointed (1756) surgeon-general and first inspector of regimental infirmaries; and, in attending sick soldiers in the Isle of Wight, was one of the first doctors to note the beneficial effects of fresh air. He was present at the siege of Quebec, Canada (1759), and attained the highest ranks in the recently formed Surgeons’ Company. In 1767–8 he was master of the company, in 1773 he became surgeon to the king, and in 1777 he hastened to Italy to the bedside of the king's brother, the duke of Gloucester. The patient recovered, and the grateful monarch offered Adair a baronetcy; his refusal increased his popularity in society. Adair seems to have helped fellow Irishmen in London, and was honoured by Dublin surgeons, who made him one of the first three honorary members of the new Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland (1784). He resigned his offices in 1789 and died 16 March 1790.
Adair was known in his day as ‘the fortunate Irishman’; his success in his medical career was matched by a dazzling and unlikely marriage, for which he is best remembered. Lady Caroline Keppel fell madly in love with him after meeting him once; she was a daughter of the duke of Albemarle and a cousin of Lady Louisa Conolly (qv) and of Emily Fitzgerald, duchess of Leinster (qv); her family's outraged opposition was unavailing, and when her health was affected they agreed to the marriage. It took place on 22 February 1758; she was 21, and he was probably 47. The song ‘Robin Adair’, still sung, is said to have been written by Lady Caroline before their marriage, to the tune of an old Irish song which she may have heard Adair sing.
Their married life was brief: Lady Caroline died (1769) of consumption, after nursing her sister, who was also a consumptive. Adair wore mourning for the rest of his life as she had asked, except on the king's and queen's birthdays each year, and refused several opportunities of advantageous remarriage. They had two daughters and a son, also Robert Adair (1763–1855), who became a distinguished diplomat. A mezzotint of Adair in the portrait library of the Wellcome Institute, London, is accessible on line.