Jacob, Arthur (1790–1874), ophthalmologist, medical editor and reformer, was born 13 June 1790 in Knockfin near Maryborough, Queen's Co. (Portlaoise, Co. Laois), grandson of surgeon Michael Jacob, and second son of John Jacob, MD, and Grace Jacob (née Ally). Indentured in 1808 to his father (surgeon at the Queen's Co. Infirmary, Maryborough), he entered RCSI (1811), was a pupil of Abraham Colles (qv) at Dr Steevens' Hospital, Dublin, and graduated licentiate RCSI (1813), and MD (1814) from Edinburgh University. He continued his studies in Paris and London before returning to Dublin, where he became MRCSI (1816) and established himself in private practice as an ophthalmologist. An outstanding figure in the Irish school of medicine, he contributed to research, medical education, and the organisation of the profession.
Appointed demonstrator of anatomy at TCD (1819) under Professor James Macartney (qv), he distinguished himself by his research, particularly in his identification of the layer of the retina later known as ‘Jacob's membrane’ (his most important discovery, described in Philosophical Transactions (1819), 300–07), which was later recognised as containing the light-sensitive cells known as rods and cones. The first to describe (1827) a rodent ulcer on the face and eyelid (which during the nineteenth century was known as ‘Jacob's ulcer’), he was famous for his operation for the removal of cataracts using a bent needle. His clinical work on the eye was published in his only book, A treatise on the inflammation of the eyeball (1849), a classic of ophthalmology. He published papers on comparative anatomy, studying whales and sunfish, and contributed articles to the Cyclopaedia of anatomy and the Cyclopaedia of practical medicine. A keen clinician, he wrote An essay on the influence of the imagination and passions in the production and cure of diseases (1823).
Seeking to reform medical education, he left TCD in 1824 to found with Robert Graves (qv) and others the celebrated Park St. (Lincoln Place) school of medicine (1824); he gave the inaugural lecture and lectured in anatomy and physiology till its closure in 1860. As professor of anatomy at the RCSI (1827–67), he contributed to the broadening of the syllabus, and informed his students that the college diploma was ‘universally accepted as evidence of fitness to practise every branch of the healing art’. One of the most active members of the college, he was a council member, nominated censor (1828), and elected president (1837, 1864). He founded two Dublin hospitals, the Charitable Institute for the Cure of Diseases of the Skin and Eye (1817–23) in Kildare St. and the Ophthalmic Hospital in Pitt (Balfe) St. (1829–34) – the only Dublin hospital ever to specialise solely in ophthalmology, and established partly to facilitate teaching. He transferred his practice to the (Royal) City of Dublin Hospital, which he helped to found in 1832, and where he practised as an eye specialist till 1866.
In 1836 he became assistant editor of the Dublin Journal of Medical and Chemical Science, but resigned after some months, probably because of the publication of vitriolic articles on medical politics, a subject that had previously been excluded from the journal; he was succeeded by William Wilde (qv), for whom Jacob henceforth nurtured a lifelong animosity. A tireless fighter for medical reform, he recognised that, in the interests of the public and of medical practitioners, greater organisation was necessary; for this purpose he, with Henry Maunsell (qv), founded and edited the Dublin Medical Press (1838), a weekly newspaper which was immediately well received. It published original papers, reported on international scientific meetings, and readily discussed all questions affecting medical practitioners, championed their improved status and welfare, and campaigned for their professional unification. Always candid, often controversial, the paper never hesitated to criticise the authorities or colleagues, frequently launching diatribes against any one with whom it disagreed, as in its description of Robert Graves's work as ‘excrementitious discharge’. In 1839 Jacob, together with Richard Carmichael (qv) and others, founded the Irish Medical Association expressly to fight for a unified medical profession and represent its views; he was a founder and committee member of the (Royal) Medical Benevolent Fund established in 1842 to help medical families in distress.
An austere figure, he devoted himself wholly to professional tasks, working from early morning to past midnight. He revelled in controversy, and his cantankerous manner and critical writings denied him many personal friends; his contribution to the medical profession, however, was recognised when a gold medal by William Woodhouse (1805–78), imprinted with his portrait and an inscription, was presented to him in 1860 by his colleagues; elected MRIA (1828), he was awarded an hon. MD from TCD (1863), and a portrait by Stephen Catterson Smith (qv) (1806–72) and bust were commissioned by the RCSI, which instituted the commemorative Arthur Jacob open medical scholarship. He retired c.1868 to Newbarnes, Barrow-in-Furness, England, to live with his son Arthur, borough surveyor to the town council, and died there 21 September 1874. He married Sarah Carroll (d. 1839); they had five sons, and one daughter who died in infancy.
His fourth son, Archibald Hamilton Jacob (1837–1901), ophthalmologist and editor, was born 13 May 1837 in Dublin and graduated LRCSI (1850), MD (1862) from TCD, and FRCSI (1863); he studied diseases of the eye and ear under his father at the City of Dublin Hospital and followed in his footsteps. He was appointed professor of ophthalmology (1881–1901) and secretary to the council of the RCSI (1884–94). Surgeon at the City of Dublin (1866–70) and Richmond hospitals, he was founder and surgeon to the Dublin Eye and Ear Infirmary (1872–5), established at his home, 23 Ely Place, which had accommodation for eighteen patients. From 1883 to 1901 he served as oculist to the lord lieutenant. A member of several societies, he was council member and president (1884) of the IMA, and in 1890 submitted a scheme for its reconstitution, which caused division in the association but was later accepted. He was the founding editor of the Irish Medical Directory (1872–96), and published articles in medical journals. Succeeding his father as proprietor and editor of the Dublin Medical Press in 1860, he retained his editorial role when it was amalgamated (1865) with the London Medical Circular, becoming the Medical Press and Circular (1867). A trenchant writer, he campaigned effectively for reform in the Irish poor-law medical service and secured benefits for its officers. He died 12 January 1901 and was buried in Mount Jerome cemetery, Dublin. He married (1862) Florence Elizabeth M'Clean; of their twelve children, Alfred Hildebrand Jacob and Archibald Hamilton Jacob practised as doctors in England.