Adams, Robert (1791–1875), surgeon, was born in Dublin, son of Samuel Adams, solicitor, and his wife (née Filgate), and was apprenticed successively to William Hartigan (qv) (1810) and George Stewart (1813), surgeon general to the English army in Ireland. Entering TCD, he graduated BA (1814), MA (1832), MB and MD (1842), and M.Ch. (1861), and was admitted licentiate (1816) and fellow (1818) of the RCSI.
After studying medical practice in Europe, he was appointed (1818) surgeon to the Charitable Infirmary, Jervis St., Dublin. Around 1822 he established a dissecting school behind his house in Mecklenburg St. (later burnt down by a mob objecting to the practice of body snatching) and taught in other private medical schools before his association with Richard Carmichael (qv) and Ephraim McDowel (qv) in the founding (1826) of the famous Richmond Hospital School of Medicine, Anatomy, and Surgery (renamed the Carmichael School, 1849), where he lectured in anatomy, physiology, and surgery.
After the death of McDowel, he competed with John MacDonnell (qv) for the post of surgeon at the Richmond Hospital; the hospital board's difficulty in choosing between such able candidates was resolved when Carmichael resigned so that the hospital would benefit from both surgeons. They made major contributions to the hospital and Adams assisted John MacDonnell in performing the first operation under anaesthesia in Ireland (1847). A distinguished surgeon, he developed a large practice, served as consulting surgeon to the Rotunda and Sir Patrick Dun's Hospitals, and became known as the revered father of Irish surgery.
His reputation, however, rests on his varied and extensive research and numerous publications (recorded in Medical Classics, iii, no. 4 (December 1938), 621–30). In 1827 he published a long article, ‘Cases of diseases of the heart accompanied with pathological observations’ (Dublin Hospital Reports, iv (1827), 353–453) in which he made several original observations, for which he was not always subsequently credited (though this did not disturb his equanimity). Most important, however, were his observations on apoplexy associated with heart disease, which were later developed by William Stokes (qv) – hence the ‘Stokes–Adams syndrome’, the first Irish cardiac eponym. Interested in joint pathology, Adams was the first to describe a synovial cyst, which he did at a meeting of the Dublin Pathological Society (1840), and published ‘Chronic rheumatic arthritis of the knee joint’ (Dublin Jn. Med. Sc., xvii (1840), 520–22). A treatise on rheumatic gout or chronic rheumatic arthritis of all the joints (1857; 2nd ed. 1873) is his classic work and he also contributed five articles on abnormal joints to Robert Todd, Cyclopaedia of anatomy and physiology (1835–59).
He was appointed professor (later regius professor) of surgery, TCD (1861–75) and elected president (1840, 1860, 1867) of the RCSI, where a postgraduate lecture course is named after him. President of the Dublin Pathological Society and member of many medical assocations, he was elected MRIA (1838), became a senator on the founding of the Queen's University, and was appointed surgeon-in-ordinary to the queen in Ireland (1861). Short and stout with black bushy hair, he was sociable, delighted his friends with his unlimited store of anecdotes and was a member of the Medical Society, a peripatetic dining club. A great lover of horses, he always had a fine one to draw his cabriolet. He suffered severely from gout, but worked until shortly before his death (13 January 1875) from heart disease at his home, 22 St Stephen's Green, Dublin, and was buried in Mount Jerome cemetery, Dublin. He married (1841) Miss Lebas and secondly Mary Montgomery. No evidence has been found of children.