Benson, Charles (1797–1880), physician, was born in Collooney, Co. Sligo, into an ancient family, son of Charles Benson, land agent, and Elizabeth Benson (née Gray). Educated at W. C. Armstrong's school in Sligo, he was then indentured (1815) to C. H. Todd (qv), won a classical scholarship, and graduated BA (1819), MA, MB (1822), and MD (1840) from TCD.
After being admitted licentiate (1821) and fellow (1825) of the RCSI and serving as demonstrator of anatomy for several years, he was appointed professor of the practice of medicine at the RCSI (1836–72; a tenure unequalled for length in the history of the college), examiner, member of its governing council (1844), and president (1854–5). A lively lecturer, he welcomed the stimulus of questions from students, claiming that ‘we are all learners, and must be so in medicine, perhaps in everything, as long as we live’ (Lyons, 134). Popular with both staff and students, he was a founder and guiding spirit of the Junior Surgical Society of Ireland (1862–70), which welcomed medical students from all Dublin institutions. He published papers in professional journals, lectures on the ‘Theory and practice of medicine’ in the Dublin Medical Press (1840–42), and articles in the Cyclopaedia of anatomy and physiology (ed. R. B. Todd (qv)) and W. B. Costello's Cyclopedia of practical surgery (1841). A founder member of the (Royal) City of Dublin Hospital, Baggot St., established (1832) by six doctors to remedy the lack of beds for teaching purposes, he was secretary to the board of directors (1832–80), visiting physician (1832–69), and consulting physician (1869–80).
An early member of the Irish Medical Association, founded in 1839 to protect the rights of medical practitioners and seek uniform standards of medical education, he was elected president in 1853, when it was reconvened by a Dublin congress of doctors to agitate for medical reforms after experiencing the deterioration of working conditions under the medical charities act (1852). He enjoyed a large practice and was active in many charitable societies, including the (Royal) Medical Benevolent Fund Society of Ireland, for which he was hon. sec. (1843–54). Elected MRIA (1825), he served as hon. sec. of the Surgical Society of Ireland (1846–72) and vice-president of the Royal Zoological Society. Resigning from medical practice in 1872 due to failing sight, he was honoured by the RCSI, which commissioned Stephen Catterson Smith (qv) to paint his portrait, which hangs in the college; a replica was held the City of Dublin Hospital.
He contributed poems to several periodicals, on occasion under the pseudonym ‘Carl Benson’; he wrote under ‘Senior’ in the Irish Times (10 July 1861), when he entered the controversy surrounding the appointment of Philip Crampton Smyly (qv), arguing that his youth and inexperience should not impede his appointment as surgeon at the Meath Hospital, Dublin. Mild-mannered and distinguished, with a long white beard, Benson died 21 January 1880 at his home, 42 Fitzwilliam Square, Dublin, and was buried in Mount Jerome cemetery, Dublin.
He married first a Mrs Lamb; they had one daughter, who died aged 12. After the death of his first wife, he married Maria Andrews; they had five sons and three daughters. Two of their sons enjoyed distinguished medical careers: Sir John Hawtrey Benson (1843–1931), president of the RCPI 1910–12, was physician to the City of Dublin Hospital (1866–1931); and Arthur Henry Benson (1852–1912) – who prescribed glasses for the young James Joyce (qv) – was fellow of the RCSI, a founder of the Royal Victoria Eye and Ear Hospital, Dublin, and ophthalmic surgeon to the City of Dublin Hospital, which named a ward after him (1894). Their fourth son, Sir Ralph Sillery Benson (1851–1920), was under-secretary to the Madras government in India, chief justice of the province, and vice-chancellor of Madras University. Two of his daughters were accomplished amateur artists: Mary Kate Benson (1842–1921) and Charlotte Elizabeth Benson (1846–93) both studied and won prizes at the Dublin Society's School and exhibited at the RHA.