Sir William Wilde (1815-76) was the father of Oscar Wilde. However, he was not only a distinguished archeologist and statistician but also a dominant figure in otology and ophthalmology at the Dublin School of Medicine. Dr. Wilde lived in an age of change - born in the year of Waterloo, he was a student in the days of body-snatching, worked in the horrors of the famine years, and lived to see the birth of antiseptic surgery. The years of his prime were the heyday of Dublin medicine and he was styled ‘the father of Otology’ (first to put aural surgery on a scientific basis).
Wilde was born in the parish of Kilkeevin, near Castlerea. He was educated at Elphin Diocesan School, at Banagher (the school formerly principalled by Arthur Bell Nicholls, husband of Charlotte Brontë), at Dr. Steevens’ Hosp., (where he qualified BM, 1837) and at Moorsfields Eye Hospital, London (with visits to Vienna, Berlin, and Heidelberg where he learned of scientific advances in ear, nose and throat [ENT] treatment, 1838-41). Prior to becoming an ENT Surgeon, he worked with Charles Lever to relieve patients of cholera epidemic in Connacht, reputedly performing an emergency trachotomy on a child with pocket-scissors.
In 1841 he was appointed Medical Commissioner to the Irish Census, 1841 (a post which he retained for the following census of 1851) collecting categories of information not included in other national censuses of the period. He was knighted by Queen Victoria in 1864 for work on the Irish Census in which he provided exemplary data covering years including the famine period [viz., tables on Famine mortality].
In 1844, he established Molesworth St. Hospital and later set up St Mark’s Ophthalmic Hospital at his own expense (at the rear of TCD; adjascent to Great Brunswick St.), which he later incorporated with the Victoria Eye and Ear Hospital (Pembroke Rd.). St Mark's pioneered Aural Teaching for years in the British Isles.
His surgical reputation was built on his performance of the mastoiditis operation. Like most of his ophthalmologic contemporaries he believed that eyestrain led to visual impairment. He wrote:
"In these days of forced education on the one hand, when unhappy children are compelled, both by parents and teachers, to pore over books, often of very small type, for hours and hours together, with the head bent, the shoulders stooped, the abdomen compressed, and the legs often dangling in the air, in crowded, badly illuminated, and illventilated apartments;— when young ladies in the upper circles, and those girls in the middle ranks who are preparing to be governesses and teachers, are obliged to "practice" and read music for five and six hours a day;—when young gentlemen are induced, either by threats or emulation, to read for eight and ten hours a day, and in addition several hours of the night, under the glare of a strong gas light, in order to uphold the character of a school or master at the risk—often at the expense of sight and life—when on the other hand, unfortunate tradesmen are compelled by low wages, the high price of provisions, and scarcity of work, to support their almost starving families by working in dark, damp cellars and garrets for fourteen or sixteen hours a day;—and when poor seamstresses and milliners are necessitated by the fashionable luxuries of the upper classes to work for no less than eighteen hours out of the twenty-four;—and when we add to this the various factories and private trades which require the continuous application of the eye to minute objects, we wonder not that near-sightedness and impaired or altered vision should be now so common amongst us."
In 1853, he was appointed Surgeon Occulist in Ordinary to the Queen in Ireland, the first position of its kind. In 1854 his son, Oscar Wilde, the famous writer and poet was born in Dublin. In 1862, William Wilde purchased 170 acres of the Ballymacgibbon estate, where he built Moytura House and it was here that Oscar Wilde spent all his summers until his early twenties.
He lectured at the YMCA on “Ireland Past and Present: The Land and the People” (1864) - describing the present as a ‘the transition stage’, and urging that they were where ‘living under the mildest government in the world, a truly regal republic’.
Wilde was involved in a suit instigated by his wife against Mary Josephine Travers (with whom he had an affair when she was an ear patient, 1854-60, and who wrote a scurrilous pamphlet characterising him as Dr. Quilp, with charges of raping a patient under chloroform). Travers - for whom Isaac Butt acted as counsel - received a ha’penny damages, and costs of £2,000 against Wilde in Dec. 1864; Sir William retired from practice afterwards. Wilde was reputedly the ‘dirtiest man in Dublin’, causing Shaw to remark that Sir William was ‘beyond soap and water as his Nietszchean son was beyond good and evil’. Outside of his marriage, he fathered a boy (Henry Wilson) and two girls (Emily, b.1847, and Mary, b. 1849), who were reared by his brother Rev. Ralph Wilde. Wilde's heavily mortgaged estate paid off by Henry, his natural son who (trained by his father) had followed him into the opthalmic profession.
From this time onwards, Wilde began to withdraw from Dublin to Moytura, his house overlooking Lough Corrib, in Connemara. In 1873, he was awarded the Cunningham Medal of the RIA.
He died aged 61 in 1876 is buried in Mount Jerome cemetery, Dublin. A plaster bust of Wilde by an unknown hand is displayed in Royal Victoria Eye & Ear Hospital, Dublin. Moytura House still extant was at one time owned by U2's The Edge.
|Date of Birth||Mar 1815|
|Date of Death||19th Apr 1876|
|Associated Building (s)||Bishop Hodson's Grammar School ELPHIN|
|Father (First Name/s and Surname)||Dr. Thomas Wilde, with a practice in Castlerea [var. Castlereagh], Co. Roscommon|
|Spouse (First Name/s and Maiden/Surname)||Jane Frances Elgee (1821-1896) pseud. “Speranza”; b. 27 Dec., in Wexford, dg. Archdeacon Charles Elgee (who died in India in 1824) and Sara Kingsbury, gd. of Dr Thomas Kingsbury, Commissioner of Bankrupts, in vicarage by the Bull Ring.||VIEW SOURCE|
|Townland born||Kilkeevin, Castlerea, Co. Roscommon Lived at Westland Row (now Pearse St.); 1, Merrion Square; built a house in Co. Mayo, which he called “Moytura”; owned a fishing lodge at Illaunroe, Lake Fee.|
|Names of Children||Willie and Oscar, and Isola Francesca Out-of-wedlock: Henry Wilson (b. 1838) Emily (b.1847), and Mary (b. 1849), who were reared by his br. Rev. Ralph Wi|
|Mother (First Name/s and Maiden)||Amelia Fynn m.1814|