Horatio Adamson was born in London, the elder son of George Adamson, gentleman, of Ealing, who had married a Miss Beattie. His education began at Church House Grammar School, Ealing, and from 1878 to 1883 was continued at University College School, Gower Street. Then in 1883 he entered St. Bartholomew’s Hospital, London, with a scholarship in science. As stated above, he became a graduate of London University in 1889.
The history of his life then becomes so complex that it is best to tabulate its events:
- 1889 house physician to the City of London Hospital for Diseases of the Chest.
- 1890 house surgeon at the Children’s Hospital, Paddington Green.
- 1891-2 house physician and later house surgeon at the North Eastern (later the Queen’s) Hospital for Children.
- 1893 physician to out-patients North Eastern Hospital for Children. (After a year he became a physician to this hospital).
- c. 1893-6 assistant to Dr J. J. Pringle in the skin department at the Middlesex Hospital.
- 1894 first publication: A translation of Leloir’s On dermato-neuroses and their treatment (Brit. J. Derm., 1894, 6, 321-9).
- 1895-6 published two papers on ringworm (ibid., 7, 201-11, 237-44, 373-7).
- 1896 attended Third International Congress of Dermatology and read a paper on tinea.
- 1898 on May 24th, at St. George’s, Hanover Square, he married Mabel Amy, younger daughter of Henry Valentine Draper of Park Street, W. and Bond Street, silversmith and jeweller to H.M. Queen Victoria. (Her mother was Emma Stewart, the elder daughter of Edward Charles Stewart, also of Park Street and Bond Street, jeweller). They had one son born 12th January 1901, who died aged 28 of ‘a nervous progressive illness which began in his school days at Charterhouse and which was a great grief and constant anxiety to his parents’.
- 1898-9 he removed to Guildford where he worked as a general practitioner in Quarry Street. In 1899 he was appointed honorary assistant medical officer to the Royal Surrey County Hospital, Guildford.
- 1901 appointed medical officer to the Broom House School for Ringworm, Surrey.
- 1903 returned to London. Appointed physician-in-charge of the skin department at Paddington Green Children’s Hospital, and also became assistant to Dr T. Colcott Fox in the skin department of Westminster Hospital. Practised at 9 Weymouth Street.
- 1905 relinquished appointment with Dr Colcott Fox.
- 1908 appointed radiologist for ringworm cases to Metropolitan Asylums Board School at Sutton, Surrey. Appointed chief assistant to Dr J. A. Ormerod in the skin department at St. Bartholomew’s Hospital, London.
- 1909 resigned from Paddington Green Children’s Hospital. Appointed physician for diseases of the skin at St. Bartholomew’s Hospital.
- 1911 vice-president of section of dermatology, British Medical Association annual meeting at Birmingham.
- 1912 Goulstonian lecturer: subject—modern views upon the significance of skin eruptions.
- 1922-3 president of the section of dermatology of the Royal Society of Medicine.
- 1924 president of the British Association of Dermatology and Syphilology.
- 1926 president of the section of dermatology, British Medical Association’s annual meeting at Nottingham.
- 1928 resigned from St. Bartholomew’s Hospital as an active member of the staff and became a consulting physician. Elected a member of the Board of Governors of the Hospital.
- 1930 vice-president of Eighth International Congress of Dermatology, Copenhagen.
In later life he was a corresponding member of the dermatological societies of France, Denmark and Hungary, and an honorary member of the American Dermatological Association, of the New York Dermatological Association and of the New York Dermatological Society.
Adamson was a prolific writer and in 1907 published a book, Skin affections of childhood, which was very widely commended. In 1911 he contributed nine articles to Allbutt and Rolleston’s System of medicine (vol. 9) and a paper on X-ray therapy to Latham and English’s System of treatment (1912). In 1913 he wrote the chapter on diseases of the skin in Garrod, Batten and Thursfield’s Diseases of children. An obituarist in the British Medical Journal (1955, 2, 206) stated that Adamson wrote about seventy other papers and articles on dermatological subjects between 1894 and 1949, the last being in October of the latter year in the British Journal of Dermatology (1949, 61, 322-3).
He was a pioneer in the treatment of skin diseases in children and in X-ray treatment (it can be noted here that few pioneers in radiology survived to such a great age as he did). In 1909 he described a modification of Keinbock’s method of epilating the scalp (Lancet, 1909, 1, 1378-80). This was adopted as a standard procedure and became known and used throughout the world until 1958 when the introduction of an antibiotic (griseofulvin), which has fungicidal powers, made epilation of the scalp largely unnecessary. The modification was referred to in textbooks and lectures as the Adamson-Keinbock technique. It seems probable that he developed this method when he was working in Sutton, Surrey, from 1907 onwards.
Adamson’s career was remarkable in many ways. It was unusual that a man who was red-green colour blind, as he was, should have considered dermatology as a vocation. Further, he enjoyed painting, although it was said that his charming water-colour sketches tended to be in various shades of grey.
Of his personal characteristics, those who remembered him in his heyday spoke of the immaculate perfection of his clothes, his prowess as a draughtsman on the blackboard, his quietness and dry humour, and his gift of inspiring affection. Apart from dermatology, his principal interest was gardening; he was particularly fond of roses and on his 80th birthday in 1945 Dr Henry Corsi arranged that he should be presented with a rosebowl, subscribed for by thirty of his former house physicians and assistants.
On 9th February 1955 he fell in his bedroom and was admitted to St. Bartholomew’s Hospital with a fracture of the neck of the right femur. Union was difficult to obtain. He left hospital on 26th May, walking satisfactorily, but died at his country residence, The Abbey, Bourne End, Buckinghamshire, on 6th July 1955 just before his ninetieth birthday.
Richard R Trail
[Brit.J.Derm., 1955, 67, 406-07; Brit.med.J., 1955, 2,206-07(p); Lancet, 1955, 2, 147 (p); Times, 7 July 1955.]