Adolph Samelson

Scope and Content

All of Samelson's surviving manuscripts have their origins in his medical studies in Berlin during the late 1830s and early 1840s. As a whole they add to the picture of medical education in Berlin at this time and individually offer details of the lectures of prominent medical men representing some of their more unique specialities.

Administrative / Biographical History

Adolph Samelson (1817-1888) was born in Berlin, Germany on 6 September 1817 to Jewish parents. Following on from his education at the Friedrich-Wilhelm Gymnasium in Berlin he entered Berlin University in 1836 where he remained for four years, graduating with an MD in 1840. His doctoral dissertation, 'De Noma Historica Quaedam', was publicly presented before examiners in September of 1840. A year later, in 1841, he passed the state medical examination and established himself in practice at Zehdenick, Brandenburg.

Samelson was a steadfast liberal, playing an active role in local and national politics, and would later have his work and public activities restricted as a result of his views. He served on the Zehdenick town council and played a prominent role in the foundation of a co-operative loan society and a friendly burial society in the town. In 1848 he was elected a member of the electoral colleges for the Prussian national assembly and the German Reichstag. This is a position he did not hold for long owing to a newspaper article written by him in 1849 that was critical of the role of the Prussian soldiery in the suppression of the May Uprising in Dresden earlier that year. The article was found by the authorities to include two political offences for which he was imprisoned for six months, removed from his position on the town council, and deprived of his civil rights. In addition to this his medical licence was withdrawn, although he did continue to practise in Zehdenick until 1852.

Samelson returned to Berlin, where he was prohibited from attending official courses, and so instead pursued the study of eye disease under the instruction of Albrecht von Graefe (1828-1870), which was an area of medicine he would come to specialise in. In 1855 he was officially expelled from the country, and fled first to Paris where he worked in some of the leading hospitals. Whilst in France he fell ill during a cholera epidemic and so was prevented from pursuing his wish to join the French military medical service and following his recovery went to the Netherlands. From there he travelled to Belgium, spending time in both Brussels and Liège, but on 4 July 1855 the Belgian interior minister wrote to him refusing him permission to practise medicine and surgery in Belgium.

In June 1856 he came to the UK, spending time first in London working in both general and specialist eye hospitals, before settling in Manchester in 1857. Only two years later his status and medical licence in Germany were restored, but he nevertheless chose to remain in Manchester; although he did return to Germany in 1865 for four months to visit von Graefe and receive treatment from him for an eye infection. In 1862, along with R.H. McKeand, he was appointed to the role of surgeon at the Manchester Royal Eye Hospital. Samelson took an active role here too being a regular attendee at the Medical Board's monthly meetings and played an instrumental role in facilitating the Hospital's move to new premises at 24 St John Street in 1866/7. He was also noted for his zealous efforts raising funds, gaining new subscriptions, and his general organisation. His position was not however without controversy and in 1876 the Medical Board raised problems of staff defying regulations, recognised an ongoing feud between Samelson and McKeand, and finally, following a written complaint from house surgeon Henry Hex, suspended Samelson's privileges as Honorary Surgeon until the issue was resolved. The content of Hex's complaint is not known, but Samelson resigned his post before the Board was able to meet again.

Samelson's liberal and public-spirited attitudes, particularly toward the poor, saw him sit on the Chorlton-on-Medlock Relief Committee during the cotton famine of the early 1860s and also write a significant report on the relationship between housing and mortality which he read before the Manchester and Salford Sanitary Association on 30 May 1883. His connection to the sanitary association had been ongoing since 1862, during which time he played a strong role in promoting open spaces, day nurseries, and school playgrounds.

During his time in Manchester he was also active in the Manchester Medical Society and is known at times to have been both a committee member and an auditor. He also often read papers and presented cases before the society as well as contributing to both British and German medical journals. His involvement in civil societies did not end with the Medical Society and he was also involved with the Manchester Statistical Society, the District Provident Society, the Education Aid Society, the Art Museum, the Provident Dispensaries Associations, Henshaw's Blind Asylum, Manchester Ratepayers' Association, the Manchester Literary Club, and the Schiller Anstalt, an Anglo-German gentleman's club.

Eventually his health began to fail and he suffered with persistent insomnia for which he sought relief first at Bournemouth and then at Cannes, where he died at the Hotel Richemont on 12 January 1888.


Joan Mottram, 'Samelson, Adolphus (1817-1888)', Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004. F.S. Stancliffe The Manchester Royal Eye Hospital 1814-1964 Manchester 1964. A. Samelson Dwellings and the death rate of Manchester: A paper read before the Manchester and Salford Sanitary Association Manchester 1883.