The Brian Kieran Collection

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Date of Auction: 16th September 2010


Estimate: £200 - £250

Crimea 1854-56, no clasp (Robert D. Lyons, Pathologist), engraved naming, refixed claw and suspension, possibly once swivel-mounted, otherwise nearly very fine £200-250


Robert Lyons, who qualified in medicine in Dublin in 1848, was an authority in the study of pathological histology and, in March 1855, was appointed head of a special commission established to investigate the pathology of diseases in the East, a commission that owed its foundation to, among others, Florence Nightingale. As such, Lyons was handed the responsibility of post-mortem examinations in the Crimean theatre of war and granted every facility to inspect patients in the wards - though not allowed to interfere with their treatment. And to help him undertake these extensive duties, he was given two assistants, Doctors Doyle and Aitken, the latter winning the support of Florence Nightingale when appointed professor of pathology at the newly established Army Medical School shortly after the war’s end.

Lyons arrived at Scutari in April 1855, and his two assistants about four weeks later, the opening chapter in an unhappy sojourn, mainly due to the resentment shown the civilian doctors by their military counterparts - the latter were quick to protest over Lyons’ contract, containing as it did ‘liberal outfit, travelling expenses, £100 a month and a year’s salary on leaving’. Nonetheless, or certainly according to letters sent home by Dr. Aitken, it appears Lyons showed hostility to the military establishment from an early hour - as Aitken stated, his senior forgot ‘more flies are caught with honey than vinegar’. Indeed Aitken’s frustration at his senior’s actions is widely quoted in his correspondence, much of which appears in The Crimean Doctors, by John Shepherd (Liverpool University Press, 1991). Thus his report for July 1855:

‘Dr. Lyons is still in the Crimea. He left here about the 12 June and I was to look after the buildings he set agoing and to do what I could in the way of pathology ... the third pathologist (Mr. Doyle, an extraordinary hot-headed Irishman) taking charge of the cases at the General Hospital while my duty lay at the barrack ... I confess that as far as our Commission has gone (although I have seen a good deal to interest me) I do not feel satisfied about it. Now at the time when three months out of our tour have expired we are only about to enter the place provided for us at enormous expense, according to Dr. Lyons’ plans. He made himself very disagreeable to Dr. Cumming here and also to Lord Paulet so that we are both looked on with dislike. His plans also if carried out are so to deprive the medical men at the Barrack Hospital from witnessing the inspection of their cases and they are set against him ... Lyons tells me he must go home as he has been appointed to a professorship of physiology in Dublin ... Lyons means to recommend that I shall be appointed to continue as Pathologist. The office is certainly a want in the Army, but the whole system of naming diseases and their sick statistics would require to be remodelled. It is in the most useless and disgraceful state. The returns sent home are not the least true as to the diseases ... Dr. Lyons is apparently determined to have all the credit, or discredit, of the Commission. He writes the report, we are not to share in it ... I do not know in the least what is the result of our Commission.’

As it transpired, Lyons did show Aitken a copy of his final report, a report that contained observations on typhoid, typhus, cholera and dysentery, but which was criticised for its lack of detailed statistical information - a shortfall which Lyons attributed to his arrival in the Crimea after the winter of 1854-55, when many more cases would have been available for consideration. Be that as it may, the French thanked him for services rendered after the battle of Tchernaya in August 1855 - and he duly qualified for the British Crimea Medal (T.N.A. WO/100/334 refers). He died in 1886; also see A History of the Army Medical Department, by Lieutenant-General Sir Neil Cantis (Churchill Livingstone, 1974).