DJ Wood Memorial Lecture

The 28th DJ Wood Memorial lecture February 2010
Gideon P du Plessis M.B., Ch. B. M. Med (Ophth)
Pretoria Eye Institute


Mr President, Honoured Guests, Fellow Members of the Ophthalmological Society, Ladies and Gentleman:

It is indeed a great honour and privilege to speak to you today. I would like to thank the Ophthalmological Society for bestowing this honour to me to deliver this lecture.

This lecture draws upon an interest in the life and times of Dr DJ Wood; some experience over a lifetime of strabismus and a lifetime experience of life.

I had the privilege of attending the first D J Wood Memorial lecture delivered by Dr S Etzine in 1978. I was then two years in the Department of Ophthalmology in Pretoria. Since my first contact with DJW these initials lingered in my mind as one of the movements of the Enigma Variations of Sir Edward Elgar. D J Wood indeed remained an enigma to me and I am sure that most ophthalmologists in this country knew about him was that he was the first ophthalmologist and first specialist in South Africa. Getting to know something about Dr DJ Wood however changed my perspective about the ‘enigma’ completely and I would like to present a short glimpse of the man and the legacy of David James Wood.

I would like, so to speak, to turn the clock back 130 years. We can use the mantelpiece clock of Dr D J Wood. This is an Ansonia clock bought by Dr Wood in 1903 for £3. It is still in the Wood family and owned by Mr Geoff Montgomery of Smithfield. Mr Montgomery is the grandson of Dr DJ Wood and the only living family member that personally knew his grandfather.

Mr G Montgomery

I had the privilege to meet Mr Montgomery through Dr Chris Gouws. He has the most vivid recollections of his grandfather and could introduce me to a wonderful understanding of Dr DJ Wood. If any ophthalmologist in SA cares to visit Mr Montgomery in Smithfield house, you can have breakfast under the sound of Dr D J Wood’s clock and have coffee in the evening while Mr Montgomery entertains you on music played on the piano of Dr DJ Wood! The Ansonia Clocks were manufactured in New York USA between 1850 and 1929. They were made of cast iron and decorated with mother of pearl.

Mr Montgomery and Dr GP du Plessis                                     Smithfield House

DJ Wood

These pictures of DJ Wood were taken by his son-in-law Mr Clayton, who was a photographer in Cape Town.

David James Wood was born on 4 July 1865 in the school house Hunt Pools, Earlston, Scotland. Earlston is 40 km south of Edinburgh.This was the school where his grandfather, James Walker was a teacher. His father was James Wood (1831-1896) and his mother was Christina Smith Walker (1825-1905). He grew up in Galashiels 20 km west of Earlston, where his father was a draper and wool merchant.

Galashiels was renowned for its high quality textile industry. At that time Galashiels was at its height of its industrial activity. There were 22 textile mills in the town. Galashiels had 12000 residents. This town received a disasterous blow during World War 1 when 650 young soldiers from Galashiels were all killed in one Battle; the battle of Gallipoli in the Dardanelles in 1915. These were all sons of the textile mill owners. After this the textile industry grounded to a halt and the residents dropped to 3000. Incidently the future son-in-law of Dr Wood and father of Mr Montgomery, were wounded in the same battle and by strange coincidence met Dr Wood’s daughter, Marjorie aboard a ship bound for Cape Town after his recovery in London. As a child DJW frequently visited his grandfather, James Walker and grandmother, Landell where he was exposed to the works of Euclid and other Latin and Greek works.

James Walker                                                                 Woody Family crest

Just across the Gala River lies the estate Abbotsford, the residence of Sir Walter Scott.

It is not strange that the books of Walter Scott appeared on the shelves of D J Wood. D J Wood then went on to complete high school at the Royal High School in Edinburgh. After school he entered the Medical School at the University of Edinburgh where he qualified in medicine in 1888. (Bachelor of Medicine and Master of surgery).

Medical School of Edinburgh (1887 before the dome and present day with the dome).

He received medals in Chemistry, Medicine and Ophthalmology. He was taken on as house surgeon by Dr Douglas Moray Cooper Lamb Argyle Robertson.

Robertson Swordsman

Dr Argyle Robertson is well known for his description of the syphilitic pupil. Dr Argyle Robertson was a formidable ophthalmologist and a formidable swordsman.

We have the anecdote that he fought a duel for his wife’s hand! Dr Robertson played an important role in kindling the flame of interest in ophthalmology in DJ Wood. He advised him to take up a clinical assistant post at Moorfields n London where Robert Marcus Gunn a former student of Argyle Robertson was a consultant.

During D J Wood’s student times at Edinburgh, his roads crossed with interesting people and fellow students:

One of the lecturers was Joseph Bell, a physician who had a particular interest in forensic medicine. One of the fellow students was Arthur Conan Doyle. AC Doyle

One of the fellow students was Arthur Conan Doyle.

AC Doyle became the house surgeon of Bell and this combination later crystallized out into the literary figures of Sherlock Holmes and Dr Watson. Dr Bell was particularly flattered by the dedication of the Sherlock Holmes figure to him. Other fellow students were James Barrie (Peter Pan) and Robert Louis Stevenson (Treasure Island).

He was appointed clinical assistant at the Royal London Ophthalmic Hospital (Old Moorfields) in 1889.

He was appointed clinical assistant at the Royal London Ophthalmic Hospital (Old Moorfields) in 1889. Old Moorfields was situated at Finsbury Circus near present day Moorgate station. It has since been demolished when the New Moorfields was formed in1903 at Old Street.

He had eminent ophthalmologists as consultants who shaped the mind of DJ Wood and influenced ophthalmology in great ways.

Edward Nettleship - dermatologist and ophthalmologist. Nettleship Medal of the British Ophthalmological society was created to his honour. He was a veterinary surgeon as well. He was a close friend of Wood and Wood’s last son Donald Nettleship Walker Wood was named after Nettleship.

R Marcus Gunn. He described many medical conditions, and was an excellent teacher and surgeon. He was a lecturer in Vienna before coming to Moorfields. He introduced the principles of sterility in surgery of Joseph Lister. He introduced the study methods of Vienna into Moorfields.

A Quarry Silcock – Was ophthalmic surgeon as well as pathologist. Wood spent one day a week with Silcock in the pathology laboratory at St Mary’s Hospital.

John Couper and A Stanford Morton – Both were involved in the development of the ophthalmoscope of Helmholtz (1865) by adding a rack of lenses to create the ophthalmoscope as we have it today.

Morton Ophthalmoscope

Both worked in collaboration with Jackson in Colorado to develop the retinoscope from the model of the ophthalmoscope. Wood was thus part of the first group of ophthalmologists that could do an accurate refraction.

It is of note that the technique of cataract extraction at that stage was a limbal incision with a von Graefe knife and manual intracapsular expression of the lens with the finger (Samuel Sharpe 1753). Silk sutures were introduced in 1867 (Williams, Boston). Local anaesthetic in the form of cocaine was used (1884). Retinal surgery did not exist and would only come through the work of Gonin in 1902. In strabismus, accurate measurements of angles were used (cover tests-von Graefe 1857; prism cover test- Prentice 1890). Recognition and treatment of amblyopia was long known (Occlusion - Abul HasanThabit al Harani 836 AD and atropine penalization Javal 1896) Muscle operations were done (Tenotomy Dieffenbach 1842; SO tenotomy von Ammon 1840; IO tenotomy Landolt 1885). Accommodative esotropia was well described (Donders 1864). Medicines were in its infancy. Nothing like antibiotics was known. Bismuth, Boric acid, Siver nitrate, Cadmium, Copper acetate Iodine, Mercury citrine ointment and many more were used for almost any indication. Atropine was well known and it was known to cause certain glaucomas. Eserine was used to treat glaucoma and an iridectomy could cure some glaucomas.

This was the armamentarium that Dr Wood qualified with in 1892.

He experienced some chest problems and was advised to look beyond the borders of wet Britain to other British Colonies with a drier climate. This was the high time of the British Empire and of Queen Victoria. He joined the Castle Shipping Line as ship’s surgeon. The company served a passenger and postal service from Southampton to the Cape and up to Zanzibar. The usual sailing time was three weeks at sailing speed of 12 knots. He first served on the Methuen Castle and then on the Warwick Castle This brought him as ship’s surgeon aboard the Warwick Castle to the shores of Cape Town where he settled in 1893.

He started practice from Breda Street in Cape Town and he operated in the Hof Street Nursing home. He married Constance Clara Cook in 1895 whom he met aboard the Warwick Castle. Miss Cook was on her way to be a teacher in Durban. They moved into a house in Tamboerskloof, ‘Edgehill’ on Belle-Ombre Road.He started practicing from his house in Tamboerskloof. He received 1 Guinea for a consultation. He had a house built by Sir Herbert Baker in Southfield Street 6. Plumstead in 1906. The house was called Gledsmuir (Vale of the Eagle). The only remaining picture of Gledsmuir is in the possession of Mr Montgomery. A reproduction of it is presented here.

Gledsmuir                              Herbert Baker

It was in the attic of this house that he made his pathology laboratory and where he made his own pathology specimen slides.

Plumstead was then a newly proclaimed residential area. Plots were 2,5 Ha. Mrs Wood kept one of the first Jersey cow dairies in South Africa. Some of the Wood’s neighbours were judge Fitzpatrick father of Percy Fitzpatrick (Jock of the Bushveld fame); Olive Shreiner (Story of an African farm who died in Plumstead in 1921) and the Balls (Mrs Ball’s Chutney before the Balls moved to Fish Hoek).

He moved his consulting rooms to Church Square 41.

We have a specimen of his handwriting and a specimen of a spectacle prescription

During this time he was deeply involved in the activities of the local branch of the British medical association - first as secretary and later as president. He was an indefatigable member, attending all meetings, showing cases and joining in all discussions. He was member of the Colonial Medical Council from 1906 and of the SA Medical Council from 1928 until his death in 1937. His reputation as ophthalmologist stood very high in the Union and abroad. He published widely - at least 17 papers in the British journal of Ophthalmology. He was a founder member of the Ophthalmological Society and later President. His colleagues recognized in him an enquiring mind and a forcible critic. His patients found in him a most gentle, sympathetic and humane man and friend.

Dr Wood was appointed as first specialist at the New Somerset Hospital in 1913.

The University of Cape Town opened in 1920 and Dr Wood was appointed as ophthalmic surgeon and lecturer in 1921.The first registrars were appointed at this time – Drs S J du Toit, F B Dreyer,and AWS Sichel. He took great interest in the planning and construction of the Groote Schuur Hospital and the outlay of the eye department. He was however not to see the completed Groote Schuur as he died in 1937, a year before the completion of Groote Schuur.

He maintained a high interest in many fields of medicine. His presidential lecture to the Medical Association in 1906 was on ‘The treatment of bacterial diseases with vaccines’. He published a paper on the cause of blindness of Milton.

John Milton – Sonnet On his blindness

Dr Wood published on a variety of ophthalmological subjects in the British Journal of Ophthalmology. The content of his publications reflect a varied interest in fields of ophthalmology.

Dr Wood appointed a budding artist to draw sketches of various ophthalmic conditions. This was none other than Tinus de Jongh.

Signature of T de Jongh as well as sketches by T de Jongh

Some sketches were done by DJ Wood himself.

Sketch by Dr DJ Wood

These pictures are in the possession of the Department of Ophthalmology in Cape Town and are shown here courtesy of Prof Cooke.

It is interesting to note Dr Woods’s interest in ocular leprosy. He had access to these patients through his son, Dr Howard Wood, the superintendent of the Robben Island colony of lepers. He describes the slit lamp observations of uveitis in leprosy with the first slit lamp that he obtained in 1925. Of interest was the treatment with subconjunctival bicyanide of mercury . This had little effect on the condition, but immediate improvement followed after adding purified ox gall to the solution.

The publication of March 1920 was on ‘Detached Retina’ demonstrating how he kept abreast with the new concepts of Gonin of 1902.

As a family man Dr Wood was married to Constance Clara Cooke, whom he met on his journey to the Cape on the Warwick Castle. They had six children: Howard; Marjorie Constance Christina (Montgomery); Harry Lawrence; Patricia; Rosamund (Clayton) and Donald Nettleship Walker.

Dr DJ Wood’s Family

The Woods were involved in many charity endeavors. In his professional capacity he tended to soldiers of WW 1 with eye injuries gratuitously. He was appointed as Major in SA Army Reserve of Officers by Genl Louis Botha for these services rendered.

Dr DJ Woods appointment as Major

He and his wife ran a soup kitchen on Saturdays in Main Street in Plumstead for the destitute of the Cape flats.

He owned a sea cottage in Fish Hoek “Little Bourton” which will be 100 years old in 2019

Little Bourton

He named ‘Little Bourton’ after the holiday destination Bourton-on –the-water in the Cottswolds- a place frequently visited by Dr Wood while in training in London

He was an avid reader and full sets of Kipling, Sir Walter Scott, Dickens and Thackeray were on his shelves. Rudyard Kipling was most likely an acquaintance of Dr Wood as Kipling stayed in Cape Town at the Woolsack a house provided by Cecil Rhodes (presently the residence of the chancellor of UCT) for a few months every year since 1898 to 1908

He was a keen gardener and cultivated dahlias. He was an amateur carpenter and did beautiful wood carvings. DJ Wood was a keen motorist. He had a few cars in succession: Clement Talbots; Essex; 1910 Sunbeam; Hudson and Studybaker. He won the Siddely cup reliability race between Cape Town and Caledon in 1910 and 1911.

Sunbeam 1910                              Clement-Talbot 1926                                          Studebaker 1935

Dr Wood had an active interest in music. His children played piano and violin. His baby grand piano is in possession of Mr Montgomery in Smithfield. He was a subscriber to the Thursday concerts of the Cape Town Municipal Orchestra from its inception on 28 February 1914. He most likely attended the first symphony concert on that night and witnessed the Overture to the Meistersingers of Wagner and the Unfinished Symphony of Schubert as the first orchestral pieces ever to be played in South Africa.

The Woods were keen nature lovers and were found frequently on walks in Kirstenbosch and up the slopes of Table Mountain

Dr DJ Wood was invited to present the Doyne memorial lecture at the Oxford Congress 8-10 July 1937. The subject was to be ‘Night blindness in Eye Disease’. He did however not deliver this lecture. Dr DJ Wood died in his house after a short heart ailment on Thursday 18 March 1937. Mr Montgomery recalls that his grandfather was still working up to the day before he died. He used Nitroglycerine as a medication for a few months before he died. He was buried on 19 March in the Plumstead cemetery. (Family plot EJJ 15)

Dr DJ Wood grave, in Plumstead cemetery

The funeral was attended by many dignitaries of whom C Louis Leipoldt was not the least. Obituaries in the SA Medical journal and the British Journal of Ophthalmology reflect the high esteem of DJ Wood in SA and abroad amongst friends, colleagues’ students and patients.

I hope that this short glimpse of Dr DJ Wood will open your minds to see that we should not honour D J Wood only as first ophthalmologist and first specialist but as a singular person with high personal and interpersonal values dedicated to his work and his colleagues through the Ophthalmological Society and putting every effort into teaching and uplifting the younger generation of ophthalmologists.

He almost transplanted a branch of Moorfields to South Africa – a connection which is still highly appraised to this day.

He is truly a template for any future South African ophthalmologist.