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Dr Bartholomew Mosse – Founder of the Rotunda Hospital, Dublin

The terracotta / plaster bust of Bartholomew Mosse by Van Nost measures 70cm high and stands over the entrance to the front hall at the Rotunda Hospital. Photo: Cormac McAdam.


Dr Bartholomew Mosse was the founder of Dublin’s Rotunda Hospital, the first purpose-built maternity hospital in the world, which opened in 1757. This highly motivated surgeon and man-midwife achieved his ambition through his immense gift for corporate fundraising: running lotteries, staging concerts and productions in the theatre, including a number of Handel’s oratorios. Indeed, Mosse was a veritable pioneer of corporate entertainment.



Bartholomew Mosse was born in Annefield House, Portlaoise, in 1712.[i] He was the sixth child (some say fifth son) of the Reverend Canon Thomas Mosse, who had come to Ireland as a chaplain to King William III. The Rev’s wife Martha Nesbit descended from the Boyle family, earls of Cork, and claimed descent from Robert Boyle, the famed ‘father of chemistry’. After the Battle of the Boyne, he was appointed Rector of St Peter’s Church in Maryborough (now Portlaoise). Bartholomew was given a private ‘genteel education’ by a tutor at home.


In 1729, the 17-year-old departed for Jonathan Swift’s Dublin when he became apprenticed for five years to Mr John Stone, a well-known barber-surgeon.

Annefield House, Portlaoise, childhood home of Bartholomew Mosse.


At the beginning of the century the only known hospitals in Dublin were military ones. In 1726, a quiet revolution in Dublin’s hospital scene got underway when the first known civilian hospital in Ireland was opened in Dublin.[ii] It contained four beds. The entire concept of ‘Voluntary Hospitals’ originated in Dublin in 1733, the year Mosse qualified as a doctor. That was when Dr Steevens’ Hospital was established (under the will of Dr Steevens, who had died in 1717), providing 40 beds for poor patients to be chosen ‘without distinction of religion or ailment so long as the latter was not infectious’. In 1737, Primate Boulter added a ten-bed ward to this, which he maintained at his own expense until his death in 1742. Mosses’ later patron John Nichols was on the board of Dr Steeven’s Hospital and was the first surgeon elected to that institution.


During this time, Mosse’s master, John Stone, became closely involved in the conversion of Mary Mercer’s stone almshouse on Stephen Street into Mercer’s Charitable Hospital, which opened on 11 August 1734. Mary Mercer died some three months before her hospital opened. As she left the bulk of her estate for the foundation of a charity school rather than the support of the hospital, so the fledgling institution required additional sources of income’.[iii] Stone’s co-founders included Boulter and Dean Swift and one assumes young Mosse was titillated to be in such close proximity to the Dublin elite.[iv] To raise money for Mercer’s Hospital, its board began holding a series of charity concerts. The first of the Mercer’s Hospital benefit concerts was advertised in the Dublin Gazette of 16–20 March 1736:

‘For the benefit of Mercer’s Hospital in Stephen Street…there will be a Solemn Grand Performance of Church Musick…with the Church Service, and a Charity Sermon. Besides the best public performance in this Kingdom, there will assist above forty gentlemen, skilled in Musick on various instruments. The musick appointed is the celebrated Te Deum and Jubilate of the famous Mr. Handel, with his Coronation Anthem, made on the King’s accession to the Crown, never heard here before. Tickets will be distributed at the Said Hospital, at Half a guinea each’.

George Frideric Handel by Balthasar Denner. The German composer was a supporter of Mosse’s project.

The mention of Handel is most relevant for not only did this introduce the sacred repertoire of Handel to Dublin audiences but is also pre-empted the most famous of the Mercer’s Hospital concerts, namely the premiere of Handel’s Messiah on Fishamble Street on 13 April 1742. The concert was personally conducted by Handel, who had been invited to Dublin by the Viceroy, the 3rd Duke of Devonshire. The composer, whose father was a barber-surgeon, seems to have been drawn to the notion of helping hospitals. The performance was sponsored by the Charitable Musical Society to raise funds for its projected Hospital for Incurables, as well as ‘For the relief of Prisoners in the several Gaols, and for the Support of Mercer’s Hospital in Stephen’s Street, and of the Charitable Infirmary on the Inns Quay’.


On 12 July 1733, John Stone presented his apprentice with a certificate of proficiency, stating his belief that Mosse was ready to set up a practice of his own.[v] In those days, the power of granting licences rested with the Surgeon-General, or his substitute. On the same day he received Stone’s certificate, Mosse was given the go-ahead to start his practice by John Nichols (d. 1766), the acting Surgeon-General who would later become famous as Dean Swift’s doctor.[vi] After receiving his qualifications, young Mosse probably acted as surgical assistant to both Stone and Nichols, presumably working in both Mercer’s and Dr Steevens’s Hospitals. He is thought to have practised in Dublin for the next five years, until 1738.


In 1734 he married Elizabeth Mann Mallory with whom he had a son in 1737, but both mother and child died shortly after the birth. One presumes the double death was the shock that propelled him into his future course of action – to become a midwife.


Soon after this, 26-year-old Mosse was commissioned by [which] government to escort a draft of troops being transferred from the Royal Barracks in Dublin to fortify the British garrison at Mahon in Minorca during the War of the Spanish Succession. At this time, Minorca was regarded as the key to naval power in the Mediterranean. Mosse was highly commended by the generals at St Felipe in Minorca who recorded that not only had he taken good care of the men but that he had ” greatly recovered those who came on board diseased “.


With a view to improving his surgical and midwifery skills, he subsequently travelled England, France, and Holland, before returning to Dublin. He is believed to have visited the ‘La Charite’ in Paris, a ward of the Hotel-Dieu, devoted to the care of irregular maternity cases and noted for its expertise in midwifery.


Close up on portrait of Bartholomew Mosse.

Back in Dublin, Mosse continued to practise medicine, and decided to specialise in Midwifery. Few people in Ireland had any training in Midwifery and the practice was so frowned upon by the Royal College of Physicians that its Fellows were to be penalised if caught. And yet, this same College was empowered under Charter to control Midwifery practice in Dublin, and to award the Licentiate in Midwifery of the College. In 1742, at the age of 30, Mosse obtained a Licentiate of Midwifery from the Royal (King and Queen’s) College of Physicians, and thus became not only a licensed surgeon, but also a licensed man-midwife. He now ‘quit the practice of surgery’ began to devote himself to midwifery. At that time most mothers were delivered by traditional midwives and maternal and infant mortality were very high; midwifery was considered to be fit only for handywomen and surgeons.


We must assume that Mosse was present at these concerts for Mercer’s Hospital and that, between the rousing Hallelujahs and solemn arias, he surveyed the audience and began to day-dream. Dublin was a city with an ever-widening gulf between rich and poor. At one extreme, the upper classes, obsessed by fashion, staked colossal fortunes on card games, ate lavish meals and enjoyed a relentless social life of opera, plays, musical assemblies, concerts and masked balls. For the leisured rich, money came easily – rents were substantial, labour was cheap and the cost of food was low. Before the Act of Union, an invitation to Dublin Castle was the equivalent of an invite to the Court of St James. In contrast, the poor were increasingly wretched. Their homes were overcrowded, squalid and, without any sanitation, disease riddled. Their solitary refuge was in cheap alcohol. By 1740, Dublin contained 2,000 ale houses, 300 taverns and 1,300 brandy shops. In the absence of any police presence, the streets of the city were in a constant state of bedlam with drunkards and robbers running rampant. In 1740, Ireland was hit by a very severe potato famine caused by an intense and prolonged cold spell which lasted from 27 December 1739 to late February 1740, and during which the ground froze solid. In those times potatoes were generally stored in underground clamps, and they all froze and then rotted. The only potatoes above ground were the seed potatoes for the next season, and they were soon eaten, and then there was nothing left. Impoverished peasants were often evicted from their cabins round big estates for non-payment of rents. Homeless and destitute they took to the roads leading to the cities in search of employment, and fed off berries in hedges, and blood taken from cows. The cities were overwhelmed with the emigrants from the country who also brought famine-related epidemics with them. Between 16% and 20% of the population of Ireland are said to have perished as the result of this famine which some hold to have been far worse than the Great Famine of the 1840s. [vi.a]


Mosse was appalled by conditions for the poor women whom he encountered in his practice: “...the misery of the poor women of the city of Dublin, at the time of their lying-in, would scarcely be conceived by any who had not been an eye witness of their wretched circumstances; that their lodgings were generally in cold garrets, open to every wind, or in damp cellars, subject to floods from excessive rains; destitute of attendance, medicines, and often of proper food, by which hundreds perished with their little infants.” He became determined to found a Lying-In Training Hospital to provide food, shelter and medical care for destitute mothers, and to train midwives and surgeons, with the hope of having a trained midwife in every county in Ireland


On October 6th, 1743, he married at St. Bride’s Church, his first cousin, Jane, ‘a very agreeable lady with a large fortune’.[vii] She was the only daughter of the Venerable Charles Whittingham, D.D., Archdeacon of Dublin since 1722, who had passed away at his home on Aungier Street in July 1743, some three months before the marriage. They had two children, Charles and Jane, born in 1745 and 1746 respectively.


Once Dr Mosse started fund-raising in 1743, there was no stopping him. He was one of those defiantly determined individuals who would push on through the inevitable problems that arose, seeing them rather as a stimulant to greater exertion. Given the limited scope of his wealth and contacts, this 30-year-old’s driving ambition to build a maternity hospital was extremely impressive. He not only realised his dream of establishing a hospital to relieve the suffering of the Dublin poor at childbirth, but his dream lives on. He began to woo the hoi polloi. His first contributor was Swift’s friend Dr Patrick Delany, later Dean of Down, husband of Mrs Delany, a contemporary diarist of great fame. Dr Mosse was ‘well got’ with luminaries of both Church and State, many of whom were very uneasy about the situation in the cities, and he was soon successful in raising sufficient private funds to allow him to search for a suitable premises for his hospital.

Portrait of the actress Peg Woffington.


On 15 March 1745, Mosse opened a small 10-bed hospital in George’s Lane*, Dublin, with the help of some influential friends and supporters. The premises had been ‘The New Booth’, a small theatre owned by a colourful impresario named Madame Violante. It was famous for its performance of ‘The Beggar’s Opera’ by a cast of children, all under the age of ten and trained by Mme Violante. The theatre’s star was Margaret ‘Peg’ Woffington, ‘the sprightly off-spring of a Dublin fruit-seller’ who later became a famous actress, and the darling of London society.[viii] In 1744, an excessively provocative piece compelled the Lord Mayor to close the theatre down and Mosse purchased the premises. He promptly directed his exceptional energies into converting the theatre into the Hospital for Poor Lying-in Women, with the motto ‘Solamen Miseris’, or ‘Succour for the Needy’. On 20th March, five days after it opened, Judith Rochford delivered its first baby, a boy. By the end of the year the hospital had 28 beds and 208 women had been delivered, with the loss of only one mother, and 190 babies had been born. By the time it was relocated to its present site in 1757, 3,975 patients had been delivered of 4,049 babies, 74 of the women having had twins. Mosse supervised everything, with help from only one or two medical colleagues. He maintained the Hospital by means of subscriptions and other benefactions. [* George’s Lane became South Great George’s Street and was substantially rebuilt from c.1870 onwards with the construction of the city markets, so it is thought nothing survives from the 18th century. A lot of the houses on the west side would have backed onto the site of Dublin Castle but they’ve all gone. George’s Lane was where my ancestor Thomas Bunbury bought his coaches back in 1758 and 1769 … if you go to this page and search for Jones! Sir William and Lady Anne Petty also lived on George’s Lane, as did Archbishop of Tuam Josiah Hort and his wife Elizabeth Fitzmaurice and their large brood, and Elizabeth’s sister Mary Fitzmaurice and her husband John Fitzmaurice who later became the 1st Earl of Shelburne. The Horts may have leased their home from Benedict Arthur of Seafield. With thanks to Robert O’Byrne and David John Hancock]


Mosse was soon widely acclaimed for giving succeeded in achieving his objectives so swiftly. George’s Lane was the first maternity hospital in the British Isles, predating the first in London by three years. Requests to Mosse for his advice began to arrive from England and, within five years, four similar hospitals were established in London.


Meanwhile, the little Dublin hospital prospered as more and more subscribers and benefactors came forward. The original hospital soon proved too small and Mosse commenced a fund-raising program to plan for a larger, purpose-built Maternity Training Hospital.


Illustration: Derry Dillon

Mosse’s principal focus in life from this time onwards was to raise money to build and run his maternity hospital, and to provide it with the most up-to-date facilities. Fortunately, he was a genius at fundraising – certainly the most successful social fund-raiser of his day – organising concerts, lotteries, and other charitable events. He was helped by the fact the George’s Lane board of management included many influential players in Dublin society. His former mentors, Stone and Nichols, must also have lent a hand. He raised £330 from two plays, performed in 1746, and three performances of HandelOratorios, performed in 1746, 1747 and 1748. On 11 February 1747, the first performance in Ireland of Handel’s oratorio, Judas Maccabaeus was held at the Music Hall on Fishamble Street ‘For the Benefit of the Hospital for Poor Distressed LYING IN WOMEN in George’s Lane’. Similar concerts were to feature as a major source of Mosse’s fund-raising efforts over the next twelve years during which the erection of the new hospital was completed, and its wards were progressively equipped and opened. He also ran lotteries on five occasions between 1746 and 1753, which raised over £11,000. Besides raising more than £20,000, he gave freely of his own money.


In 1748, as the next step towards opening his new hospital, Mosse leased ‘four acres and one rood plantation measure on the north side of Great Britain Street (now Parnell Street) for three lives, renewable forever at a fine of a peppercorn on the fall of each life’. At the time, the area was described as ‘a piece of waste ground, with a pool in the hollow, and a few cabins on the slopes’. This is the site on which the Rotunda now stands. The yearly rent of £70, to be paid to William Naper, was a considerable addition to the limited finances of the original hospital.


Mosse immediately engaged a professional gardener who, at a cost of £2,000 (which Mosse himself paid), planned, walled and planted out much of the new site as a Pleasure Garden. The design was based on Vauxhall Gardens in London and came complete with a Coffee House and Concert Hall. Mosse’s plan was to draw the rich and famous to banquets, concerts and other entertainments here on the northside, in direct competition with the Beaux Walk garden on St Stephen’s Green. The first series of concerts were held in the garden in June 1749. Guests were transported to and from the gardens on beautifully painted sedan chairs, carried by two men, with link-boys bearing torches.[ix] Three months later, the gardens were opened to the public with an admission price of ‘one English shilling’. The gardens quickly became a fashionable promenade and the entrance fee alone raised £400 annually.[x]


While the gardens were being completed, Mosse launched a lottery scheme. However, when all the tickets were sold, he learned that the Lord Justices would not permit the draw to take place. Undaunted, he traveled to London for an audience with the Duke of Atholl and requested that the draw take place on the Isle of Man which, even then, had its own set of rules. The Duke was a founding Governor of the Foundling Hospital, established circa 1739 to alleviate London’s abandoned children. He had also been Governor of the Isle of Man from 1736 to 1744. Sadly, His Grace rejected the application and Mosse was asked to return the money.


Mosse reserved the portion beside Great Britain Street as the site for the new hospital. In 1750 he commissioned his German-born friend Richard Casels to build a new maternity hospital at the lower end of the Pleasure Gardens. Cassels was one of the most famous architects of the day and the building was loosely based on Leinster House, which he had completed five years earlier. Cassels apparently provided the design free of charge. However, while Cassels was undoubtedly a genius, he was also rather wayward and his personal finances were said to be ‘frequently distressed’. J.T. Gilbert wrote that Cassels ‘sacrificed much to Bacchus, and, when in Dublin, passed his evenings with Dr. Mosse of the Hospital, and a few more, at a tavern, which they seldom left before three or four in the morning’. Perhaps in consequence of this overindulgence, Cassels died in February 1751. The project then passed to his pupil and assistant, John Esnor.

The Rotunda Hospital


As Dublin’s Lord Mayor laid the foundation stone for the £20,000 hospital on June 4th 1751, Mosse confessed to a friend that his own personal fortune was barely £500.[xi] But he continued to oversee the project. Not only did he have to provide the materials but it was also his responsibility to engage the workmen.


Maurice Craig described the main structure of the Rotunda as a somewhat ‘stodgy’ block. It was surmounted by an unusual three-storey tower, designed by Mosse, with a cupola perched on top. The cuplola once carried a gilded ball and a weather vane in the shape of a cradle. Both the front and back of the building were framed by curved colonnades and niches, similar in design to those at Russborough House, Co Wicklow, also designed by Cassels. In 1756, the Waterford-born stuccodor Robert West – who ran a drawing academy beside the original Lying-In Hospital in George’s Lane – was commissioned to fit cornices, plaster and stucco throughout the hospital. There were problems along the way. The erection of a campanile, with a peal of bells, had to be discontinued because residents in Rutland Square complained about the noise. A telescope, which was to complete the Observatory, was mistakenly sold at auction while Mosse was on one of his fund-raising journeys abroad.


Mosse insisted the building contained small-sized wards in order to control the spread of puerperal sepsis infection. At this time, all other hospitals favoured large open wards. It did not take long for realization to dawn that Mosse was right for the Rotunda proved relatively free, although by no means immune, from the epidemics that often ran rampant in other hospitals. Mosse also designed the layout of the delivery room; they are still in use today and the layout remains unchanged.


Mosse knew that if he could convince Dublin’s wealthy Protestant citizens to worship in the Hospital Chapel, then a good tear-jerking sermon might just compel the congregation to empty their purses onto the collection plate. But to lure the rich and famous, he would need to have a chapel that impressed, a chapel that would be the equal – if not greater – of the Viceroy’s chapel at Dublin Castle. To achieve this, he employed the Flemish master Bartholomew Cramillion, the greatest stuccodor working in Dublin at the time. Completed in 1756, Cramillon’s superlative work can be found on the altarpiece and the ceiling, a mesmerising riot of saints, cherubs and angels, which Jacqueline O’Brien lately described as ‘the most extravagant figured plasterwork to be found in Dublin’.[xii] The coats of arms of the Hospital’s most distinguished patrons, including those of Mosse, were simultaneously painted upon the chapel walls. Today, the Hospital Chapel remains a powerful feat of creativity and is open to all denominations.


In June 1752 Mosse petitioned for a Royal Charter, outlining the benefits that would result if he were to incorporate certain noblemen and gentlemen as governors and guardians of the hospital. But ill rumours were in motion.


Malicious rumours had been circulating about Mosse since 1749. They held that, ‘under the specious pretence of public charity, [Mosse was] extorting large sums of money, with which he meant to quit the Kingdom’. It is not clear who was responsible for these deceits but it may have been erstwhile colleagues jealous of his success. In 1753, Mosse travelled to London to defend himself. In July 1754, while on his way back to Dublin, he was arrested at Holyhead for an alleged debt of £200. He was taken to Beaumaris Castle and remanded on a charge of fraud. He managed to escape out a back window, which hung over the sea, and persuaded two boatmen to row him across the straits to the Welsh mainland. He hid out in a cabin in the Welsh mountains for three months, before returning to Dublin to tackle the allegations. Meanwhile, his enemies took his flight as proof that he was an exposed swindler. In 1755, Mosse published a detailed statement of his lottery account which showed that almost £12,000 had been collected for the two hospitals. Mosse could account for every shilling, thereby totally exonerating himself. And ‘being of an undaunted resolution, he surmounted every obstacle, and continued to carry on the building to the surprise of his friends and the mortification of his enemies ‘.[xiii]


In 1755, struggling to raise money, Mosse approached the Irish Parliament for help. He decided on this course for two reasons. If his appeal proved successful then not only would he obtain the necessary money, but the grant would also raise the status of his entire project from a charity to a national institution. The petition was presented in Mosse’s name in the session of 1755 and on the 23rd March 1756 the House requested that the King grant £6,000 to be ‘expended in paying such debts as were then due, for materials and work done, and in finishing the same’.

The terracotta / plaster bust of Bartholomew Mosse by Van Nost measures 70cm high and stands over the entrance to the front hall at the Rotunda Hospital.


In December 1756, further good news arrived when the Hospital received its Royal Charter. A Board of Governors was constituted under the chairmanship of the Earl of Kildare. The Duke of Bedford, the Viceroy, became the first president of the hospital. Mosse was appointed Master of the Institution for the duration of his life. He was to have two men-midwives as his assistants. And so began the Mastership system of control, which has continued to the present day, and under which each successive Master serves for a period of seven years.


By now, the pressures of his life were taking a serious toll on Mosse. He was exhausted, heavily in debt and petrified about the prospect of arrest and imprisonment. Everything he owned was either sold or mortgaged. He had even rented out the family residence at No 9 Cavendish Row and moved into the Master’s apartment at the Rotunda. He had sacrificed his entire income to make the Hospital happen. Determined to complete his hospital, he appealed again to the Irish House of Commons for financial help. And again, Parliament answered in the positive. In November 1757, Mosse was granted a further sum of £6,000 for the use of the hospital, and £2,000 to himself as a reward for his exertions.


On 8 December 1757, six years after the laying of the foundation stone, the Duke of Bedford, opened the 150-bed hospital, ‘The New Lying-In Hospital’, known today as ‘The Rotunda’. It is perhaps curious that the 8th December should also be the Feast of the Immaculate Conception. In any event, during its first year there were 454 deliveries with eight maternal deaths.


However, in the winter of 1758, the Master took ill and retreated to his chamber. The man was quite simply worn out. He had spent the previous twenty years intensely focusing on the hospital, raising money, organising lotteries and concerts, meeting and charming the well-to-do, overseeing the construction of the whole hospital complex, avoiding prison, totting up figures and safely delivering several hundred babies. He accepted an invitation from Alderman Peter Barré to rest at his home, Cullenswood, near Milltown, where he died on 16 February 1759, thirteen months after the Rotunda opened.[xv] He was 47 years old. He was buried in Donnybrook Cemetery two days later. The whereabouts of his tomb puzzled Mosse’s biographers for many years, including William Wilde, father of Oscar, who wrote his memoir of the man in 1846. It turned out, as JB Fleming had supposed, that his tomb was simply damaged and became overgrown sometime after his death. A memorial stone to the doctor was unveiled on 20 September 1995, the 250th Anniversary year of the foundation of Mosse’s first Lying-In Hospital. The stone was carved by his descendant Tania Mosse, unveiled by the Lord Mayor and dedicated by Dr Donald Caird, the then Archbishop of Dublin. His widow, Jane Mosse, was forced to seek help from he governors of the hospital in her financial distress. They passed the request on to Parliament who, over the ensuing five years, granted the hospital £7,000 and Mrs Mosse £2,500. She died five years later in March 1764. As it happens, Handel died in London eight weeks later on 16 April 1759. The 75-year-old maestro was buried, with full state honours, in the Poet’s Corner of Westminster Abbey. London’s three greatest choirs combined forces to sing at a funeral attended by over three thousand mourners. A life-size statue and a tablet to his memory were fixed upon the wall above his grave.


While he may not have a gravestone, Dr Mosse’s bust, by Van Nost, stands in the front hall of the Hospital today, framed between four Doric columns. A plaque to his memory hangs on the wall of Annefield House in Portlaoise where he was born. Another memorial hangs in the gallery of Portaloise’s St Peter’s Church while the road outside St. Paul’s Primary School is called Mosse’s Hill in his honour. But the greatest memorial of his life is of course the Rotunda Hospital itself. As President MacAlese noted, Dr Mosse was ‘a man of profound compassion’ with an obsessive determination to change the way things were. Besides wanting to help the lying-in women of Ireland and improve midwifery, he also wanted to establish a school for the training of midwives and doctors. In both aims he succeeded. In its first 100 years, the hospital admitted 183,000 women for delivery and in the second century another 552,000. The Rotunda continues to be at the forefront of obstetrical services in the world today, universally recognised as a teaching hospital, equipped with the latest technology. Many thousands of doctors and midwives from all parts of the world have trained there. The Rotunda celebrated its 250th anniversary in 2007 and caters to about 8000 babies a year.


At the time of Dr Mosse’s death, work was underway on a theatre, an assembly room and rooms for dining and card-playing to bring in additional revenue. In 1764, Ensor completed the circular Assembly Rooms. Adjoining the hospital, they were conveniently situated in Rutland (Parnell) Square at the top of Sackville (O’Connell) Street. As Mosse had planned, the entertainment functions in this large room became the hospitals’ principal support. From 1767, the shape of the rooms also gave the hospital its name, the Rotunda.[xvi]


James Gandon and Richard Johnston, the elder brother of Francis Johnston, would play a role in the final design and construction of the Assembly Rooms, as well as the gentleman architect and MP for Maryborough, Frederick Trench. This is where the Volunteers convened, where John Field, the Irish composer, held recitals, where Dickens gave his Readings and is now the cinema [?]. When they were completed in the mid-1780s, it was proudly noted that the Dublin Assembly Rooms were only 20 square feet smaller than those at Bath. There were six formal assemblies a year, to which a limited group of subscribers could apply for the 400 tickets. On these occasions there was dancing and card playing, with refreshments of coffee and lemonade, and a supper of plain meats and wine. It was Ireland’s equivalent of Almanacs, and the proprieties were strictly observed. In the 1790s the engraver James Malton declared that: ‘The entertainments of the Rotunda during the winter form the most elegant amusements of Dublin; it is open every Sunday evening in summer, for the purpose of promenade, when tea and coffee are given in the superb upper room. The receipts of the whole after defraying the incidental expenses go to the support of the hospital.’


With thanks to Dr Michael Geary (Master of the Rotunda), Karen Doyle (Royal College of Physicians of Ireland), Helen Moore (Managing Editor, Irish Journal of Medical Science,, Anne M O Byrne (Head Librarian, Rotunda Hospital Library), David Bridgwater (see blog here) and Michael Purcell.


  • Fleming, J.B., ‘The mysteries concerning the last illness, death and burial of Bartholomew Mosse ~ Founder and first Master of the Dublin lying-in hospital’, Irish Journal of Medical Science, p 147-163, Volume 37, Number 4 (April, 1962).
  • Boydell, Brian, ‘Rotunda Music in Eighteenth–Century Dublin’ (Dublin: Irish Academic Press, 1992).
  • Bridgwater, David, 18th Century Portrait Sculpture in Dublin.
  • Bridgwater, David, ‘John van Nost III, Irish Fine Art.
  • Browne O’ DTD., ‘The Rotunda Hospital, 1745-1945’ (Edinburgh: E & S, Livingstone, 1947).
  • Browne A., ‘Masters, Midwives and Ladies-in-Waiting: The Rotunda Hospital, 1745-1995’. Dublin: A & A Farmer, 1995.
  • Craig, Maurice, ‘Dublin 1660-1860’, (Allen Figgis and Co, Dublin, 1969), p 143.
  • Spencer HR., ‘The History of British Midwifery from 1650 to 1800’. (London: J Bale, Sons & Danielsson, 1927).
  • O’Brien, Jacqueline (with Desmond Guinness), ‘Dublin – A Grand Tour’ (Weidenfeld & Nicholson 1994)




[i] The house is pictured at [ii] Other hospitals founded in those decades included Sir Patrick Dun’s, which became the university teaching hospital; St Patrick’s Hospital was founded in 1845, through Swift’s will, for the treatment of mental disease. Simpson’s for blind and aged men; and the Lock for the treatment of venereal disease (which was a major scourge in the eighteenth century – in 1792–3 the hospital treated an estimated 2,000 cases). [iii] The Mercer was run on a voluntary basis and continued to serve Dublin until 1983 when closed down and its facilities and staff transferred to St James’s Hospital. See ‘Music ‘For the benefit of Mercer’s Hospital’ by Kerry Houston, Head of Department of Academic Studies, Conservatory of Music and Drama, Dublin Institute of Technology ( [iv] The history of Mercer’s charitable hospital in Dublin, page 26, by Horatio Townsend (1860). [v] The first certificate, signed by John Stone, stated : ” I do hereby certify that Mr. Bartholomew Mossc hath faithfully and diligently served his apprenticeship to mc and I do hereby believe him well qualified to practice surgery.” [vi] Nichols testimonial read: ” I do certify that I have examined Mr. Bartholomew Mvsse, who served his apprenticeship to Mr. Stone, in Dublin, and find him very well qualified to practise the art of surgery.” Nichols was a great friend of Dean Swift and looked after him in his latter years. He lived in Phoenix Park and was also friendly with Lord Orrery. He was not appointed Surgeon-General until 3 April 1761, when he succeeded Thomas Proby. He died in 1766. The Dublin Quarterly Journal of Medical Science 1847, page 9. [vi.a] E.M. Crawford in Famine ; The Irish Experience 900-1900‘ states that ‘two famines in the 18th century, 1728-1729 and 1740-1741 caused great suffering. The famine of 1740 is noteworthy as the first potato crisis. In terms of morality rates it may have been greater than the Great Famine of 1845 -1849. The latter earns the sobriquet because it was the last and best remembered. [vii] Brief sketches of the parishes of Booterstown and Donnybrook, Beaver Henry Blacker. [viii] She would captivate London with her talent at Covent Garden and the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, and had her portrait painted five times by Hogarth. [ix] The sedan chair shelter stood in the north-eastern corner of the gardens until the 1950s. ‘About 1770, by an Act of 25 George III, the governors were empowered to levy a tax on sedan chairs, which brought in £547 in 1798, but the amount collected gradually lessened and we read that by 1820 their use had become “completely out of fashion and totally unproductive”.’ The sedan chair, often beautifully painted, was carried on poles by two ‘ ‘chairmen” who, in London, were usually Irish. It took its name from t h e town of Sedan, in France, where it was first used before its introduction into England by Sir S. Duncombe in 1634. A particularly fine example is preserved and displayed by Messrs. Brown Thomas of Grafton Street, Dublin. The parliamentary tax of 35s. 6d. on private sedan chairs was levied on 202 holders of licenses in 1787. (Fleming). [x] In the 1930s, the Governors of the Rotunda gave a strip of the northern end of the gardens to the Government which, in 1961, were opened as a Garden of Remembrance to those who fell in the Irish War of Independence. [xi] “Having now purchased timber, .and many other materials towards erecting the new hospital, he thought pr(~per to distinguish the city of Dublin, for the relief of whose poor the Hospital was chiefly intended, by giving to the Lord Mayor, the honour of laying the first foundation stone. And, accordingly, on June 4, 1751 (May 24, 175], old style), being the birthday of His Majesty King George III, then Prince of Wales, the first stone was laid by the Right Honourable Thomas Taylor, Lord Mayor: Thomas Morgan, Esq., Recorder; Thomas White and George Reynolds, Esqrs., Sheriffs; who came for that purpose, attended by the Aldermen, Commons Council, and the Masters and Wardens of the several corporations, of the city, with their proper insignia . . . . The first stone was laid at the west corner of the front of the hospital, and under it Dr. Mosse placed an engraved plate of copper, giving a brief account of the particulars already mentioned, with gold, silver, and copper coins of that year.” (p. 572, Dublin Quarterly Journal of Medical Science, Hodges and Smith, Dublin. 1846. Vol. 2., p. 568. Memoir of Dr. Mosse, William Wilde). [xii] Bartholomew Cramillion was paid 300 guineas for the stucco work on the ceiling. The three principal groups of plaster figures in the coving represent Faith, Hope and Charity, surrounded by an abundance of cherubs and angels interspersed with vines. O’Brien adds that it must have inspired local exponents of the art to ever greater flights of fancy’. [xiii] Dublin Quarterly Journal of Medical Science, Hodges and Smith, Dublin. 1846. Vol. 2., p. 568. Memoir of Dr. Mosse, William Wilde). [xv] Padraig H. Pearse founded St. Enda’s College in Cullenswood House in September 1908. [xvi] The Rotunda itself had a diameter of 80 feet (24.5m) and the ceiling was without a central support.