Sir James Mackenzie Davidson

Strictly speaking, this eminent personality should not be included in these biographies, as he was born in Argentina, but pursued his studies in Aberdeen, and practiced later in Scotland and England all his life. Never-the-less, his successes were such, that he is worthy of being remembered.

He was born in the Santo Domingo Monastery located on the Estancia Santo Domingo, in Quilmes, in 1856. His father was John Davidson, whose Estancia was next to William H. Hudson’s family’s farm: their properties were separated by a river called Conchitas. Whilst the Davidson’s enterprise prospered, the Hudson’s steadily declined, and the latter was eventually bought over by John Davidson. William Hudson was 15 years senior to James Mackenzie Davidson and they had little contact in their youth, though some of Hudson’s later letters mention correspondence between them in England, pertaining to his book “Far away and long ago”.
James Mackenzie Davidson was educated at the Buenos Aires Scottish School, and his medical studies were undertaken in Edinburgh, London and Aberdeen, from which school he graduated in 1882. He then specialized in ophthalmology and became Assistant Professor of Surgery at the Aberdeen University, under Professor Sir Alexander Ogston. As from 1886 he was ophthalmic surgeon at the Aberdeen Royal Infirmary and at the Royal Hospital for Sick Children. He was a successful and well liked teacher, and began employing the new methods of aseptic surgery. His hobby of studying electricity and optical physical phenomena, led him to read the novel work of Roëntgen in developing X-rays in 1886, and subsequently visiting him in Wuerzburg, Germany. There he spent some time learning about this extraordinary development.
The following year he was the first to publish an X-ray of a bladder stone. He then moved to London, and pursued these subjects intensely. In 1900 he published a paper in the “Roëntgen Society” on a new rotational mercury interruptor, which was adopted in X-ray machines universally, and known by his name. He also studied fluoroscopy as applied to the diagnosis in human beings. His first contribution in this line was its application to localizing foreign bodies, mainly in the eye, and later in war wounds. He was also one of the earliest physicians to utilize radioactive radium, and identified some skin conditions which improved with its use.

In 1912 he was knighted by the King for his extraordinary contribution in the fields of ophthalmology and radiology. He was also named Consultant Surgeon to the X-ray departments of the London Royal Eye Hospital and of the Charing Cross Hospital. In 1912 he was elected to a two year tenure as President of the London Roëntgen Society, and also of the Radiological Chapter of the International Medical Congress which was held in London that year.  He was also one of the very few foreigners to become an Honorary Member of the American Roëntgen Ray Society.

After his death in 1919, the British Radiological Society instituted the Sir James Mackenzie Davidson Lecture as one of its main yearly features, and the British Institute of Radiology awards yearly The Mackenzie Davidson Medal for outstanding work in this field.

  • Doctors of Medicine, physicians and surgeons serving the British Community in Argentina, at 
  • Emiliano J. Mac Donagh: “La evolución científica Argentino-Británica, p. 73-76.
  • British Journal of Medicine, 1919, Obituaries.