Cars in Books, December 1969

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Noticing that this feature has dried up in recent months, a reader in Alberta kindly sent me a copy of “One Doctor In His Time”, by Bethel Solomons (Christopher Johnson, 1956), which is an unselfish thing to do, because once he has read it he can derive nothing from my extracts. This book, by the 26th Master of the Rotunda Hospital, Dublin, who was an MD, FRCPI, FRCOG, MRIA and an Honorary Fellow of the American College of Surgeons, is not only a delightful piece of autobiography but contains some worthwhile references to motoring.

Quite early on there is a reference to seeing Robert Loraine, the actor/aviator, rescued from the sea when his aeroplane crashed, just before he was due to return to London to appear in The Man from the Sea. The author’s father regarded bicycles and motor cars as an abomination but relented later and allowed his son to take him for drives.

Considerably before the First World War Solomons had a Renault which, seen standing outside his consulting rooms, entrusted a friend to remark: “What a Jewish-looking car!” This got back to the doctor, who was a proud Jew and he was much amused; the car’s coal-scuttle bonnet had apparently caused this comment. The author’s uncle, Sir Arthur Macon, the famous gynaecologist, met on early death, helped it was said because he was “one of the first to speed on motorcycle”, but whether this refers to competition riding or not I do not know.

At this time we are informed that doctors in Ireland did not use motor cars for their professional work, but one of them, while keeping a brougham and a jaunting car for visits, had a single-cylinder Rover for pleasure. This gave good exercise, because Solomons, his friend’s wife and the driver frequently had to walk the little car up the bigger hills in the Wicklow mountains. There is mention of R. J. Mecredy, Dunlop’s friend, who started an Irish cycling, later motoring, paper and published maps of Ireland as a result of rides on his tandem.

Dr. Jellett is quoted as one of the first Irish doctors to use a car professionally, spending Sunday mornings working on it. That was long before 1914, when the author’s first car was a second-hand Hurtu. I believe these French cars then had coal-scuttle bonnets like the Renault and one wonders if this was what attracted the doctor to this rather rare make. Anyway, he part exchanged it after three years for a new Hurtu, without losing any money on the original transaction. His mother went for rides in these Hurtus and Solomons gave her a new motor bonnet each birthday. The author does not mention later cars, but does refer to one borrowed while he was staying at Vevay House near Ballybrack, which had the petrol tank under the front seat—could it have been an Austin Twelve or Twenty?—and which he set on fire while refuelling with an oil lamp on the front seat. He put out the fire with water, but the shock stopped the milk supply of his pregnant wife for three days.

The last motoring reference is to a baby Fiat which enabled the doctor to get past a low barrier on the Kilkenny road to attend an urgent case at the time of the troubles, when his large car would not negotiate the fallen trees. As this was in 1922/3 one supposes that the life saved is owed to a Fiat 501.—W. B.