DOBSON, Matthew  [1732-1784]


Matthew Dobson was an eighteenth-century physician and natural philosopher whose interests ranged far and wide but is today most remembered for what he noted when tasting his patients' urine. It was via this somewhat unpalatable experimentation that he became the first person to recognise the significance of sugar in the urine and blood of people suffering from diabetes. Diabetes had previously been thought to be a disease of the liver or kidneys but Dobson concluded that it was due to abnormal assimilation or digestion. His work was cited by John Rollo who developed dietary control of the disease towards the end of the eighteenth century.
He was born in West Yorkshire in 1735, the son of a nonconformist minister, Joshua Dobson. After graduating from Edinburgh University with an MA in 1753 he attended the Edinburgh Medical School, graduating MD in 1756. Shortly after his marriage in 1759 he settled in Liverpool. Gore's Liverpool Directory of 1766 shows him as living in Harrington Street.
At the time of Dobson’s arrival in Liverpool there was a thriving group of radical nonconformists and medical researchers and he became closely involved in their work. He joined a committee which led to the founding of the Octagon Chapel, which stood in Temple Court. In 1769 Dobson helped Matthew Turner, the freethinking Liverpool surgeon, to establish the Liverpool Academy of Art. When, in 1778, he became a fellow of the Royal Society, he was the first Liverpool physician to be thus honoured.
He was appointed physician to the Liverpool Infirmary in 1770 but by 1780 his health had declined and he retired to Bath. He died there on 25 July 1784 and was buried at Walcot church.


There is a useful entry for Dobson in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.