top of page
morning glories4.jpg


Figure 2. Anglican St. George

Renowned Canadian Ophthalmologist Dr. Frank Buller and his wife Jean Hamilton Brien Buller welcomed their first daughter Audrey Devitt Buller on 27 November 1902 in Montreal, Quebec, Canada.[3] She joined the home of her older brother Francis and two half- sisters Cecil and Marguerite[4] . All of the children were baptized at Anglican St. George Church, 1101 Stanley Street in Montreal.[5]


Frank Buller.png

Figure 3. Frank Buller

Frank Buller was born on a farm 5 May 1844, in Campbellford, Northumberland, Ontario, Canada.[6] He was the fourth son of English parents Elizabeth Boucher Buller (daughter of R.P. Boucher) and Charles G. Buller.[7] The Buller family held prominent positions in Southern England and for centuries owned vast property in Crediton and Cornwall.[8] Charles, educated for Church of England, declined his holy orders and emigrated to Coubourg, Northumberland, Ontario, Canada in 1831.[9] Charles and Frances had 8 children all born in Canada ; Charles B. born ca. 1837, Henrietta F. born ca. 1838 , R. Frances born ca. 1840, Edward born ca. 1842, Frank born 1844, Edmund R. born ca. 1846, Edith E. born ca. 1858, and Frederick B. ca. 1851.[10] Charles died of natural causes on 15 April 1896[11]

Frank Buller was a self-made man. Having graduated from high school in Peterborough Ontario, he enrolled in Rolfe’s Medical School (later called the University of Toronto School of Medicine) graduating at the age of 24. He spent one year training in the United States to finance seven subsequent years of training in Europe. In 1850 he went to work with Albrecht von Graefe in his clinic at the University of Berlin. The clinic was one of Europe’s leading eye clinics where they worked to develop new eye surgery techniques and treatments especially for glaucoma.  Frank Buller served as a voluntary assistant in a German military hospital during the Franco- Prussian war.  After the war he worked with Prussian- born Dr. Rudolf Virchow in Berlin’s Graefe-Ever Hospital, as well as, in physiologic optics with Hermann von Helmoltz, the inventor of the ophthalmoscope. In 1872, Buller moved to London becoming a member of the Royal College of Surgeons and was appointed Junior House Surgeon and subsequently, Senior House Surgeon at the Royal London Ophthalmic Hospital (later renamed Moorefield’s Eye Hospital). At Moorefield’s, he worked under the leading ophthalmologists, Sir William Bowman, George Critchett, Sir Jonathan Hutchinson, Edward Nettleship, and Marcus Gunn. While in England he worked to increase the range of treatments and instruments available for ophthalmologists. He created the “Buller Shield,” a device used to protect the good eye when treating conjunctivitis.[12]

 Frank Buller returned to Montreal to join McGill University and created its first Ophthalmology Department.

Thus, at the annual meeting of the Governors held on Thursday, May 19, 1876, it was moved by Mr. Ogilvy, seconded by Mr. Cleghorn, and carried that “Frank Buller, Esquire M.D. be and is hereby appointed Oculist and Aurist to this institution for the ensuing year.”[13]

He started the first Ophthalmology clinic at McGill University and was given admitting privileges for two female beds and two male beds in the public ward and one bed in the private ward.[14] By 1881, he surpassed the goals set by the Governors, seeing 834 eye patients and was rewarded with the position Chairman of Ophthalmology in 1883.[15]

st catherine street.jpg

Figure 4. St Catherine St., Montreal, Quebec, Canada

At the beginning of his time at the Montreal General Hospital, Dr. Buller lived relatively close to the hospital at 1351 St. Catherine Street.[16]  He had three boarders, his friend and colleague Dr. William Osler and two medical students Henry Ogden, and E.J.A. Rogers. The tales of “1351” are still told today.[17]

One anecdote recounts the occasion when Osler asked two or three Medical students to remove intact the brain and spinal cord of a horse – not an easy task. The students decided to display the specimen in the bathtub for Osler to see. The brain lay on the sloping end with the spinal cord running the full length of the tub and the spinal nerves spread out on each side. The students left, and Ogden, who had participated in displaying the trophy, went to his room looking forward to Osler’s pleasure at seeing such a perfect dissection. Dr. Buller then returned and stopped speechless at the bathroom door. There followed a scream of profanity and Ogden, upon hearing this, approached his room, put out the gas and hid in a clothes cupboard. When Osler returned, the “landlord” confronted him with the specimen. “Oh look, Buller,” Osler defended, “did you ever see anything so nice? See the spinal nerves and all.” Osler then asked Ogden to help him clean the bathtub and pacified Buller by taking the first bath, and Ogden the second. The next morning, as they all breakfasted rather quickly together, not a word was said about the horse’s brain and life resumed its normal course.”[18]


In addition to his fame as a medical specialist and a landlord, Dr. Buller was also known at the hospital and the University for his practical and often unorthodox methods.

According to one story, a young girl, complaining of blindness, was brought to his clinic by her clergyman. No organic lesion could be found and it was felt to be a hysterical condition. Buller obtained from the laboratory a large live frog and, hiding it behind his back, went in to see the girl. She assured him that she could not see anything. ‘Open your mouth’ he said, and then held up the frog in front of her. She screamed and admitted that she could see. The clergyman was offended at Dr. Buller’s method and reported him to the hospital authorities.[19]

drummond street.jpg

Figure 5. Post card of Drummond Street, 

Montreal, Quebec, Canada

 In 1882, Dr. Buller married Mademoiselle Elizabeth (Lillie) Langlois of Quebec (daughter of Peter Langlois).[20]  They lived at 111 Drummond Street.[21]  Their first daughter Marguerite Trewlawney was born 22 February 1885 followed by Cecil Treymane 15 September 1886.[22]   Elizabeth Langlois passed away thirteen years after they married on 20 November 1895. [23]  One can only surmise the agony of losing one’s spouse and the daunting task of raising two young daughters.

 Dr. Frank Buller changed hospitals in 1896 to work at the Royal Victoria Hospital as their first Ophthalmologist and Otologist. Upon his start, he was immediately put on their medical board. In addition to being a skilled practitioner, Dr. Buller dedicated himself to sharing his knowledge by writing seventy six articles for medical journals.[24] 

Dr. Buller was Canada’s first modern ophthalmologist and the country’s most outstanding man in the specialty. Having the whole country to himself, he acquired a practice and reputation that would be difficult to attain today. It was not unusual for patients going to Germany for treatment to be told that Dr. Buller’s opinion was equal to any in Europe. Buller was self-reliant, strong, and decisive. He inspired confidence in all who knew his work, and it was obvious that he cared a great deal for his patients. In the early days, when no trained nurses or assistants were available, it was not unusual for him to stay up all night nursing patients who were threatened with loss of vision- including cases where vitreous was lost and frequent changes of cold compresses were required during the night. Buller was at his best when treating difficult cases and those which others had abandoned. He worked on these problems with great persistence, always looking for new ways of ameliorating the patient’s condition.[25]

Figure 6. Jean Hamilton Brien

Perhaps, finding life lonely as a single father he married a second time to Jean Hamilton Brien of New York City 27 October 1897.[26] Jean Hamilton was born 22 August 1870 the daughter of Irish immigrants John Henry Brien and Eliza Jane Hamilton. [27] Henry Brien worked as a grocer in New York, passing away a year after his wife in 1912. [28] They were both buried at the Green-Wood cemetery in Brooklyn, New York. [29] Jean Hamilton’s wedding ceremony held at her parent’s home was performed by. George H. Bottome, Vicar of Grace Chapel, New York.[30] Following the wedding Jean moved to Montreal with her new husband.[31] Three years later she gave birth to her first son Francis Hamilton followed by Audrey Devitt in 1902.[32]

Outside of his medical career, Dr. Buller delighted in family life, having three daughters and one son who were devoted to   him … In addition to being a devoted father, Dr. Buller was also a gardener, nature lover, and one who enjoyed exploring the country. He became somewhat of an expert on trees, frequently grafting many branches. Summers were spent with his family, going by boat to Rivière-du-Loup and then by horse and buggy to Cacouna. He knew and loved Canada and, on one trip to British Columbia, acquired a massive forty-foot totem pole from Masset in the Queen Charlotte Islands. He had it shipped to Montreal via the Canadian Pacific Railway and donated it to McGill University’s McCord Museum, where it can be seen today.[33]

After eight years of marriage, Dr. Frank Buller died 11 October 1905.[34] His internment was at Anglican St. George.[35] In October of 1934, the family, all present at its dedication, donated a bust to Royal Victoria Hospital.[36]  The newspaper wrote of Dr. Buller, “The first Ophthalmologist in this country, Dr. Buller soon acquired a practice and reputation that could hardly again fall to the lot of any man in the Dominion”. [37]

royal victoria hospital 1.jpg

Figure 7. Royal Victoria Hospital 1893

Frank Buller bust.jpeg

Figure 8. Bust of Dr. Frank Buller, Royal Victoria Hospital                

fig 9 totem pole.jpg

Figure 9. Totem Pole donated by Frank Buller  

Figure 10. Cabinet of Drs. Buller and Birkette, 1890

[3] “Baptism record of Audrey Buller” born, 27, November 1902, Baptized 1, January, 1903, Anglican St. George Church. Accessed October 11, 2012. http// Quebec, Vital and Church Records (Drouin Collection), 1621-1967 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations Inc., 2008.Original data: Gabriel Drouin, comp. Drouin Collection. Montreal, Quebec, Canada: Institut Généalogique Drouin.

[4]1901 Census of Canada Year: 1901; Census Place: Montréal (City/Cité) Saint-Antoine (Ward/Quartier), Montréal (city/cité), Quebec; Page: 17; Family No: 153.

[5 “Baptism record for Marguerite Buller” born 22 February 22, Baptized 7, July 1885, Anglican St. George Church, accessed 5/24/13, http //: Quebec, Vital and Church Records (Drouin Collection), 1621-1967 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations Inc., 2008; “Baptism record for Cecil Buller” born 15 September 1886, Baptized 21 June 1887, Anglican St. George Church.  Accessed 5/24/13 http// Quebec, Vital and Church Records (Drouin Collection), 1621-1967 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations Inc, 2008.; “Baptism record for Francis Buller” born 23, November 1900, Baptized 17, March 1901, Anglican St. George Church. Accessed 5/24/13. http// Quebec, Vital and Church Records (Drouin Collection), 1621-1967 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations Inc., 2008. ; “Baptism record of Audrey Buller”; “Anglican St. George”, accessed May 17, 2013, “Anglican St. George”, accessed May17, 2013,

[6] “Canadian men and women of the time: a handbook of Canadian biography,” accessed 4/20/13, http//: 

 [7] “Canadian men and women of the time”; Sean B.  Murphy, Portraits of Ophthalmology at McGill University 1876-1990, accessed October 24, 2012,

[8] “History and biographical gazetteer of Montreal to the year 1892,” accessed April 20, 2013, http// “Crediton Parish Church”, accessed, October 20,2012,

[9]“History and biographical gazetteer of Montreal”.

[10] Year: 1851; Census Place: Hamilton, Northumberland County, Canada West (Ontario); Schedule: A; Roll: C_11740; Page: 9; Line: 6.

[11] “Ontario, Canada, Deaths, 1869-1938 and Deaths Overseas, 1939-1947”, accessed May 4, 2013, http:// 

[12] Informational footnote: “Dr. Buller’s device was composed of a watch glass surrounded by rubber, and was fixed in place with adhesive tape. This effectively isolated the infected eye. A small piece of rubber tubing was inserted as the temporal corner to prevent the glass form steaming up and allow the ophthalmologist to view the eye.” Murphy, 10.  For an overview of his training see Sean Murphy 8-10 and “To Unveil Bust of Famous Specialist”, McGill Daily, October 25, 1934.

13] Murphy, 10.

[14] “To Unveil Bust of Famous Specialist,” McGill Daily, October 25, 1934, accessed May 9, 2013.Google news; Murphy, 10.

[15] Murphy, 11.

[16] Murphy, 12; “Montreal City Directory, 1878, address 1351 St. Catherine St., “ Canada, City and Area Directories, 1819-1906. [ database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations, Inc., 2013. (Accessed April 20, 2013).

[17] Murphy, 13.

[18] Murphy, 13.

[19] Murphy, 13.

[20] “Canadian Men and Women of the Time.”; Murphy, 13.

[21] Murphy, 13.; “Montreal City Directory, 1885, address 111 Drummond St.” Canada, City and Area Directories, 1819-1906 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations, Inc., 2013, accessed 4/20/13; Canadian men and women of the time; Year: 1911; Census Place: St. Antoine Ward, Montreal St Antoine, Quebec; Page: 1; Family No: 32. “Buller family”.

[22] “Baptism record for Marguerite Buller”; “Baptism record for Cecil Buller”.

[23] Canadian men and women of the time; “Deaths. “Daily Mail and Empire, November 22, 1895, accessed May, 9, 2013. Google news.

[24] Murphy ,16,16,20.

[25] Murphy, 19-20.

[26] Marriage index for “Jenn H Brien”, marriage month Oct, 27, 1897, County Manhattan, certificate number 16310 (1897), FHL roll number 1503719, accessed march 8, 2013.; No title, The Metropolitan, November 6, 1867, accessed April 25, 2013, Google news.

[27] 1901 Census of Canada Year: 1901; Certificate and Record of Death for Henry Brien, 1 June 11912, New York, NY, certificate # 16982.; Certificate and Record of Death for Eliza Jane Brien, 28 January 1911, New York NY, certificate # 3229.

[28] Certificate and Record of Death for Henry Brien; Certificate and Record of Death for Eliza Jane Hamilton.

[29] Internment Record for Henry Brien, Green-Wood Cemetery, Brooklyn, NY, Certificate # 358694; Internment Record for Eliza J. Brien, Green- Wood Cemetery, Brooklyn, NY, Certificate # 353233.

[30] The Metropolitan November 6, 1867.

[31] 1901 Census of Canada.

[32] “Baptism Record of Francis Buller”; “Baptism record of Audrey Buller”; 1911 Census of Canada.

[33] Murphy, 21.

[34] Quebec, Vital and Church Records (Drouin Collection), 1621-1967 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations Inc., 2008, accessed March 12, 2013; Directory of Deceased American Physicians, 1804-1929 [database online]. Provo, Utah:, Inc., 2004, accessed March 12, 2013.

[35] Quebec, Vital and Church Records (Drouin Collection), 1621-1967 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations Inc., 2008, accessed March 12, 2013.

[36]“Tribute of Discipline,” Montreal Gazette, October 29, 1934, accessed May 10, 2013.Google news; “Family Donated Bust Made Possible Memorial to Late Dr. Buller,” Montreal Gazette, October 31, 1934, accessed May 9, 2013. Google news.

[37] “To Unveil Bust of Famous Specialist.”

bottom of page