The Department of Ophthalmology had its humble beginnings in Ward 26 of the Johannesburg General Hospital. The Opening Ceremony for Johannesburg's showpiece hospital took place on 5th November 1890. Ophthalmology as a separate entity probably began in 1908 under Dr Napier with Dr Brinton.
The operating theatre at that stage was a room in the ward which was later used as a dressings room. In 1923 Dr RCJ Meyer replaced Dr Napier who retired in that year as Senior Surgeon. Drs, Baranov, Robinson and Templeton-Thurston were working in the Department at that time and later Drs Franks, Fine, Kaye, Marais and Staz took up positions. Although he retired in 1938, Dr RCJ Meyer returned to help the hospital during the war years when members of the Department were on active service.
Dr Maurice Franks was Head of Department from 1938 until 1964 and continued part-time work at St John Eye Hospital until his death at age 85 years. Always cheerful, he provided a valuable screening function at St John and his presence was an inspiration to both doctors and nursing staff.
In 1962 the Sam and Dora Cohen Foundation was established. This endowed the first full-time Chair of Ophthalmology in South Africa at the University of the Witwatersrand.