Even admirers of Robert Doyne are losing hope of ever seeing again the marble bust of the founder of the Oxford Eye Hospital.

The bust had watched over the hospital that came to be housed on the Radcliffe Infirmary site for more than 90 years. But the heavy sculpture of the moustachioed eye specialist vanished from sight during the eye hospital’s move from the infirmary to its new headquarters at the John Radcliffe in 2007.

A fresh appeal was made in the pages of The Oxford Times in May in the hope of finding it in time for the Oxford Congress of Ophthalmology, which opens on Sunday, and will bring 500 eye specialists to the city.

Organisers had hoped that the marble bust could take pride of place on the stage of the Oxford Playhouse next week where the congress is taking place, as a tribute to Doyne, who founded this internationally known conference exactly a century ago.

But with no one really certain whether the bust, dating from 1914, was stolen by an opportunist thief or inadvertently left behind on what quickly became a demolition site, there have been no fresh clues.

Luckily, however, a bronzed resin replica of the marble bust had been made. And this at least will be prominently displayed at the congress, lest anyone should forget the great Oxford figure who had started it all in 1908.

In any case, a special exhibition is being held at Oxford Playhouse for people attending the congress, which will celebrate Doyne’s life and work. It has been put together by Richard Keeler, the guardian of the historical collection of instruments and medical documents held by the Royal College of Ophthalmologists in London.

No doubt many will continue to regard the congress itself as the most powerful and lasting monument to Robert Walter Doyne, the doyen of eye specialists, who worked at the Oxford Eye Hospital for 25 years.

Anthony Bron, a clinical professor of ophthalmology at the eye hospital, said: “The congress is a national event, which has been held annually in Oxford over the past 100 years. It is attended by ophthalmologists from all over the world and has always been valued by members and visitors because of its intimate atmosphere and friendly atmosphere and, of course, its location in Oxford.”

Doyne, who was born in Ireland, was educated at Marlborough College and went on to Oxford University to matriculate at Keble College in 1875. Illness meant he left the university after only a year, but he later commenced his medical training at Bristol Medical School and then St George’s Hospital in London.

After a brief spell working in the Royal Navy as a surgeon, he settled in Oxford in 1885 and spent the rest of his working life in the city. As a general practitioner with an interest in ophthalmology, he saw the need for better eye care.

To found the Oxford Eye Hospital in 1886, he enlisted the help of such Oxford luminaries as the great physician and Regius Professor of Medicine, Sir Henry Acland, and the Rev Henry Liddell, the Dean of Christ Church, whose daughter inspired the Alice books.

Originally sited in Great Clarendon Street and then in Wellington Square, it was set up “solely for the benefit of the poor” and people paid towards the cost of their treatment according to their circumstances.

With staff having to cope with more than 5,000 attendances a year, more space was required and in 1894 Doyne leased a building at the Radcliffe Infirmary that had been originally planned as a fever hospital.

Doyne discovered three important hereditary eye conditions, the most interesting being the Coppock Cataract, named after an Oxford family who suffered from the condition, which leaves sight seriously impaired.