Surgical Lectures of Astley Cooper

Scope and Content

Each of the four volumes bears the bookplate of the Manchester Medical Society which indicates that they were donated to them by Thomas Windsor on 7 March 1878 and further inscriptions on the inside cover indicate that they were all subsequently allocated the reference number GO 4085 viz. their 1890 library catalogue. The full title is given in the first volume as 'lectures on the principles & practice of surgery by Astley Cooper at St Thomas's Hospital'. In addition Windsor has written his name and the year 1811 on the flyleaves of all four volumes and includes his address on two as 'No.2 Plough Court, Lombard Street'. All the lectures are numbered and dated throughout.

Administrative / Biographical History

Astley Paston Cooper was born in Norfolk on 23 August 1768 the son of reverend Samuel Cooper and writer Maria Susanna Cooper née Bransby. In August 1784 Cooper began his medical education as an apprentice to his uncle William Cooper, a surgeon at Guy's Hospital, London. Cooper's attitude to learning irritated his uncle and the relationship between the two soon broke down. When he first moved to London arrangements had been made for Cooper to reside with Henry Cline, surgeon at St Thomas's, and Cooper's formal apprenticeship was eventually transferred so that Cline became his tutor. The two were able to cement a stronger relationship, and in particular shared similar radical political views, and Cooper did well. His London studies were briefly interrupted by an attack of a fever in 1787 and a period of seven months spent in Edinburgh attending lectures there.

In 1789 Cline invited Cooper to lecture with him and they gave lectures on anatomy and surgery together until 1812 when Cline was replaced by his son, who Cooper continued to lecture alongside. Cooper embraced the practical side of his work and learning from dissection with his lectures being known for their practical elements and he is seen as having made significant contributions to surgical education. From 1793 to 1796 he also gave lectures in anatomy at the Company of Surgeons. In 1800 his uncle retired from his post at Guy's Hospital and as a former pupil and family member it was expected that Cooper should take the role. However, this was initially blocked by Cooper's own uncle, until Cooper agreed to renounce his political views and committed himself entirely to surgery. Consequently he was appointed surgeon to Guy's Hospital.

With a reputation as a skilled surgeon Cooper's private practice flourished, but he was not known for his delicacy. Cooper devised a number of pioneering techniques and made advances in many areas including the surgical treatment of aneurysms, hernias, diseases of the breast, and the use of catgut in surgical sutures and published widely in many areas. In 1813 he was elected professor of comparative anatomy at the Royal College of Surgeons, but resigned from the role two years later. He also became a member of the college's court of examiners in 1822 and served as its president in 1827 and 1836. He was elected as a fellow of the Royal Society in 1802, served as their vice-president, and was awarded the society's Copley medal. Cooper received his baronetcy in 1821, about six months after successfully performing an operation on King George IV for the removal of a sebaceous cyst from his scalp.

Following the death of his wife in 1827 he retired from his London commitments and spent time at his country estate near Hemel Hempstead. A year later he remarried, reopened his London surgical practice in Conduit Street, and went on a number of European tours. He later received honorary degrees from both Oxford and Edinburgh. He died in London on 12 February 1841 and left specific instructions regarding the operation of his post-mortem examination.


Druin Burch, 'Astley Paston Cooper (1768-1841): anatomist, radical and surgeon', Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine, 2010, 103(12), pp.505-8. W.F. Bynum, 'Cooper, Sir Astley Paston, first baronet (1768-1841)', Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004 [, accessed 30 June 2016].