Papers of Sir Astley Paston Cooper

Scope and Content

Papers of Sir Astley Paston Cooper (1788-1841) comprising lecture notes written by Cooper as well as those by unidentified individuals; notes on cases both by Cooper himself, and those sent to Cooper by patients and colleagues; other notes and experiments carried out by Cooper; illustrations and drawings, mostly of cases and specimens; catalogues and lists of preparations; and letters and personal material.

Administrative / Biographical History

Sir Astley Paston Cooper, first baronet (1768-1841), surgeon, was born on 23 August 1768 at Brooke Hall, Norfolk. Cooper spent his early education learning at home. After an accident in which his foster brother died, and his witnessing of a operation for the stone by Mr Donnee (surgeon to the Norfolk and Norwich Hospital), he became interested in surgery. Cooper's maternal grandfather had been a prosperous surgeon in Norwich, and his uncle William Cooper was senior surgeon at Guy's Hospital in London. In August 1784, Cooper was articled to his uncle, arrangements being made for him to reside in the house of Henry Cline, surgeon at nearby St Thomas's Hospital. He then became apprenticed to Cline instead.

Cooper became ill with fever in 1787, interrupting his studies. He spent time convalescing in Great Yarmouth and Edinburgh. He returned to London in 1788 and resumed his studies with Cline, becoming Cline's anatomy demonstrator in 1789. In 1791 he shared the lectures on anatomy and surgery with Cline. Also in 1791, Cooper became engaged to Anne Cock, whom he married in December of that year. The Coopers resided at first at a house in Jefferies Square which his father-in-law had purchased before his death just before the wedding.

In June 1792, the Coopers went on a tour of Paris, where Sir Astley Cooper attended lectures and operations of the surgeons Desault and Chopart. They returned to London in September, just two months before the birth of their only child, Anna Maria, who died in March 1794. They subsequently adopted a daughter, Sarah, who was the same age as their dead child, and a son, Astley, who was a nephew of Cooper's.

In the 1790s Cooper taught at St Thomas's and worked in dissections and lectured in anatomy and surgery. Cooper's lectures became more practical, usually based on his own cases and experiences. A compilation of notes based on his lectures was published in 1820 titled Outlines of Lectures on Surgery, which went through many editions.

From 1793 until 1796 Cooper was also lecturer in anatomy at the Company of Surgeons (after 1800 the Royal College of Surgeons). In 1800 his uncle, William Cooper, resigned as surgeon to Guy's Hospital and Cooper was elected to the post.

Cooper had a successful practice, often attracting wealthy and influential patients such as Lord Liverpool, the Duke of York, the Duke of Wellington, and the Prince of Wales. (who as George IV created him a baronet in 1821). Cooper was also an excellent operator. He was interested in the surgical treatment of arterial aneurysms and used animals to investigate different methods of surgical treatment.

Cooper was elected professor of comparative anatomy at the Royal College of Surgeons in 1813-1815. He became a member of the court of examiners of the college in 1822, and he served as president twice, in 1827 and 1836. He was also a vice-president of the Royal Society, to whose fellowship he had been elected in 1802, and won the society's Copley medal. He was a member of the Physical Society at Guy's, the Medico-Chirurgical Society, and the Pow-Wow, a medical dining club started by John Hunter.

His publications included a monograph on hernias (published in two parts between 1804 and 1807); treatises on fractures and dislocations (1822; sixth edition, 1829), the diseases of the breast (1829) and testis (1830), and the anatomy of the thymus gland (1832) and the breast (1840). His publications usually had high-quality illustrations drawn by a number of artists he employed.

Cooper began to have dizzy spells during the 1820s and after the death of his wife in 1827 he retired from his London activities, to an estate at Gadesbridge, near Hemel Hempstead. He married Catherine Jones in 1828 and began to practice again in London, and also travelled on the continent. In 1840, Cooper's health became worse, and he died in Conduit Street on 12 February 1841. He had requested a post-mortem examination to be conducted.

[Sources: Edited from the entry in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, 2004, by W. F. Bynum]

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For a more detailed description of this collection, please see the RCS England Archives online catalogue.