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Astley Paston Cooper

Astley Paston Cooper (1768 -1841)


Influential anatomist who believed in practical demonstration

‘Nothing is known in our profession by guess; observation on the diseased living, examination of the dead, and experiments upon living animals, are the only sources of true knowledge’.

Astley Paston Cooper was both an accomplished surgeon and an original anatomist and teacher. Initially articled to his uncle William Cooper, senior surgeon at Guy's Hospital, he was later apprenticed to Henry Cline, surgeon at St Thomas's Hospital and became a teacher there. In 1800 his uncle resigned as surgeon to Guy's Hospital and Cooper was elected to the post.

Cooper stressed practical demonstrations over didacticism and gained the respect and admiration of his students, who included the poet John Keats. Cooper helped Guy's to establish its anatomical and surgical museum (the Gordon Museum) with specimens from his own dissections. He would typically dissect for two or three hours before breakfast and once dissected an elephant in the front garden of his house, throwing a carpet over the railings to conceal it from public view.

Cooper’s chief publications were on the testes, breast and the inguinal region. He also described several new anatomical structures including Cooper’s ligaments, the suspensory ligaments of the breast and Cooper’s pubic ligament.