Sir Astley Cooper, an English surgeon, born at Brooke in Norfolk, Aug. 23, 1768, died in London, Feb. 12, 1841. His father was curate of the village of Brooke, and his mother, who belonged to the Paston family, was a popular writer in her day. His aptitude for the profession in which he became famous was first shown when he was but 12 years old. A foster brother met with an accident which tore open his thigh and wounded the artery, and young Astley saved his life before a surgeon could be obtained by binding a handkerchief tightly above the wound. In 1784 he was sent to London to study Under the direction of his uncle, William Cooper, the senior surgeon of Guy's hospital, who placed him under the care of Mr. Olive, surgeon of St. Thomas's hospital. At the age of 17 he was admitted a member of the physical society; and having afterward spent some time in Edinburgh studying with Drs. Gregory and Cullen, he was appointed demonstrator of anatomy at St. Thomas's hospital. In 1791 he was associated with Mr. Olive in delivering the lectures on anatomy and surgery. The next year the lectures were divided, Olive confining himself to anatomy, while Cooper devoted himself exclusively to surgery.
About this time he married a lady of fortune, and in 1792 he was appointed professor of anatomy at Surgeons' hall, and was reappointed in 1794 and 1795. His first literary productions were two papers in a volume of "Medical Records and Researches" (1798). On the death of his uncle in 1800 he succeeded him as surgeon of Guy's hospital. In this and the following year he read before the royal society two papers on the effect of destroying the membrane of the tympanum, with an account of an operation for the cure of a particular species of deafness, which won the Copley medal for 1802. In 1805 he was elected a fellow of the royal society, and the same year took a prominent part in the formation of the medico-chirurgical society. Having devoted much attention to cases of hernia, he published in 1804 the first part and in 1807 the second part of his celebrated work on that subject. In 1806 he made the first attempt to put a ligature on the carotid artery, and though the case terminated unfavorably, it introduced a bold operation which has since proved successful in many cases.
By this time his reputation was established, and in addition to his duties in the hospital and his numerous investigations in a laboratory and dissecting room of his own, he had one of the largest private practices ever enjoyed by a surgeon, his professional income for the year 1813 being no less than £21,000. He introduced a certainty and daring into surgical practice which was never before known. In 1817 he performed the boldest operation ever recorded, that of tying up the subclavian aorta. It resulted unfavorably, but the circumstances justified the experiment. In 1818 he began the publication of a series of medical essays in conjunction with one of his pupils, Mr. Travers, but the plan was given up after two parts of the work had appeared. He was consulted by George IV. in 1820, and in the following year removed a tumor from the king's head, for which he was rewarded a few months later with a baronetcy. In 1822 appeared his work on "Dislocations and Fractures," which showed a great advance in the understanding and treatment of cases of this kind.
In 1825 he was obliged from ill health to discontinue his lectures and resign the office of surgeon at Guy's hospital; and the death of his wife in 1827 led him to give up practice and retire to his country estate .at Gadesbridge. He soon tired of inactivity, and in 1828 returned to London, married again, and was appointed sergeant surgeon to the king. His health being in a great measure restored, he resumed his practice and his studies, and in 1829 began the publication of his "Anatomy and Diseases of the Breast," which was not completed till 1840. In 1830 appeared a treatise on the "Structure and Diseases of the Testicle," and in 1832 one on the "Anatomy of the Thymus Gland." He was elected president of the college of surgeons in 1827 and again in 1836, vice president of the royal society in 1830, and a member of the French institute in 1832; and among other honors he received the degrees of D. C.. L. from Oxford and LL. D. from Edinburgh university. Though he lived expensively and is said to have been very generous to his poor relations, he left a fortune estimated at £500,000. He bequeathed £100 a year to be given every third year to the author of the best essay on some surgical subject. He was buried at his own request beneath the chapel of Guy's hospital.
A colossal statue by Bailey has been erected to his memory in St. Paul's cathedral. His nephew, Bransby Blake Cooper, F. R. S., published a "Life of Sir Astley Cooper, Bart., interspersed with Sketches from his Note Book," etc. (2 vols., London, 1843).