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Biographical entry Forster, John Cooper (1823 - 1886)

M.R.C.S., Nov. 15th, 1844 ; F.R.C.S., April 11th, 1849 ; M.B. Lond., 1847.

Lambeth, London, UK
2 March 1886
London, UK
Anatomist and General surgeon


Born in Mount Street, Lambeth, where his father and grandfather had carried on a successful practice. The house was at the junction of the Westminster Bridge Road with Kennington Lane. It had a large garden, which Forster tended as a boy, and thus gained his lifelong love for flowers and ferns. He was educated at King's College School, then under the headmastership of Dr. Major, and entered Guy's Hospital in 1841. He acted as dresser for Aston Key (q.v.), and was captain and trainer of the Guy's Hospital Boat Club, which he raised to a high state of efficiency.

He graduated M.B. at the University of London in 1847 after gaining the Gold Medal in Surgery. Between 1844 and 1850, whilst waiting for an appointment at Guy's, he held the post of Surgeon to the Surrey Dispensary, and was one of the very first to administer anaesthetics in the hospital. He was also Surgeon to the Royal Hospital for Women and Children in the Waterloo Bridge Road, a position he held for many years. In 1848 he visited Paris to study gunshot wounds.

He was appointed Demonstrator of Anatomy at Guy's Hospital in 1850, and in the same year married Adela, the only daughter of Munden Hammond, of Kennington, by whom he had seven children. At this time he was living at 11 Wellington Square, the back of his house looking on to St. Saviour's Church, and the front into the large square of St. Thomas's Hospital. He was bequeathed a considerable fortune in 1859, and in 1864 he moved to 10 St. Thomas's Street, where two of his children died of diphtheria, and later in life he lived at 29 Upper Grosvenor Street.

He was elected Assistant Surgeon to Guy's Hospital in 1855, and in 1870 he succeeded John Hilton (q.v.) as full Surgeon. This post he resigned in 1880, when Senior Surgeon, the occasion being an unfortunate dispute with the Treasurer and Governors of the hospital caused by some necessary changes in connection with the nursing staff introduced by a new matron somewhat untactfully. Dr. Habershon, the Senior Physician, resigned at the same time. Their action met with the sympathy of many former members of the school, four hundred of whom subscribed to a testimonial and a presentation of silver plate.

Cooper Forster was a member of the Council of college from 1875-1886, of the Court of Examiners from 1875-1884, Vice-President in 1882-1883, and President in 1884. During his year of office he did much to promote the establishment with the Royal College of Physicians of a Conjoint Examining Board for England which enabled students to be examined satisfactorily both in medicine and surgery. On the day he ceased to be President he ceased to practise, although for many years his easy circumstances had led him not to desire private patients.

He died of an obscure illness, which was not elucidated by a post-mortem examination, at his house in Upper Grosvenor Street on March 2nd, 1886, and was survived by his wife, one son and three daughters.

Cooper Forster had a good, bold, and neat hand, which made him a skilful operator. When Dr. Habersohn, his medical colleague, proposed that he should follow Sédillot in opening the stomach in the case of cancer of the œsophagus in 1858 he did so readily, and thus performed what was practically the first gastrostomy in England. The operation was undertaken too late and the patient died forty-five hours after its completion. He went to Aberdeen in 1867 to study Pirie's methods of arresting hæmorrhage by acupressure, practiced it enthusiastically for a few months, and then returned to torsion of the arteries, known as 'the Guy's method' of stopping bleeding during amputations. He is described as quick in forming an opinion and in deciding upon a line of treatment, impatient of 'fads', deficient in scientific knowledge, and essentially a practical surgeon. His clinical lectures were noted for their decisiveness, terseness, and abounding common sense ; but he disliked lecturing, and having been appointed Lecturer on Surgery in succession to John Poland (q.v.), he soon resigned.

Personally as well as socially he was a striking figure : considerably over six feet in height and of a commanding presence, he had a handsome expression ; his head was covered with bushy black hair ; quick and lively in manner, always courteous, he was, as he seemed, a great gentleman. He loved rowing, and his dinghy and four-oared boat manned by his family were well known on the Thames from Richmond to Oxford. When rowing became too strenuous for him he took to fly fishing, and later still in life he was accustomed to take a country walk on every fine Sunday. He carefully ascertained the direction of the wind before starting, took the train against it, and walked back with the wind behind him. He was a keen horticulturist, and his house in Grosvenor Street contained one of the best ferneries in London. After his death Mrs. Forster gave his Trichomones reniforme to the Conservatory at Kew Gardens.

Cooper Forster was also a gourmet, and nothing pleased him more than to entertain his friends either at home or at Greenwich with a very carefully chosen bill of fare and the most choice wines. He is the central figure as President in Jamyn Brookes's portrait group of the Council, which hangs in the Hall of the College, and there is a portrait in the Council Album. Both are good likenesses.

Sources used to compile this entry: [Dict. Nat. Biog. sub nomine et auct. ibi cit. Guy's Hosp. Rep., 1887, xliv, 39. Wilks and Bettany's Biographical History of Guy's Hospital, London, 1892, 356. MacCormac's Address of Welcome, 1900, 204. Personal knowledge. The details of the gastrostomy appear in Guy's Hosp. Rep., 1858, xix, 13, with 4 plates, and in Med. Times and Gaz., 1858, N.S. xvi, 372. The Guy's Hospital dispute may be read in the Lancet, 1880, ii, passim, but more especially on p. 592. Jno. Hutchinson's account of Cooper Forster's illness and death is in the Lancet, 1886, i, 512.].

The Royal College of Surgeons of England