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Biographical entry Cooke, Thomas (1841 - 1899)

MRCS Jan 26th 1871; FRCS June 8th 1871; B es L B es S Paris 1862; MD 1870; Bronze Medallist Assistance Publique Paris.

8 February 1899
London, UK
Anatomist and General surgeon


Born in the United States of America in 1841, the only son of John Hawley Cooke and Jane, daughter of the Hon Richard Hawley. His parents took him to Paris as an infant, where he had no regular education. At the age of 13 Cooke was left to make a private arrangement with a schoolmaster. Starting as a medical student, he gained at the age of 21 the B es L and B es S of the University of Paris. He served as Extern and Interne at the Bicetre, Sainte-Eugenie, Saint-Louis, Lariboisiere, and Le Midi Hospitals, and for some years was Demonstrator of Anatomy in the Ecole Pratique de la Faculte de Medecine. In 1870 he graduated MD and received a Mention Honorable, Faculte Medicale de Paris, for his "Esquisse d'une Anatomie Operatoire - Considerations generales: Region parotidienne, Cavite buccale, Regions soushyoidienne et sterno-mastoidienne" (8vo, plates, Chartres, 1870).

His financial position had been poor and became worse with the Siege of Paris in the autumn of 1870. He came over to England and passed the MRCS examination in January, 1871, and the FRCS in the following June. He was thereupon appointed Demonstrator of Anatomy and Physiology at Westminster Hospital Medical School, and in August, 1871, was elected Assistant Surgeon to the Hospital. An appointment which promised advantages both to the Hospital and Medical School on the one hand, and to Cooke on the other, turned out a dismal failure. Cooke's training and experience had been entirely in the Paris of the Third Empire. He could not adapt himself to the hospital outpatient practice; the surgery he attempted was pre-Listerian. Curiously he failed to adapt his wonderful knowledge of anatomy to the practice of surgery. Hence he gained no private practice from his hospital appointment. He could only get a livelihood by his remarkable talent as a demonstrator of anatomy to students who had failed to profit by the teaching at their own medical school. He held the post of Demonstrator of Anatomy at the Hospital Medical School with increasing friction until 1875. When vacancies occurred on the senior surgical staff he was not promoted. Later he was relieved of all hospital duty, but remained nominally Surgeon to Out-patients at the Westminster Hospital until his death.

Cooke started the London School of Anatomy and Physiology with one or two pupils, and developed the last of the private medical schools of London, based on its recognition as a school which a student referred in anatomy might attend for individual instruction. Courses on operative surgery on the dead body were also given. Cooke was engaged in demonstrating in his dissecting-room from early morning until night. He taught with the greatest energy and enthusiasm what he published in his Tablets of Anatomy and Physiology, the first part of which was issued in 1873.

Anatomical instruction underwent changes; the study of frozen sections increased in importance as abdominal and thoracic surgery developed; and morphology and embryology made greater demands upon the attention of students. Cooke was a determined advocate for anatomy by dissection, and published A Plea for Practical Work in Anatomy in 1893, Specialism in Teaching and Examining in 1896, and The Old and New School of Anatomy in 1897.

The School of Anatomy was entered from Handel Street, Brunswick Square, through a small gate in Henrietta Mews, a notice over the door bearing the words 'Anatomy, Physiology, and Surgery'. There was a large dissecting-room, and an anatomical tank in which as many as seventeen cadavers could be preserved. The grounds included part of an old graveyard with tombstones remaining. A small cottage, and a shed used for storing books and papers were attached. Cooke lived at 40, Brunswick Square, in the immediate neighbourhood.

Cooke's Medical School at its acme numbered more than one hundred students a year. Sir John Bland-Sutton related that in 1878 he took an extra six months' course of anatomy there owing to the facility for dissecting during the summer months. Cooke's objective methods of teaching appealed to him; with intense enthusiasm, by vivid and inspiring demonstrations, he exhibited the chief anatomical points on the dissected subject in strict relationship during a three months' course, assuming his class to be already familiar with the elementary details of anatomy. He was so engaged, demonstrating in his dissecting-room, when he died suddenly from aneurysm on Feb 8th, 1899, and was buried in Kensal Green Cemetery.

His son, Dr F G Hamilton Cooke, had assisted him and had collaborated in the preparation of the 11th edition of the Tablets. The school continued with the assistance of Edward Knight, but changes in the curriculum and improvements in the Schools of Medicine caused it to decline; the war of 1914-1918 hurried on its end.

Cooke married in 1871 Aglae, daughter of the 21st Comte de Hamel de Manin, Officier of the Household of Louis XVIII, Knight of the Royal Order of the Legion of Honour, who survived him. He had issue: three sons - one, Francis Gerrard Hamilton Cooke, assisted his father and later, after practising at Westcliff-on-Sea, was appointed assistant medical officer to the Madras Railway Company; a second, Granville Cooke, poet and inventor, died under tragic circumstances in 1925 - and two daughters, one of whom married Mr R R Garratt, Secretary to the Royal Free Hospital, and the other Mr Herbert Wilson.

Tablets of Anatomy and Physiology, first part, 1873; 11th ed in three 4to vols., 1898.
Aphorisms in Applied Anatomy and Operative Surgery, 8vo, 1891.
Dissection Guides, 1892.
A Plea for Practical Work in Anatomy, 8vo, 1893.
Specialism in Teaching and Examining, 1896.
The Old and New School of Anatomy, 1897.

Sources used to compile this entry: [Brit. Med. Jour., 1899, i, 365, 444. Lancet, 1899, i, 395, 482. Daily Express, April 2nd, 1925. Additional information kindly given by R R Garratt, Esq. Personal knowledge].

The Royal College of Surgeons