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Biographical entry Coppleson, Sir Victor Marcus (1893 - 1965)

MRCS and FRCS 1921; MB ChM Sydney 1915; FRACS; FACS.

Wee Waa, New South Wales, Australia
12 May 1965
Anatomist and General surgeon


Victor Coppleson was born in 1893 in the small town of Wee Waa in the central part of New South Wales; he was educated there and at Sydney Grammar School. He then entered St Andrew's College in the University of Sydney, and graduated in 1915. After a period of resident appointments at the Royal Prince Alfred Hospital he joined the Australian Imperial Force and served in New Guinea, Egypt and France until 1919. After he left the Army he continued his hospital training in London at St George's, the Westminster and the North Middlesex Hospitals, achieving his English Fellowship in 1921.

In 1923 he returned to Australia to become a member of the honorary consultant staff of St Vincent's and the Royal North Shore Hospital in Sydney. He remained attached to both those hospitals after his retirement, in the capacity of consultant surgeon. He also served the University of Sydney as curator of the anatomy museum and as a lecturer in anatomy and surgery.

During the second world war Coppleson served with the Australian Imperial Force in 1940-1941, being present at the evacuation of Greece and Crete.

Apart from his distinguished surgical career Sir Victor's chief interest lay in postgraduate education and he was responsible in a large measure for many of the principal changes in that field in Australia. He was successively the honorary secretary, chairman and honorary director of the Postgraduate Medical Foundation of Sydney University and later became the first President of the Australian Postgraduate Federation, a post which he held until his death. He also had a hand in the establishment of numerous postgraduate fellowships in New South Wales and throughout Australia. In 1959 he was appointed to represent Australia at the World Conference on Postgraduate Education which was held in Chicago and was the only Australian to participate. For his services to medical education he was knighted in 1964.

A particular and unusual interest of Sir Victor's was the study of shark attacks and he was recognized as the authority on this subject, having shown that the severe mutilations are caused by the shark's saw-edged fin or tail, not a bite. As an honorary medical adviser to the Surf Life Saving Association of Australia he greatly encouraged research into the prevention of drowning, which led to the introduction of mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. In 1960 he was a prime mover in the establishment of an International Congress on Artificial Respiration.

Sir Victor's dynamic personality and tremendous energy and enthusiasm were always a source of inspiration to his colleagues.

In 1924 he married Enid James and they had one son, Dr J V M Coppleson, and a daughter, Mrs Pauline Okkerse. He died on 12 May 1965 having been unwell for about two years. He was survived by his wife and their two children.


Trends in postgraduate education. Bull post-grad Comm Med Univ Sydney 1951.
Shark attack, 1959; 2nd edition 1962.

Sources used to compile this entry: [Med J Aust 1965, 2, 723].

The Royal College of Surgeons of England