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Royal College of Physicians

COCKAYNE, Edward Alfred (1880-1956)


Reference code(s): GB 0113 MS-COCKE

Held at: Royal College of Physicians

Title: COCKAYNE, Edward Alfred (1880-1956)

Date(s): 1907-1946

Level of description: Collection (fonds)

Extent: 1 volume; 2 boxes

Name of creator(s): Cockayne | Edward Alfred | 1880-1956 | physician and entomologist


Administrative/Biographical history:

Edward Alfred Cockayne was born in Sheffield on 3 October 1880, the son of Edward Shephard Cockayne. He was educated at Charterhouse School and then at Balliol College, Oxford. He obtained a first class honours from the Natural Science School in 1903. He continued his medical education at St Bartholomew's Hospital, receiving the Brackenbury scholarship for medicine. He graduated BM BCh from Oxford in 1907. In 1909 he passed the membership examination for the Royal College of Physicians.

Cockayne became house physician at St Bart's and then at the Hospital for Sick Children, Great Ormond Street, and subsequently casualty physician at the former. He graduated DM in 1912. He was appointed medical registrar at the Middlesex Hospital before being appointed physician to out-patients in 1913. It was also in 1913 that he joined the staff of the Victoria Hospital for Children.

During the First World War he served in the Royal Navy, from 1915 until 1919, and was at Archangel during the Russian Revolution. In 1916 he was elected Fellow of the Royal College of Physicians. Upon returning to London after the War he became physician to out-patients at Great Ormond Street. At this hospital he was a junior colleague of the physician and geneticist Sir Archibald Garrod, with whom he shared an interest in genetics. In 1924 he was appointed full physician at the Middlesex Hospital, it was however another ten years before he held the same position at Great Ormond Street. In 1928 he was vice-president of the Section of Diseases of Children at the annual meeting of the British Medical Association.

Cockayne was one of the last physicians to combine the work of a general physician with paediatric practice. He was interested in every unusual genetic aberration in the young, and especially the disorders of the ductless glands. His most important medical publication was his book, Inherited Abnormalities of the Skin and its Appendages (1933), which represented `an immense amount of labour spread over years' (The Lancet, 1956, p.1220). He also wrote chapters on the 'Principles of Heredity' in Sir Leonard Gregory Parsons and Seymour Gilbert Barling's Diseases of Infancy and Childhood (1933), and on 'Diseases of the Ductless Glands' in Diseases of Children by Various Authors (1st ed. 1913 - 5th ed. 1953), by Sir Archibald Edward Garrod, Frederick Eustace Batten, James Hugh Thursfield, and Donald Hugh Patterson (eds.). In 1937 Cockayne gave the Bradshaw Lecture at the Royal College of Physicians, on the genetics of transposition of the viscera. The following year he became President of the Section for the Study of Diseases in Children of the Royal Society of Medicine, where he was also treasurer for a number of years.

Cockayne was a keen entomologist. It has been said that he `delighted to contrast with analogous manifestations in the field of entomology' many of the bizarre genetic aberrations he investigated as a paediatrician (BMJ, 1956, p.1370). His specialty was the biology, variation and genetics of British butterflies and moths. He reached the top rank in the science when he was elected president of the Royal Entomological Society, 1943-45.

In 1945 Cockayne became a consultant physician to both the Middlesex and Great Ormond Street hospitals, and removed himself from London to Tring, Hertfordshire. In 1947 he offered his entomological collection to the Natural History Museum, who invited him to amalgamate it with their existing British collections, which included that of the late Lord Rothschild. Accordingly at the Rothschild Zoological Museum at Tring, where he was invited to become assistant curator, he built up a new collection from their existing collections and his own. The result was a collection that demonstrated the complete known range of variation within each species, and all that there was to know of their genetics. He constantly supplemented the collection with rare and beautiful specimens at his own expense, and encouraged valuable donations from others, until it numbered 50,000 select specimens.

Entomology occupied Cockayne's retirement, and in 1954 he received an OBE for his services in this field. He never married, and died at his home in Tring on 28 November 1956, aged 76. In his will he left over 5,000 and his own watercolours to the British Museum, as well as money and books to various entomological societies. A considerable residue went to medicine, to the Royal College of Physicians and to the Royal Society of Medicine. The latter honoured him by opening the Cockayne Suite in 1963.

Inherited Abnormalities of the Skin and its Appendages (London, 1933)
Chapter in Diseases of Infancy and Childhood, Sir Leonard Gregory Parsons and Seymour Gilbert Barling (eds.) (London, 1933) and in Diseases of Children by Various Authors, Sir Archibald Edward Garrod, Frederick Eustace Batten, & James Hugh Thursfield (eds.) (London, 1st ed. 1913 - 5th ed. 1953)


Scope and content/abstract:

Cockayne's professional and personal papers, 1907-46, consist of his casebook, 1913-34, with patient-lists, notes and loose correspondence regarding patients; and his papers, 1907-46, including his medical registration certificates, 1907-9; notes on patients, with accompanying charts, on medical subjects, such as pyloric stenosis, 1934-38, and on entomological specimens; correspondence about his patients at Great Ormond Street, 1935, about his retirement and requests to serve on Committees, 1922-46; and articles and notes on various subjects, such as the medical history of the First World War, 1915-32.


Language/scripts of material: English

System of arrangement:

Conditions governing access:

Mostly unrestricted, although restricted access may apply to parts of the collection containing information on patients.

Conditions governing reproduction:

All requests should be referred to the Archivist

Physical characteristics:

Finding aids:


Appraisal, destruction and scheduling information:


Archival history:

Immediate source of acquisition:

Donated to the College by Cockayne's executors on 1 April 1957


Existence and location of originals:

Existence and location of copies:

Related material:

There is material relating to Cockayne amongst the College's papers, including a letter from Cockayne to Horace Barlow, regarding his bookplate, 1925 (MS2354/136), and a list of books chosen by the College from the estate bequeathed to them by Cockayne, n.d. (MS2000/117);

Correspondence between Cockayne and Henry Bernard Davis Kettlewell, 1937-56, is held at Oxford University, Wolfson College Library; Letters from Cockayne to Colbran Joseph Wainwright, 1908-43, are held at the Royal Entomological Society of London. See the National Register of Archives for details.

Publication note:



Archivist's note: Sources: Lives of the Fellows of the Royal College of Physicians of London, continued to 1965, Richard R. Trail (ed.) (London, 1968) [Munk's Roll, 1968, pp.76-77]; `Dr E.A. Cockayne', Norman Riley, The Times, 6 December 1956; `Obituary - E.A. Cockayne, OBE, DM, FRCP', British Medical Journal, 8 December 1956, [BMJ, 1956, p.1370]; `Obituary - Edward Alfred Cockayne', The Lancet, 8 December 1956, p.1220; Historical Manuscripts Commission On-Line National Register of Archives.
Compiled by Katharine Williams

Rules or conventions: Compiled in compliance with General International Standard Archival Description, ISAD(G), second edition, 2000; National Council on Archives, Rules for the Construction of Personal, Place and Corporate Names, 1997.

Date(s) of descriptions: April 2003

Entomology | Zoology
History of medicine | History
Medical records | Documents | Information sources
Patients | Health services
Physicians | Medical personnel | Medical profession | Medical sciences
War | International conflicts
World War One (1914-1918) | World wars (events) | Wars (events)
Primary documents

Personal names
Cockayne | Edward Alfred | 1880-1956 | physician and entomologist

Corporate names
Hospital for Sick Children | Great Ormond Street x Great Ormond Street Hospital

London | England | UK | Western Europe | Europe