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COPE, Sir Vincent Zachary (1881-1974)

Identity Statement

Reference code(s): GB 0113 MS-COPEV
Held at: Royal College of Physicians
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Full title: COPE, Sir Vincent Zachary (1881-1974)
Date(s): 1953-1966
Level of description: Collection (fonds)
Extent: 2 files
Name of creator(s): Cope | Sir | Vincent Zachary | 1881-1974 | Knight | surgeon


Administrative/Biographical history:

Vincent Zachary Cope was born in Kingston-upon-Hull on 14 February 1881, the son of Thomas John Gilbert Cope, a Methodist minister. He was educated at Westminster City School, where he was head boy, before going to London University where he graduated BA in 1899. He entered St Mary's Hospital Medical School with a scholarship to study medicine. In 1905 he graduated MB BS with honours in surgery and forensic medicine, and proceeded MD in 1907. He became a Fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons of England in 1909.

Cope took the post of demonstrator of anatomy at St Mary's Medical School, before becoming surgeon at the hospital in 1911. It is said that 'his reputation as a clinical teacher at the bedside brought a large attendance at his rounds' (The Lancet, 1975, p.115). In 1912 he also became surgeon to the Bolingbroke Hospital.

During the First World War, 1914-18, he served in the Royal Army Medical Corps (RAMC), as a Captain and temporary Major, and was attached to the 3rd London General Hospital. He saw active service in the Middle East, 1916-19, and was mentioned in dispatches in 1918. His Surgical Aspect of Dysentery (1921) was based on his experiences in Mesopotamia. However his major contribution to medical literature was his Early Diagnosis of the Acute Abdomen (1922). This was arguably one of the 'most successful books in surgery' (ibid). It was translated into 5 languages and reached its 14th edition in 1972.

He was Hunterian professor of the Royal College of Surgeons four times, between 1916 and 1927, and delivered their Arris and Gale lecture, in 1922, as well as most of their other lectures. He became a member of the Board of Examiners of the College, and was also an examiner in surgery to London, Birmingham, and Manchester universities. Cope became a member of the Council of the British Medical Association (BMA), 1938-45, and later became vice-president. He was prominent in the Marylebone Division of the BMA.

During the Second World War he was a Sector Officer of the Emergency Medical Service. In 1939 he published Some Principles of Minor Surgery. It was also during the War that he became a member of the Medical Planning Commission of the BMA, and in 1940 a member of the Council of the Royal College of Surgeons, and later vice-president. Between 1940 and 1943 he was Chairman of the Marylebone Division of the BMA. From 1943-45 he was engaged on a regional hospital survey of South West England. Cope retired from the Bolingbroke Hospital in 1946, although he remained consulting surgeon.

In the postwar years he was a successful chairman of a number of influential inquiries and committees. His committee work was extensive and amongst the subjects he worked on were medical education, proprietary medicines, the British Pharmacopoeia, physical medicine, and medical war relief. Cope became a member of the General Practice Review Committee of the BMA, when it was set up in 1950. In 1951 he took part in an inquiry into the national registration of medical auxiliaries, presiding over eight committees which covered different branches of the auxiliary services. It became known as the Cope Committee.

Cope was made honorary Fellow of the Royal Society of Medicine in 1951, having served for many years as honorary librarian. He was also involved with the Medical Society of London and became its president. He edited two clinical volumes of the Official History of the War of 1939-45, on medicine and pathology (1952) and on surgery (1953). Cope was knighted for his public service in 1953, his name appearing in the first New Year's Honours List of Queen Elizabeth II's reign. In 1955 he became Chairman of the National Medical Manpower Committee.

During his retirement Cope was much occupied by the writing of medical history. He remained in the service of St Mary's Hospital throughout his life, becoming consulting surgeon in these years. He published two histories of the medical school at St Mary's, in 1954 and 1955, several biographies of important medical figures including one on Florence Nightingale, in 1958, and an account of the Royal College of Surgeons, in 1959. In 1961, for his long and distinguished contribution to the history of medicine, he was made honorary Fellow of the Faculty of the History of Medicine and Pharmacology of the Society of Apothecaries. Four years later he published A History of the Acute Abdomen (1965).

Outside of medicine, Cope was devoted to music and was a keen motoring enthusiast, owning his own car from 1916 onwards. He was twice married. In 1909 he married Agnes Dora Newth. She died in 1922, and in 1923 he married Alice May Watts, who died in 1944. A daughter of his second marriage survived him.

Cope died in Oxford on 28 December 1964 at the age of 93.

Surgical Aspect of Dysentery (1921)
Early Diagnosis of the Acute Abdomen (1922)
Actinomycosis (London, 1938)
Some Principles of Minor Surgery (1939)
Pioneers in Acute Abdominal Surgery (London, 1939)
Reports. (Cmd. 8188) [of the Committee on Medical Auxiliaries] (London, 1951) Cope (chairman)
The Versatile Victorian: The Life of Sir Henry Thompson, Bt, 1820-1904 (London, 1951)
Medicine and Pathology (London, 1952) and Surgery (London, 1953) (History of the Second World War. UK Medical Series) Cope (ed.)
William Cheselden, 1688-1752 (Edinburgh, 1953)
The History of St Mary's Hospital Medical School: Or, a Century of Medical Education (London, 1954)
A Hundred Years of Nursing at St Mary's Hospital, Paddington (London, 1955)
Sidelights on the History of Medicine (London, 1957)
Florence Nightingale and the Doctors (London, 1958)
The Royal College of Surgeons of England: A History (London, 1959)
Sir John Tomes: A Pioneer of British Dentistry (London, 1961)
Six Disciples of Florence Nightingale (London, 1961)
Some Famous General Practitioners and Some Other Medical Historical Essays (London, 1961)
A History of the Acute Abdomen (London, 1965)
Almroth Wright: Founder of Modern Vaccine-Therapy (British Men of Science Series) (London, 1966)


Scope and content/abstract:

Cope's papers, 1953-66, include the text of a talk discussing his publications, 1966; and details of the Fellows and Membership of the Royal College of Physicians of London and the Royal College of Surgeons of England, compiled by Cope, with related correspondence, 1953-60

Access & Use

Language/scripts of material:

System of arrangement:

Conditions governing access:


Conditions governing reproduction:

All requests should be referred to the Archivist

Finding aids:

Archival Information

Archival history:

Immediate source of acquisition:

Cope's notes on fellows and members of the Royal Colleges of Physicians and Surgeons were donated to the Royal College of Physicians by Cope in February 1965; The text of his talk on his publications was donated by his nephew Dr Cuthbert Leslie Cope on 21 June 1972

Allied Materials

Related material:

There is a letter from Cope to Dr Newman, 1953, amongst the College's autographed letters collection (ALS);

Cope's correspondence with Charles Singer (1876-1960), 1948-60, and his notebooks and papers, 1957-65, are held at the Wellcome Library for the History and Understanding of Medicine; Some papers are held at St Mary's Hospital Archives. See the National Register of Archives for details.

National Register of Archives: Click here to view NRA record

Publication note:

Description Notes

Archivist's note:
Sources: British Medical Journal, 1975, vol. I, pp.98-99 [BMJ, 1975, pp.98-99]; The Lancet, 1975, vol. I, p.115; The Dictionary of National Biography, 1971-1980, Lord Blake & C.S. Nicholls (eds.) (Oxford, 1986) [DNB, 1986, pp.178-79]; Historical Manuscripts Commission On-Line National Register of Archives.
Compiled and modified by Geoffrey Yeo (July 1999). Modified by Katharine Williams (May 2003; September 2003).

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:
Compiled 7 Jul 1999; Modified 15 Jul 1999; Modified 30 May 2003; Modified Sept 2

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