Abraham Colles

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search

Abraham Colles
Abraham Colles 003.jpg
Born(1773-07-23)23 July 1773
Milmount, Kilkenny, Ireland
Died16 November 1843 (1843-11-17) (aged 70)
EducationUniversity of Dublin, Trinity College
Known forTreatise on surgical anatomy
Paper On the Fracture of the Carpal Extremity of the Radius (Colles' fracture).
Medical career
ProfessionSurgeon, Physician
InstitutionsDr Steevens' Hospital
Sub-SpecialtiesAnatomy, Physiology, Surgery

Abraham Colles (23 July 1773 – 16 November 1843) was professor of anatomy, surgery and physiology at the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland.


Abraham Colles.jpg

Descended from a Worcestershire family, some of whom had sat in Parliament, he was born to William Colles and Mary Anne Bates of Woodbroak, Co. Wexford. The family lived near Millmount, a townsland near Kilkenny, Ireland, where his father owned and managed his inheritance which was the extensive Black Quarry that produced the famous Black Kilkenny Marble. His father died when Colles was 6, but his mother took over the management of the quarry and managed to give her children a good education.

While at Kilkenny College, a flood destroyed a local physician's house. Abraham found an anatomy book belonging to the doctor in a field and returned it to him. Sensing the young man's interest in medicine, the physician let Abraham keep the book. He went on to enroll in Trinity College, University of Dublin, in 1790 and received the Licentiate Diploma of the Royal College of Surgeons in 1795. Abraham went on to study medicine at Edinburgh Medical School, receiving his MD degree in 1797.[1]

Afterwards, he lived in London for a short period, working with the famous surgeon Sir Astley Cooper in his dissections of the inguinal region.[2]

Abraham Colles indenture to Phillip Woodroffe, 1790.[3]

Following his return to Dublin, in 1799, he was elected to the staff at Dr Steevens' Hospital where he served for the next 42 years. He was a well-regarded surgeon and was elected as president of the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland in 1802 at the age of 28 years. In 1804, he was appointed professor of anatomy, physiology, and surgery at the college.[4]

In 1811, he wrote an important treatise on surgical anatomy and some terms he introduced have survived in surgical nomenclature until today. He is remembered as a skilful surgeon and for his 1814 paper On the Fracture of the Carpal Extremity of the Radius; this injury continues to be known as Colles' fracture.[1] This paper, describing distal radial fractures, was far ahead of its time, being published decades before X-rays came into use.[4]

He also described the membranous layer of subcutaneous tissue of the perineum, which came to be known as Colles' fascia. He also extensively studied the inguinal ligament, which is sometimes called Colles' ligament. In 1837, he wrote "Practical observations on the venereal disease, and on the use of mercury" in which he introduced the hypothesis of maternal immunity of a syphilitic infant when the mother had not shown signs of the disease. Colles' principal textbook was the two-volume Lectures on the theory and practice of surgery. He is regarded as the first surgeon to successfully ligate the subclavian artery.

In tribute to his distinguished career, Professor Colles was awarded a baronetcy in 1839, which he refused.[4]

He retired in 1841, and died on 16 November 1843,[1] from gout. He was buried in Mount Jerome Cemetery, Dublin.[2]


In 1807, he married Miss Sophia Cope.[1] His son followed in his footsteps, being elected to the Chair of Anatomy in the Royal College in 1863. Another of his sons married Elizabeth Mayne, a niece of Robert James Graves.

His grandson was the eminent music critic and lexicographer Henry Cope (H. C.) Colles.


  1. ^ a b c d Bettany 1887.
  2. ^ a b Langtry, Joe and Nikki Carter, eds. Mount Jerome: A Victorian Cemetery. Staybro Printing Ltd., Dublin 1997. p. 39
  3. ^ Heritage Week at RCSI. Heritage Collections of the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland, 23 August 2013. Retrieved 7 May 2018.
  4. ^ a b c Boylan, Henry (1998). A Dictionary of Irish Biography, 3rd Edition. Dublin: Gill and MacMillan. p. 73. ISBN 0-7171-2945-4.

Further reading[edit]

  • Thomas Kirkpatrick, "Abraham Colles", Irish Journal of Medical Science, June 1931
  • Martin Fallon (1972). Abraham Colles, 1773–1843, surgeon of Ireland. Heinemann Medical. Retrieved 29 June 2013.
  • William Doolin, "Abraham Colles and his contemporaries", Journal of the Irish Medical Association, January 1955, vol.36, no.211
  • K.F. Russell, "Abraham Colles and his fracture", Australian and New Zealand journal of surgery, October 1948, volume VIII, no.2 Sidney, Butterworth, 1938 [dates in source conflict: either 1938 or 1948]

 Bettany, George Thomas (1887). "Colles, Abraham". In Stephen, Leslie. Dictionary of National Biography. 11. London: Smith, Elder & Co.