Abraham Colles, born near Kilkenny, Ireland in 1773, first became interested in medicine when a flood destroyed the home of a nearby doctor and washed an anatomy book towards his home. He returned the book to the doctor, who allowed him to keep it. Colles’ father had died when he was four years old, and he was raised solely by his mother. He was very close to her, and would send her many long letters throughout his career.
In 1790, Colles enrolled in Trinity College, at the University of Dublin. He was indentured to Philip Woodroffe, resident surgeon at Dr. Steevens’ Hospital. Colles became a licensed surgeon in 1795, and earned his medical degree from the University of Edinburgh in 1797. He was intensely devoted to his studies; his landlady visited him often to keep him from “reading himself into a coffin.” Despite his penchant for quiet study, he was known as a strong and robust person, even walking 400 miles (643.7 km) from London to Edinburgh during his studies, completing 50 miles (80.5 km) a day! After working with Sir Astley Cooper in London for a time, Colles went back to Dublin in 1799 and began working once more in Dr. Steevens’ Hospital, where he would remain for the next forty-two years. In 1802, he became president of the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland, when he was only twenty-eight years old. In 1804, he became a Professor of Anatomy, Physiology, and Surgery to the College of Surgeons. He held numerous other positions and worked with many charitable hospitals and health care organizations over his career.
He was the first surgeon to describe some anatomical parts and phenomena, like Colles’ fascia and Colles’ ligament. He is most famous, perhaps, for his description of Colles’ fracture of the wrist, for which the Museum of Health Care has many splints, like the ones pictured here! Abraham Colles died from gout in 1843, and requested that a post-mortem be done of his body for educational purposes.
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