Dupuytren's disease or Cooper's contracture?: Kenneth Fitzpatrick Russell Memorial Lecture


  • A. Thurston ED, MSc (Oxon), FRACS.

Professor A. Thurston, Department of Surgery, Wellington School of Medicine and Health Sciences, PO Box 7343, Wellington South, New Zealand.


In his position as curator of the Cowlishaw collection of historical medical books in the Library of the College, Kenneth Russell prepared the definitive catalogue of the collection. This catalogue is comprehensive and for almost all entries there is an annotation that demonstrates his meticulous attention to detail and the love of the book collection that he managed to secure for the College. It is from this catalogue that I have chosen two books in particular that bring together two great surgeons of the turn of the 19th century.

Although he was a pupil of the great John Hunter, the young Astley Cooper possessed good manners and a gift of oratory of which the Scot, his teacher, was devoid. After his apprenticeship with Henry Cline senior, Cooper came to share the podium with Cline at Guy's and St Thomas’ hospitals and the two dominated surgical teaching in London for some 22 years, until Cline's retirement in 1811. It was the latter who was first to recognize the true nature of the condition now known as Dupuytren's disease. Later, in 1822, Cooper wrote a detailed description of the contracture of the palmar aponeurosis and recommended fasciotomy as being curative. His book A Treatise on Dislocations and Fractures of the Joints, which contains this description of Dupuytren's contracture, is held in the Cowlishaw Collection.

On the other side of the English Channel, M. le Baron Dupuytren repeatedly misquoted Cooper and stated that Cooper believed that the disease was incurable. In his famous lecture given to the staff of the Hôtel Dieu in Paris on 5th December 1931, he admitted to having seen 30 or 40 cases over 20 years of practice. It seems likely that he was not aware of the true cause of the condition before 1831 when he treated his first case. This lecture, along with others, are recorded in his Leçons Orales de Clinique Chirurgicale, a copy of which is also to be found in the Cowlishaw Collection.