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Abraham Colles (1773-1843)

Abraham CollesAbraham Colles was born at Milmount, near Kilkenny in Ireland in 1773, the son of a local marble quarrier.  It is said that during his attendance at Kilkenny Grammar School a flood swept part of the house of a local doctor away.  An anatomy book was found by Colles in a field near his home.  When he the book to the doctor, Dr Butler, he presented the book to the young boy and it was this incident that influenced Colles' choice of future profession.

He entered Dublin University in 1790 and became apprentice to Philip Woodroffe.  In 1795, he qualified LRCSI and then moved to Edinburgh for further studies.  He studied hard and in 1797 he obtained an MD degree from the University of Edinburgh.  It is said that soon afterwards he walked to London (!) to visit and assist Sir Astley Cooper.  He returned to Dublin 1797, practiced first as a physician before devoting himself to surgery.  In 1799, he elected to the staff at Dr Steeven's Hospital where he served for the next 42 years.  He was regarded as cool and dexterous operator and was elected as president of the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland in 1802 at  the age of only 28 years. In 1804, he was appointed Professor of anatomy, physiology and surgery at the college.

His name is eponymously associated with a fracture of the distal radius with displacement and dorsal angulation, which he accurately described in the Edinburgh Medical and Surgical Journal in 1814.  In 1811 he published a book entitled Surgical Anatomy, he which he described what is today known as Colles' fascia (the superficial perineal fascia).  He was the first surgeon to successfully ligate the subclavian artery. 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' principle textbook was the two-volume Lectures on the theory and practice of surgery.

Colles was both generous and modest.  He was offered a baronetcy in 1839 but decline it.  He died on 6th December 1843.  He had a family of six sons and four daughters.  His eldest son also became a renowned surgeon and was elected President of the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland in 1863.

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