b.21 Feb 1862 d.11 April 1947
MA MD Cantab LSA MRCS DPH FRCP(1899) FRS
Norwich was Sydney Copeman’s birthplace. His father, Rev Canon A C Copeman, who had taken a medical degree before entering Holy Orders, was rural dean of the diocese, and he was sent to King Edward VI School there as a boy. Going up to Corpus Christi College, Cambridge, in 1879, he won a scholarship and took a degree in natural sciences in 1882. He received his clinical training at St Thomas’s Hospital and, after qualifying in 1885, became lecturer on physiology and demonstrator of pathology in the Medical School. His career, however, took a new turn in 1891, when he accepted the appointment of medical inspector under the Local Government Board, which was succeeded, in 1919, by that of medical officer to the Ministry of Health. Although his work now involved him in administrative duties, research remained his primary interest. He quickly achieved fame by establishing the value of glycerine in destroying pathogenic organisms associated with calf-lymph and hence promoting the use of glycerinated calf-lymph in vaccination in England, and by papers on the relationship of variola and vaccinia. In his later years at the Ministry he tackled the problem of cancer and sat on the departmental committee on cancer. His research throughout was interrupted by the numerous local inquiries, investigations into epidemics, and delegations abroad, which he was called upon to conduct. He also lectured for many years on public health at the Westminster Hospital, being given the title of emeritus lecturer on retiring, and he examined for the Conjoint Board and Bristol and Leeds Universities. Before the War of 1914-1918 he served in the Territorials as a divisional sanitary officer, and during the War was given charge of the Hygiene Department of the Royal Army Medical College, with the rank of colonel. After retiring in 1925, he remained in touch with public affairs as a member of the LCC and chairman of the public health committee of Hampstead borough council.
Copeman’s achievement brought him many distinctions in the scientific world. These included the Cameron prize and the Fothergill gold medal in 1899, the Buchanan gold medal in 1902, the Jenner medal in 1925, and the International Faculty of Sciences’ gold medal in 1938. At the Royal College of Physicians he was Milroy Lecturer in 1898. He was elected FRS in 1903. To his extensive official activities Copeman added a wide range of outside interests. Among them were photography, natural history and the Zoological Society of London – for which he performed valuable service, in 1927, by checking an outbreak of anthrax at the Zoo. His many preoccupations increased rather than diminished the warmth of his feeling for his fellows, and it was as a never-failing friend that he was most appreciated. His wife was Ethel Margaret, daughter of Sir William Boord, Bart; they had two daughters and one son, W S C Copeman, FRCP.
G H Brown[References:Lancet 1947; BMJ 1947; Al. Cantab. ii, 133]
(Volume IV, page 409)
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