• Title
    William Clift's Papers
  • Reference
  • Level of description
  • Date
  • Creator
  • Scope and Content
    The collection is divided into four main groups: The first group contains papers relating to William Clift’s work as conservator of the Hunterian Museum. This is the largest of the four groups and contains a number of sub divisions such as explanation and display of specimens, expanding the collections, administration of the museum, and correspondence. This group also contains the transcripts made by Clift and others of the Hunterian manuscripts. The second group contains work carried out by William Clift as an illustrator for publications. The third group contains a small amount of personal material that is in the collection. The fourth group contains transcripts and copies of manuscript material by William Clift that is held in other repositories such as the Natural History Museum.
  • Extent
    42 boxes
  • Language
  • System of arrangement
    The collection is divided into four main groups. The first of these is the largest and contains 7 further sub-divisions. Most of these are then divided further into series of records. Within each series the records are arranged largely chronologically. The other three main groups are not large and are therefore not sub divided further.
  • Conditions governing access
    Access to the collections is permitted by written appointment with the Archives.
  • Conditions governing reproduction
    No photocopying permitted
  • Related objects
  • Admin./ biographical history
    William Clift was a museum curator and scientific illustrator. He was apprenticed to John Hunter as an anatomical assistant, employed to make drawings, copy dictation and assist in the care of Hunter’s anatomical specimens. Until Hunter’s sudden death in 1793, Clift assisted him with dissections and often wrote from dictation from early morning until late at night. After Hunter’s death, his collection of specimens was offered for sale to the government. During the period of negotiations, Clift was employed to look after the collections for a small income. He did this diligently from 1793 to 1799 when the collections were eventually purchased by the government. During this period, Clift feared for the safety of the collection, and copied out many of Hunter’s unpublished manuscripts. This meant that much of the content of the collection was saved from loss through Sir Everard Home’s destruction of his brother-in-law’s manuscripts in 1823. In 1799 the government asked The Company of Surgeons (soon to become the Royal College of Surgeons in 1800) to look after the John Hunter collections. The Trustees of the College then made Clift conservator of the new Hunterian Museum paying him £80 per annum. Under Clift’s supervision the collections were twice moved without damage into storage and then to new premises, and were greatly enlarged and enriched. Clift was a prolific record keeper and his diaries are a valuable resource for information about the workings of the College and Museum as well as wider social life in London. He was elected a fellow of the Royal Society in 1823, was a member of the Society for Animal Chemistry, and also a fellow of the Geological Society. His skills as an illustrator were demonstrated through his work for Matthew Baillie’s “A series of engravings… to illustrate the morbid anatomy of some of the most important parts of the human body,” and also his work on illustrations in Sir Everard Home’s numerous papers in the Philosophical Transactions. Clift submitted some papers to the Philosophical Transactions (1815, 1823), the Edinburgh New Philosophical Journal (1831), and to Transactions of the Geological Society (1829, 1835). William Clift and Richard Owen also published the “Catalogue of the Hunterian Collection of the Museum of the Royal College of Surgeons of London (1830-1831), and then the “Descriptive and illustrated catalogue of the physiological series of comparative anatomy contained in the museum of The Royal College of Surgeons (1833-1840). Clift retired from the museum in 1842, when he was replaced by Richard Owen as curator. To find out more about Clift's life and career, please visit his profile on Oxford Dictionary of National Biography via
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