• Title
    Hunter, John (1728-1793)
  • Reference
  • Level of description
  • Date
    1699 - mid twentieth century
  • Creator
  • Scope and Content
    The collection contains numerous volumes of manuscript written by John Hunter, or one of his draughtsmen, Willliam Bell or William Clift. Those written by Bell or Clift often contain notes and amendments by Hunter. The collection also contains transcripts of John Hunter's lectures written by unidentified authors, and various material related to John Hunter that has been collected by the College. The John Hunter manuscripts originally deposited by Sir Everard Home in 1824 and 1825 have been catalogued as a separate group to the rest of the manuscripts in, or partly in, John Hunter's hand. The transcripts of Hunter's works and lectures by unidentified authors are catalogued a a third group, and the Hunteriana, or material related to John Hunter that has been collected by the College, in the fourth group.
  • Extent
    21 boxes, 2 volumes and 2 Folios
  • Language
  • System of arrangement
    The collection has been arranged into three groups. 1) John Hunter manuscripts originally deposited by Sir Everard Home in 1824 and 1825; 2) Further John Hunter manuscripts; 3) Transcripts of John Hunter's lectures and works by unidentified authors; 4) Hunteriana.
  • Conditions governing access
    By appointment only. See College website for contact details of the Archives.
  • Conditions governing reproduction
    No photocopying permitted
  • Related objects
    See copies and transcripts of Hunter manuscripts by William Clift, MS0007; the Hunter-Baillie papers, MS0014; the Hamilton Letters, MS0190; the Hunterian Letters (Grey-Turner Bequest), MS0191; the Loudoun Medical Papers, MS0192; transcripts of lectures by John Heaviside MS0013 Mr Eyles MS0193 John Whitsed MS0194 Thomas Keate MS0195 Joseph Pearce MS0196 Henry Nathaniel Rumsey MS0197 Charles Dagge Seager MS0198 W. Waller MS0199 Charles Wilkinson MS0200 Thomas Wilson MS0201 a publication by James Finlayson on whether John Hunter was a student at Glasgow, MS0202; the Hunter Family Album MS0253



  • Admin./ biographical history
    John Hunter was born in 1728 in East Kilbride. As a child, he received relatively little by way of formal education. However, he was fascinated by the world around him. Later he wrote: "When I was a boy I wanted to know all about the clouds and the grasses, and why the leaves changed colour in the autumn; I watched the ants, bees, birds, tadpoles, and caddisworms; I pestered people with questions about what nobody knew or cared anything about." In September 1748 John Hunter travelled to London to join his elder brother William. William Hunter (1718-1783) had studied medicine at Edinburgh, and by 1746 had embarked on a successful private career in London as a midwife and physician and a private lecturer in surgery and anatomy. The mid-eighteenth century saw a rapid growth in such private courses, partly in response to the growth in the number of hospitals requiring surgeons, and also because of the increasing respectability and even fashionability of anatomical study and public lecturing. Initially John made dissections and prepared specimens for William's lectures. In the summer of 1749 William allowed him to start attending lectures given by one of the leading surgeons of the time, William Cheselden. After Cheselden’s death, Hunter studied with Percivall Pott, another eminent surgeon. By the autumn of 1749 John was adjudged sufficiently experienced to take charge of William's practical classes. By 1754 he was a surgeon-pupil at St George's Hospital and shortly thereafter he started to give lectures for William. During these early years in his brother's school John Hunter carried out research on a wide variety of topics, and undertook the complete or partial dissection of forty bodies. By 1750 John Hunter was so proficient at dissection that he was able to make the first set of preparations for his brother’s comprehensive study of pregnancy, The Anatomy of the Human Gravid Uterus, which was published in 1774. He also undertook his own researches on a variety of subjects. Most of this work was published much later in John's lifetime or posthumously. Some is still in manuscript form in the Library of the Royal College of Surgeons of England. Many of the preparations made for these researches were kept by William and John, and formed the nuclei of their two Museums (William Hunter’s collections are now in the Hunterian Museum and the Anatomy Department of the University of Glasgow and in the Glasgow Royal Infirmary). In 1761 John Hunter was commissioned as an army surgeon and joined the British military expedition to Belle Île, off the northern coast of France. In 1762 he was posted to Portugal. While serving with the army Hunter continued to experiment and to collect specimens. He laid the foundations for future work by studying the regeneration of the tails of lizards. He also carried out researches on the treatment of venereal disease and gunshot wounds. When John Hunter returned to London from Portugal his former position in William’s Anatomy School had been filled. He supplemented his half-pay from the Army by teaching practical anatomy and operative surgery and working with the dentist James Spence. The latter resulted in two major publications: The Natural History of Human Teeth (1771) and A Practical Treatise on the Diseases of the Teeth in 1778. The latter includes important accounts of the transplantation of teeth in people, as well as the more famous experiment of transplantation of a human tooth into a cock's comb. He also returned to his investigations of venereal disease and bone growth. He was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1767 and became a Member of the Company of Surgeons in 1768. He moved to 42 Jermyn Street – taking over the house from his brother William, who had moved to Great Windmill Street – and was appointed surgeon at St George's Hospital. In about 1769 he started work on a second home at Earls Court, to the west of London. Here he kept his experimental animals, including – at various times – chickens, geese, pigeons, rabbits, pigs, opossums, hedgehogs, a jackal, a zebra, an ostrich, buffaloes (or zebus), leopards, dormice, bats, snakes, birds of prey, deer, fish, frogs, leeches, eels and mussels. Hunter married Anne Home in 1771. Their first child, John Banks Hunter (named after Hunter’s friend and occasional supplier of specimens Sir Joseph Banks) was born the following year. Two further children died in infancy and the fourth – Agnes – was born in 1776. Hunter continued to build up his private practice, and carried out investigations into small pox and into the effects of poison on animals. He dissected an elephant, as well as porpoises and dolphins and cuckoos supplied by his pupil and friend Edward Jenner. In 1769 and 1770 he gave lectures in anatomy at the Incorporated Society of Artists at the invitation of his friend, the painter George Stubbs. Shortly afterwards he also started to lecture in surgery to his pupils from St George’s Hospital. In 1775 Hunter began to advertise a course of lectures on The Principles and Practice of Surgery, and he continued to stage these each year until his death. His surgical achievements were recognised by his appointment as Surgeon-extraordinary to George III and as Croonian lecturer at the Royal Society. By 1783 Hunter had reached the height of his fame. His private practice had grown a great deal and he was elected a member of the Royal Society of Medicine. He leased a house in Leicester Square, a second house to its rear in Castle Street (now Charing Cross Road) and the land between. He built additional rooms, including a subterranean stable, a lecture theatre and a museum to house his ever-enlarging collection. His private pupils were accommodated in Castle Street, as well as a printing press which enabled him to produce his own books. As well as his research into comparative anatomy and the ‘animal oeconomy’ (what we might now call physiology) John Hunter continued to develop his surgical technique. In 1785 he carried out his first successful operation to treat popliteal aneurysm (a dilation of the artery, behind the knee) which was a common and frequently fatal condition. At the time the most frequent treatment was amputation. The technique which Hunter developed was to tie the femoral artery in the thigh where it was healthy, and to allow the smaller blood vessels to enlarge creating an alternative (collateral) blood supply. The technique was based on Hunter’s observations of the natural creation of collateral circulation in both animals and humans, and of his experiments on the artificial creation of collateral circulation in animals. It is a prime example of the manner in which Hunter sought to use empirical evidence to provide a theoretical body of knowledge to underpin his surgical practice. Hunter remained an active teacher and researcher until his death in 1793, although in his later years he devoted more time to the publication of earlier researches. He continued to receive accolades: he was elected a Member of the American Philosophical Society and received the Copley Medal of the Royal Society. In 1789 he was elected a Member of the Court of Assistants of the Company of Surgeons. Hunter had been appointed Assistant Surgeon-General to the armed forces in 1785 and Surgeon-General and Inspector General of Regimental Hospitals in 1790. He drew up a scheme for training army medical staff which he successfully put into practice. Hunter was also one of the first vice-presidents of the London Veterinary College established in 1791. Hunter had suffered from attacks of angina for many years, brought on by anxiety. For some time he been quarrelling with the governors of St George's over their arrangements and fees for teaching, and during a Board meeting there on 16 October 1793 he collapsed and died. Hunter was buried in St Martins-in-the-Fields on 22 October 1793. In 1859 his body was reinterred at Westminster Abbey. [Source: Biography of John Hunter, Leaflets of the The Hunterian Museum, Royal College of Surgeons of England] The Destruction of the Hunterian Manuscripts: John Hunter kept many manuscript notes of his dissections, cases, and research. Hunter employed a number of amanuenses so that fair copies of his rough manuscripts could be taken, the rough manuscripts often being destroyed after this had been done. Hunter published two major works on the teeth in 1771 and 1778, as well as many papers on a variety of topics. However there still remained a great deal of unpublished material after Hunter’s death in 1793. These manuscripts were kept at Hunter’s house in Castle Street under the care of William Clift. Over the next six years, William Clift copied many of the manuscripts for his own reference. John Hunter wished his collection of specimens should be offered to the British Government. In 1799 the collections were offered to The Company of Surgeons, which became The Royal College of Surgeons of England in 1800. A museum was purpose built to incorporate these collections in Lincoln’s Inn Fields. In December 1799, Sir Everard Home ordered that all the Hunterian manuscripts should be transferred to his own house. Sir Everard Home, a Hunterian Trustee and one of John Hunter’s executors, was entrusted by the Board of Trustees for the Hunterian Collections, to use the manuscripts to compile a catalogue of the specimens. However, this catalogue never appeared. In 1823, Sir Everard Home spoke to William Clift of a fire at his home resulting in the fire brigade being called, which was caused by his burning of John Hunter’s manuscripts in the fireplace. The Hunterian Trustees began to worry about the catalogue being completed and elected a committee to consider the catalogue at their meeting in February 1824. The Board of Curators of the Museum requested on the 5th March 1824 that the Hunter manuscripts be transferred to the College as soon as possible. Sir Everard Home responded that John Hunter did not consider his manuscripts to be seen by the public due to their imperfect state and that they should instead be destroyed. Home claimed that he had spent the last 30 years using the papers for the benefit of the museum, but due to his own ill health could not continue this, and ended his executorship by destroying them. The Board of Trustees were astonished and correspondence followed between the Trustees, the Board of Curators, and Sir Everard Home. This resulted in Sir Everard Home presenting the Board of Trustees with a sealed parcel containing some of John Hunter’s descriptions of specimens, on the 27th November 1824. Sir Everard Home claimed these were all the records of Morbid Anatomy of John Hunter. The Board of Curators reported that the records were incomplete and William Clift revealed that the records when he had looked after them between 1793 and 1799 had been much more numerous. Sir Everard Home did not respond to the questions asked of him about these records, but presented the Cases in Surgery manuscripts to the Board of Trustees at the meeting on 19th February 1825. The reasons behind Sir Everard Home’s destruction of the Hunterian Manuscripts has been discussed on numerous occasions, with several theories being proposed. Sir Arthur Keith suggested for example that Home destroyed the manuscripts out of piety due to the heretical content of some the papers. This explanation has been considered limited due to minority of papers that might be considered of a heretical nature. The theory now more generally accepted to explain the destruction of the majority of the Hunterian manuscripts is that Home was using the contents of the manuscripts in his own publications. Evidence used to back up this argument includes comparisons between some of John Hunter’s works and those of Sir Everard Home, which contain striking similarities; the extent of publications produced by Home between 1793 and 1823 including an incredible amount of original work for such a short time period; and the fact that Home destroyed the Hunterian manuscripts a few days after receiving the final proofs of his work Lectures on Comparative Anatomy. Following the presentation by Home of the manuscripts of records in morbid anatomy and cases in surgery, William Clift began to transcribe them. These transcriptions were completed by 1825, and were added to the transcriptions of other Hunterian Manuscripts undertaken by William Clift before the originals were destroyed. Other Hunterian manuscripts have been added to the collections over the years from various sources. [Source: Elizabeth Allen, JL Turk, Sir Reginald Murley (eds) The Case Books of John Hunter FRS, London: Royal Society of Medicine Services Limited, 1993.]
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