• Title
    The Hunterian Museum & The Wellcome Museum
  • Reference
  • Level of description
  • Date
  • Creator
  • Extent
    93 boxes + 1 plan chest
  • Language
  • Conditions governing access
    By appointment only. See College website for contact details of the Archives.
  • Related objects
  • Admin./ biographical history
    The eminent surgeon and anatomist John Hunter died in 1793. In his will he stipulated that his vast museum of anatomical specimens should be sold, in its entirety to the nation if possible, to provide an income for his family after his death. The collection was valued at an estimated £70,000, but the government would not purchase it as Britain was in the midst of the Napoleonic wars and the government had little money. Hunter’s executors, his nephew Matthew Baillie and his brother-in-law Everard Home, paid Hunter’s assistant William Clift to look after the museum, and he began to catalogue the collections. On 26 April 1799 the Court of Assistants (the Company of Surgeons' governing body) held a special meeting to discuss a proposal then made by Hunter's trustees that the museum should be placed in the custody of the Company, after its purchase by the government. The Court noted their approval of this suggestion, and five months later the Treasury wrote to offer the Company the museum, with certain conditions. The conditions were: that the museum had to be open to doctors and surgeons for at least four hours on two days a week and that a catalogue and supervisor should be available; That courses of lectures in comparative anatomy should be given twice a year, using the preparations for illustration; the preparations should be kept as perfectly preserved as possible, at the Company's expense; that there should be a Board of Trustees of the museum consisting of 16 members by virtue of their public offices and 14 persons initially appointed by the Lords of the Treasury and thereafter elected by the other Trustees; that Trustees be permitted to visit the museum at any time. When the collection was placed in the custody of the Royal College of Surgeons William Clift was appointed as its first conservator, and on 26 May 1800 a Board of Curators was established, consisting of seven members, elected annually. They oversaw the general running of the museum. The museum initially remained at its home in Castle Street, near Leicester Square before moving to the Royal College of Surgeons' new building on Lincoln's Inn Fields on 18th May 1813. New specimens continued to be purchased for the museum, so that the collections grew rapidly. In 1826 the Board of Curators appointed Richard Owen to the position of assistant curator, and together Clift and Owen catalogued most of the Museum collections. By the 1850s the collections had more than doubled in size and been fully catalogued. Lack of space soon became a problem so an extension designed by Charles Barry opened in 1837. Clift retired in 1842 and Owen was appointed Conservator. John Quekett, who had held a studentship in human and comparative anatomy at the College, was appointed Assistant Curator in 1843. He and Owen had been among the founders of the Royal Microscopial Society, and Quekett collected thousands of microscope slides illustrating human anatomy, sold to the College in 1846. By 1850 the museum was once again short of space, and Charles Barry created the plans for a further extension, completed in 1852. In 1856 Owen moved to the British Museum and Quekett became the Conservator of the College Museum. Quekett died in 1861 and William Flower was appointed Conservator. During Flower’s time in office the osteological collection increased in size as many important collections were donated. From 1870 onwards historical surgical instruments were also displayed in part of the museum. Flower left to work at the British Museum in 1884 and Charles Stewart was selected as his successor. The museum again suffered from lack of space and a new extension opened in 1892. New editions of the catalogues were begun, and a new numbering system started, as the previous one had become unwieldy. Unfortunately this work was never completed and Stewart died in 1907. The anatomist and anthropologist Arthur Keith was chosen to succeed him. In 1911 further extensions were made to the museum and the executors of Lord Lister donated many of his surgical instruments and other materials to the museum. In 1909 the College also acquired the collections (about 5000 specimens) of the Odontological section of the Royal Society of Medicine. During the First World War the College collected specimens of war wounds from the Royal Army Medical Corps and other related bodies. These were used as an important teaching aid. Sketches and drawings by artist Henry Tonks, showing Sir Harold Gillies pioneering work in plastic surgery were presented to the College in 1921. During the Second World War the many of the specimens were moved to the College basement for safekeeping. On the night of 10-11 May 1941 the College was hit directly by several incendiary bombs and two thirds of the collection was lost, including around 10,000 of Hunter’s original specimens. After the war the College was slowly rebuilt. Separate museums were created to house the odontological collections, anatomy and pathology teaching collections, which received funding from the Wellcome Trust and became known as the Wellcome Museums, and the Hunterian Museum, which was centred on the remains of Hunter’s original collection. The Hunterian Museum re-opened in 1963. These museums remained in use until the 1990s. In 2001 the Wellcome Museums were combined in a single museum known as the Wellcome Museum of Anatomy and Pathology. In 2003 the Hunterian Museum and Odontological Museum were also merged as part of a £3.1m project funded by the Heritage Lottery, the Wellcome Trust, the MLA and the Garfield Weston Foundation. The new museum opened to the public in 2005.
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