John and William Hunter - Pioneers of Surgery and Medicine
|William Hunter (1718-1783)
||John Hunter (1728-1793)
||John Hunter (1728-1793)
William Hunter was born at Long Calderwood Farm near Glasgow in
1718. He matriculated at Glasgow University in 1731 and later studied
medicine at Edinburgh. In 1741 he moved to London. William Hunter
quickly became well-known as a physician, especially as an
obstetrician, and built up a distinguished clientèle which included
members of the Royal Family. He also established himself as a teacher
of surgery and anatomy, and assembled a collection of anatomical and
pathological specimens, which were used to support his teaching
In 1768 he opened a medical school at his house in Great
Windmill Street. As his reputation – and wealth – grew, Hunter also
collected works of art as well as coins, books, manuscripts and
After his death in 1783 William Hunter bequeathed his
entire collection to Glasgow University, where it formed the basis of
the Hunterian Museum which opened in 1807.
John Hunter came to London in 1748 at the age of twenty and worked
as an assistant in the anatomy school of his elder brother William
(1718-83), who was already an established physician and
obstetrician. Under William's direction, John learnt human anatomy and
showed great aptitude in the dissection and preparation of specimens.
William also arranged for him to study under the eminent surgeons
William Cheselden (1688-1752) and Percivall Pott (1714-88).
Hunter was commissioned as an Army surgeon in 1760 and spent three
years in France and Portugal. As well as developing new ideas on the
treatment of common ailments – such as gunshot wounds and
venereal disease – Hunter spent time collecting specimens of lizards
and other animals. On his return to England in 1763 he began to build
up his private practice. His scientific work was rewarded in 1767 when
he was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society. In 1768 he was elected
Surgeon to St George's Hospital, and in 1783 he moved to a large
house in Leicester Square which enabled him to take resident pupils
and to arrange his collection into a teaching museum.
Hunter devoted all his resources to his museum. It included nearly
14,000 preparations of more than 500 different species of plants and
animals. As his reputation grew, he was supplied with rare specimens
such as kangaroos brought back by Sir Joseph Banks from James
Cook's voyage of 1768-71.
While most of his contemporaries taught only human anatomy,
Hunter's lectures stressed the relationship between structure and
function in all kinds of living creatures. Hunter believed that surgeons
should understand how the body adapted to and compensated for
damage due to injury, disease or environmental changes. He
encouraged students such as Edward Jenner and Astley Cooper to
carry out experimental research and to apply the knowledge gained to
the treatment of patients.
By the 1780s Hunter enjoyed widespread recognition as the leading
teacher of surgery of his time. However, the acclaim did little to
mellow his blunt-speaking and argumentative nature. His temper was
to be his downfall: Hunter died in 1793 after suffering a fit during an
argument at St George's Hospital over the acceptance of students for
Hunter is today remembered as a founder of 'scientific surgery'. He
was unique in seeking to provide an experimental basis to surgical
practice, and his museum is a lasting record of his pioneering work.
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