William Hunter (anatomist)

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William Hunter
File:William Hunter (anatomist).jpg
Born 23 May 1718
Long Calderwood, South Lanarkshire
Died 30 March 1783
Nationality Scottish
Fields anatomy
Alma mater University of Glasgow

William Hunter FRS (23 May 1718 – 30 March 1783) was a Scottish anatomist and physician. He was a leading teacher of anatomy, and the outstanding obstetrician of his day. His guidance and training of his ultimately more famous brother, John Hunter, was also of great importance.

Early life and career

He was born at Long Calderwood – now a part of East Kilbride, South Lanarkshire – the elder brother of John Hunter. After studying divinity at the University of Glasgow, he went into medicine in 1737, studying under William Cullen.

Arriving in London, Hunter became resident pupil to William Smellie (1741–44) and he was trained in anatomy at St George's Hospital, London, specialising in obstetrics. He followed the example of Smellie in giving a private course on dissecting, operative procedures and bandaging, from 1746. His courtly manners and sensible judgement helped him to advance until he became the leading obstetric consultant of London. Unlike Smellie, he did not favour the use of forceps in delivery. Stephen Paget said of him:

"He never married; he had no country house; he looks, in his portraits, a fastidious, fine gentleman; but he worked till he dropped and he lectured when he was dying."[1]

To orthopaedic surgeons he is famous for his studies on bone and cartilage. In 1743 he published the paper On the structure and diseases of articulating cartilages – which is often cited – especially the following sentence: “If we consult the standard Chirurgical Writers from Hippocrates down to the present Age, we shall find, that an ulcerated Cartilage is universally allowed to be a very troublesome Disease; that it admits of a Cure with more Difficulty than carious Bone; and that, when destroyed, it is not recovered”.[2]

Later career

File:Hunterw table 12.jpg
Page from The Anatomy of the Human Gravid Uterus Exhibited in Figures
File:William Hunter death mask.jpg
Plaster cast death mask, made several hours after his death. Hunterian Museum and Art Gallery, Glasgow, Scotland.

In 1764, he became physician to Queen Charlotte. He was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1767 and Professor of Anatomy to the Royal Academy in 1768.

In 1768 he built the famous anatomy theatre and museum in Great Windmill Street, Soho, where the best British anatomists and surgeons of the period were trained. His greatest work was Anatomia uteri umani gravidi [The anatomy of the human gravid uterus exhibited in figures] (1774), with plates engraved by Rymsdyk (1730–90),[3] and published by the Baskerville Press. He chose as a model for clear, precise but schematic illustration of anatomic dissections the drawings by Leonardo da Vinci conserved in the Royal Collection at Windsor: Kenneth Clark considered him responsible for the Eighteenth-century rediscovery of Leonardo's drawings in England.[citation needed]

To aid his teaching of dissection, in 1775 Hunter commissioned sculptor Agostino Carlini to make a cast of the flayed but muscular corpse of a recently executed criminal, a smuggler. He was professor of anatomy at the Royal Academy of Arts in London from 1769 until 1772.[4] He was interested in arts, and had strong connections to the artistic world.

In 1770 he built himself a house in Glasgow fully equipped for the practice of his science, and this formed the nucleus of the University of Glasgow's Hunterian Museum and Art Gallery.

It has been alleged that Hunter (and his brother John) were involved with either commissioning the murder or showing a callous disregard for where his corpses came from (and his former tutor William Smellie). The supporting evidence for this theory includes the large number of pregnant corpses Hunter was able to obtain, although Hunter did provide case histories for at least four of the subjects illustrated in The Anatomy of the Gravid Uterus Exhibited in Figures, published in 1774.[5]

An avid coin and book collector

William Hunter was an avid antique coin collector and the Hunter Coin Cabinet in the Hunterian Museum is one of the world's great collections. According to the Preface of Catalogue of Greek Coins in the Hunterian Collection (Macdonald 1899), Hunter purchased many important collections, including those of Horace Walpole and the bibliophile Thomas Crofts. King George III even donated an Athenian gold piece.

When the famous book collection of Anthony Askew, the Bibliotheca Askeviana, was auctioned off upon Askew's death in 1774, Hunter purchased many significant volumes in the face of stiff competition from the British Museum.

He died in 1783, aged 64, and was buried in London at St James's, Piccadilly.

See also


  1. Garrison, Fielding H. 1914. An introduction to the history of medicine. Saunders, Philadelphia. p. 269.
  2. Hunter W (1743). "On the structure and diseases of articulating cartilages". Trans R Soc Lond. 42B: 514–21. doi:10.1098/rstl.1742.0079. PMID 7671493.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  3. Thornton, John L. 1982. Jan van Rymsdyk: medical artist of the eighteenth century. Oleander Press, Cambridge ISBN 0906672023.[page needed]
  4. Kemp M (ed) 1975. Dr. William Hunter at the Royal Academy of Arts. Glasgow.[page needed]
  5. Founders of British obstetrics 'were callous murderers', Denis Campbell, 7 February 1997, The Observer, accessed May 2010

Further reading

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Anatomia uteri humani gravidi tabulis illustrata
  • Buchanan WW (October 2003). "William Hunter (1718–1783)". Rheumatology. 42 (10): 1260–1. doi:10.1093/rheumatology/keg003. PMID 14508042.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Dunn PM (January 1999). "Dr William Hunter (1718–83) and the gravid uterus". Archives of Disease in Childhood. 80 (1): F76–7. doi:10.1136/fn.80.1.f76. PMC 1720874. PMID 10325820.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • James T (December 1994). "William Hunter, surgeon and Edward Gibbon, historian: an 18th century connection". Adler Museum Bulletin. 20 (3): 24–5. PMID 11639996.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Kemp M (January 1992). "True to their natures: Sir Joshua Reynolds and Dr William Hunter at the Royal Academy of Arts". Notes and Records of the Royal Society of London. 46 (1): 77–88. doi:10.1098/rsnr.1992.0004. PMID 11616172.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Waterhouse JP, Mason DK (April 1990). "Contributions of William Hunter (1718–1783) to dental science". British Dental Journal. 168 (8): 332–5. doi:10.1038/sj.bdj.4807187. PMID 2185812.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Rey R (1990). "William Hunter and the medical world of his time". History and Philosophy of the Life Sciences (in French). 12 (1): 105–10. PMID 2243922. Unknown parameter |trans_title= ignored (help)CS1 maint: unrecognized language (link)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Buchanan WW, Kean WF, Palmer DG (December 1987). "The contribution of William Hunter (1718–1783) to the study of bone and joint disease". Clinical Rheumatology. 6 (4): 489–503. doi:10.1007/BF02330585. PMID 3329589.CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Herschfeld JJ (April 1985). "William Hunter and the role of "oral sepsis" in American dentistry". Bulletin of the History of Dentistry. 33 (1): 35–45. PMID 3888326.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Philipp E (1985). "William Hunter: anatomist and obstetrician supreme". Huntia. 44–45: 122–48. PMID 11622001.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Porter R (September 1983). "William Hunter, surgeon". History Today. 33: 50–2. PMID 11617139.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Thornton JL, Want PC (September 1983). "William Hunter (1718–1783) and his contributions to obstetrics". British Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology. 90 (9): 787–94. doi:10.1111/j.1471-0528.1983.tb09317.x. PMID 6351897.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • "Different letters from the past 2) Tobias Smollett to William Hunter". Annals of the Royal College of Surgeons of England. 62 (2): 146–9. March 1980. PMC 2492344. PMID 6990856.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Kapronczay K (March 1978). "The Hunter brothers: William Hunter (1718), John Hunter (1728–1793)". Orvosi Hetilap (in Hungarian). 119 (10): 598–600. PMID 628557. Unknown parameter |trans_title= ignored (help)CS1 maint: unrecognized language (link)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Longo LD (May 1978). "Classic pages in obstetrics and gynecology. On retroversion of the uterus. William Hunter. Medical Observations and Inquiries, vol. 4, pp. 400–409, 1771". American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology. 131 (1): 95–6. PMID 347937.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Chitwood WR (July 1977). "John and William Hunter on aneurysms". Archives of Surgery. 112 (7): 829–36. doi:10.1001/archsurg.1977.01370070043005. PMID 327974.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Forbes TR (May 1976). "Death of a chairman: a new William Hunter manuscript". Yale Journal of Biology and Medicine. 49 (2): 169–73. PMC 2595271. PMID 782049.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Kirsner AB (December 1972). "William Hunter: lessons to be learned from congenital heart disease". Medical Times. 100 (12): 107–8 passim. PMID 4564592.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Illingworth C (June 1971). "The erudition of William Hunter. His notes on early Greek printed books". Scottish Medical Journal. 16 (6): 290–2. PMID 4932920.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • , (February 1968). "William Hunter (1718–1783) anatomist, physician, obstetrician". JAMA. 203 (8): 593–5. doi:10.1001/jama.203.8.593. PMID 4870514.CS1 maint: extra punctuation (link) CS1 maint: numeric names: authors list (link)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Thomas KB (July 1960). "A Female Foetus, drawn from Nature by Mr. Blakey for William Hunter". Medical History. 4 (3): 256. doi:10.1017/s0025727300025412. PMC 1034906. PMID 13838001.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Morris WI (January 1959). "BROTHERLY LOVE: AN ESSAY ON THE PERSONAL RELATIONS BETWEEN WILLIAM HUNTER AND HIS BROTHER JOHN". Medical History. 3 (1): 20–32. doi:10.1017/s0025727300024224. PMC 1034444. PMID 13632205.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Kerr JM (September 1957). "William Hunter; his life, personality and achievements". Scottish Medical Journal. 2 (9): 372–8. PMID 13467308.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Oppenheimer JM (August 1957). "John and William Hunter and some eighteenth century scientific moods". Transactions & Studies of the College of Physicians of Philadelphia. 25 (2): 97–102. PMID 13468030.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Ball OF (November 1952). "John and William Hunter. II". Modern Hospital. 79 (5): 87–9. PMID 13002276.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Ball OF (October 1952). "John and William Hunter. 1". Modern Hospital. 79 (4): 86–8. PMID 12992956.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Rudolf CR (October 1950). "Nova et Vetera". British Medical Journal. 2 (4684): 886. doi:10.1136/bmj.2.4684.886. PMC 2038933. PMID 14772509.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>

External links