Hunter's collections had been previously displayed in his now disappeared house-museum in 28 Leicester Square/13 Castle Street1.
"Having spent more than three decades gathering this museum of human and animal anatomy, Hunter stipulated in his will that it should be sold in its entirety to the government for the public benefit. Hunter saw the collection as his legacy to the nation and the money it would raise as his family's inheritance.
On his death in 1793, however, Britain was at war and there was little money to spare. The collection remained in the castle Street house where William Clift, John Hunter's assistant, began the painstaking task of cataloguing over 13,000 specimens and sorting and copying Hunter's papers.
Finally in 1799, after several petitions, the government agreed to purchase the collection for £ 15,000 (it seems that only £ 2,000 of this was given to Anne Hunter to support her in later life). The Company of Surgeons - soon to become the Royal College of Surgeons - was deemed a worthy guardian and a board of trustees was established that continues to oversee its care today. Clift brought the specimens to the College's new site on Lincoln's Inn Fields in 1807 and they were finally installed in purpose-built galleries in 1813"2.
The Hunterian Museum grew rapidly at Royal College of Surgeons and today it is a huge collection which tells "the fascinating story of surgeons and surgery over the last three centuries"3.
Also the Museum, who lost almost two thirds of its specimens because of a bombing during the Second World War, has undergone many changes. Nowadays, its "most striking feature is the Crystal Gallery: eight floor-to-ceiling glass cases containing over 3,000 preparations from John Hunter's collection"4.
The Museum also displays a part of its collection of paintings and sculptures about "interesting medical cases, exotic animals and visitors to London", as well as "surgeons at work", "members, fellows and benefactors of the College"5…
… ancient and modern surgical instruments and devices…
… and a beautiful listerian collection about the introduction and early use of antisepsis by Joseph Lister.
More informations on the Museum's official website
- Photos by ti.supmacinu|ihgrob.l#ihgroB acuL (July 2011), courtesy of The Hunterian Museum at the Royal College of Surgeons.
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