|Description||Hunter was born on 23 May 1718 at Long Calderwood, East Kilbride, Lanarkshire. He matriculated at Glasgow University in 1731 but left the university in 1736 without graduating. William Cullen, in medical practice in Hamilton, offered Hunter an apprenticeship. So well did they work together that they decided to go into partnership when Hunter completed his medical education. In 1739 Hunter attended the anatomy lectures of Alexander Monro primus in Edinburgh and in 1740 went to London to learn midwifery from William Smellie. An introduction to James Douglas led to his being offered employment as Douglas's anatomy assistant and tutor to his son William George. Cullen, seeing the advantage to Hunter, released him from the proposed partnership. |
Hunter joined the Douglas household in 1741. Many of Hunter's interests stemmed from work he did with Douglas, who also arranged for him to become a surgical pupil of David Wilkie at St George's Hospital. By early summer 1744 Hunter began building a surgical and midwifery practice, and investigating female reproductive anatomy using animals.
In October 1746 Hunter took advantage of the split between the barbers and the surgeons and advertised his first anatomy course in which 'Gentlemen may have the opportunity of learning the Art of Dissecting during the whole winter season in the same manner as in Paris'. The 'Paris manner' meant that students could practise on human corpses. Lecturing regularly for the rest of his life, Hunter initially gave two courses a year; from 1767 one course lasted from October until March. He was described as 'the most perfect demonstrator as well as lecturer the world has ever known', attracting pupils from the continent and North America. Pupils' notes of his lectures are the only record of some of his discoveries.
A member of the Company of Surgeons by 1747 and temporary man-midwife at the Middlesex Hospital in 1748, Hunter was by now firmly settled in London. In 1749 Hunter became man-midwife to the new British Lying-in Hospital, an appointment he held until 1759, after which he was consultant physician.
In 1754 Hunter became a member of the Society of London Physicians, which in 1757 started publishing Medical Observations and Inquiries, in which he was to publish some of his important cases. Hunter's surgical practice became so successful that it was not until 1756 that he left the Company of Surgeons and became a licentiate of the Royal College of Physicians, possibly because of his growing midwifery practice among the aristocracy. On discovering that as an accoucheur he could not become a fellow, he joined the Society of Collegiate Physicians, which had the objective of opening up the fellowship. First steward, then treasurer, and finally president, Hunter played an important part in the society's activities. On 3 April 1767 Hunter was elected a fellow of the Royal Society.
James Mylne, friend and architect, designed for Hunter a residence in Great Windmill Street with anatomy theatre and preparation rooms and one large room as a museum in which to house the fast-growing collections in which he invested his wealth. His library came to contain over 10,000 books, including 534 incunabula and 656 manuscripts. Hunter began lecturing in the new anatomy theatre in 1767, and lived on the site from 1768.
Hunter died on 30 March 1783 at Great Windmill Street. His English will left to Glasgow University his museum and library and they now form the Hunterian Museum, Glasgow.
[Source: Dictionary of National Biography]
Contents: Lectures anatomical and chirurgical, 1775; lectures with additions, 1765-1782; lectures on the gravid uterus, 1781-1782