Biography of William Hunter
Dr William Hunter (1718-1783) anatomist, physician, teacher of medicine and man-midwife, was born on the 23rd of May 1718 in East Kilbride, Glasgow. He studied at the University from 1731 to 1736 when he became a medical apprentice to William Cullen. Hunter also attended medical classes at the University of Edinburgh and later in London. In 1741 he moved to London permanently and became a leading anatomist and medical teacher. He was Professor of Anatomy at the Royal Academy of Arts in London from 1769 until 1772 and was appointed Physician Extraordinary to Queen Charlotte from 1764-1783.
Hunter, an avid collector, bequeathed his substantial collections of anatomical and pathological preparations, coins, books, manuscripts, botanical, geological and other materials to the University of Glasgow. He also gifted £8,000 towards the cost of building a museum in which to house his vast collection, which the University named the ‘Hunterian’ in his honour.
William Hunter’s collections of rare books and manuscripts are now housed within, and cared for by, the University’s Archives and Special Collections. The Hunterian Collection comprises around 10,000 printed books and 650 manuscripts and forms one of the finest 18th-century libraries to survive intact. Under the terms of Hunter’s will, his library and other collections remained in London for several years after his death - for the use of his nephew, Dr Matthew Baillie (1761-1823) - and finally came to the University in 1807.
The majority of the manuscripts collected by Hunter date to the Medieval and Renaissance periods, although he also collected around 100 oriental manuscripts which form an important part of the collection. Of the printed works there are 532 incunabula and over 2,300 volumes with 16th century imprints. Around one third of the collection relates to medical works, which ranges from the Classical medical authors to Hunter’s contemporaries. Anatomy and obstetrics - the two fields in which Hunter made his fame and fortune - are particularly well represented, though an interest in other topics, e.g. naval medicine, the deficiency diseases, inoculation against smallpox, is also evident.
Hunter’s library also includes the working papers of his mentor, James Douglas and a large corpus of Hunter’s own papers representing his research in anatomy and medicine and includes a series of drawings by Jan van Rymsdyk for Hunter’s major work, first published in 1774, ‘The Anatomy of the Human Gravid Uterus’.