William Hunter (1718 - 1783)
RA Collection: People and Organisations
William Hunter was born in Lanarkshire, Scotland in 1718. He attended the local Latin school and then Glasgow University before serving an apprenticeship with the doctor William Cullen.
At this point Hunter immersed himself in lectures on anatomy, midwifery and natural philosophy, all of which informed his later work. He became assistant to the anatomist James Douglas in 1741, and carried out further study of anatomy and surgery in Paris before establishing his first surgical and midwifery practice in London.
Hunter advertised his first anatomy course in 1746 – thereafter he lectured regularly for the rest of his life, establishing a great reputation as a teacher which attracted students from around the world. In 1749 he moved to a house in Covent Garden with accommodation and lecturing facilities, later graduating to an impressive purpose-built residence in Soho with an anatomy theatre, preparation rooms, and a museum to hold his growing collection.
Hunter held various appointments in his career: he was a member of the Society of London Physicians, the Royal College of Physicians and the Society of Collegiate Physicians, and a fellow of the Royal Society. After Queen Charlotte became pregnant in 1761 Hunter was employed to look after her and was later appointed physician-extraordinary to the queen. When the Royal Academy was founded in 1768, Hunter was appointed its first professor of anatomy (he supervised the creation of écorché figures to assist in his lecturing).
Hunter’s discoveries were disseminated in works such as his Anatomi uteri humani gravidi tabulis illustrata (1774), with beautifully-engraved plates illustrating the human body at all stages of pregnancy. Much of his work remained unpublished, however, resulting in public disputes with other scientists (including his brother John) who claimed their discoveries predated his own.
Hunter died in 1783 and left his museum and library to the University of Glasgow. They now form the Hunterian Museum in Glasgow.
Born: 23 May 1718 in Long Calderwood, East Kilbride, Strathclyde, Scotland, United Kingdom
Died: 30 March 1783
Professor of Anatomy: 1768 - 1783