I feel the need to defend myself lest I be accused of having morbid fascinations. We’ve had a string of guests recently with an interest in science and medicine. Being a good host, I try to accommodate their interests, thus our visit to the Resurrection Men at the Museum of London and our visit to the Hunterian. A friend told me my post about the Resurrection Men ruined her breakfast, so, in the interest of decorum, this post comes with fair warning and fewer pictures.
The Hunterian Museum located at Lincoln Inn Fields, within the Royal College of Surgeons, contains John Hunter’s spectacular collection of 3500 human anatomy and pathology specimens, fossils, paintings and sketches.
John Hunter (1728-1793), credited with being the father or “scientific surgery” was born the youngest of ten children and was fatherless by 13. After a failed attempt at being a cabinetmaker’s apprentice, John joined his brother William in London as a dissection assistant in William’s anatomy school. John showed great aptitude for dissection and preparation under William’s tutelage and earned a place studying medicine under more experienced surgeons. He was commissioned as an army surgeon where he gained experience treating the maladies of war and upon his return to London, established a surgical practice and published papers on the etiology and treatment of gunshot wounds, venereal disease and the disorders of the skeletal system. As his reputation as a surgeon and anatomist grew, so did his collection of usual and unusual specimens. Fossils, mummies and skeletons (both human and animal) joined the beak of a giant squid, parts of the Archbishop of Canterbury, exotic insects, diseased body parts and other oddities. His collection was opened to the public in 1785.
Hunter’s massive collection was purchased by the government in 1799 and subsequently turned over to the Company of Surgeons. The established museum was restructured and redesigned numerous times between 1834 and WWII.
On May 10, 1941, bombs fell on Lincoln Inn Fields, destroying the Royal College of Surgeons building and over half of John Hunter’s specimens. The remaining collection was reorganized and rehoused in numerous forms during the subsequent 64 years, reopening in its present form in 2005.
If you have more than a passing interest in nature and the sciences, the Hunterian Museum is well worth a few hours. The depth and breadth of the collection is mind-boggling. I particularly enjoyed the fossils, skeletons, insects and animals. Our medical student friends were riveted by the process of disease displays. Eeeshhh. One of my children refers to the museum as the “parts in a jar museum” and refuses to return as the more graphic human specimens left her in need of the well-placed “fainting couches.” Check details here before you go.
Things to know:
*You must sign in at the Royal College of Surgeons front desk and get a little badge before proceeding upstairs to the Hunterian.
*No photography allowed.
*The museum is free, but they do ask you to consider a £3 donation.
*While young children are permitted inside the museum, parents should seriously consider the ages and maturity level of their children before bringing them. The children WILL have questions.
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