John Hunter (surgeon)

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Engraving of John Hunter (1728 – 1793) taken from the original portrait by Sir Joshua Reynolds, which is in the Royal College of Surgeons.

John Hunter (February 13, 1728 - October 16, 1793) was a Scottish surgeon regarded as one of the most distinguished scientists of his day. He was an early advocate of the application of rigorous scientific experimentation in medicine.

Hunter was born at Long Calderwood near East Kilbride, the youngest of 10 children . An older brother was William Hunter, the anatomist. From 1748 he studied, taught and practiced in London (initially with his brother).

He was commissioned as an Army surgeon in 1760 and spent three years in France and Portugal.

Hunter was an excellent anatomist; his knowledge and skill as a surgeon was based on sound anatomical background. Among his numerous contributions to medical science are :

After years of hard work he set up his own anatomy school in London in 1764 and started in private surgical practice. His recognition rose in 1767 when he was elected as Fellow of the Royal Society and in 1768 he was appointed as surgeon to St. George's Hospital. Later he became a member of the Company of Surgeons. In 1776 he was appointed surgeon to King George III; in 1786 he was appointed deputy surgeon to the British Army and in 1789 he was made Surgeon General.

In 1783 he moved to a large house in Leicester Square, where today there stands a statue to him. The space allowed him to arrange his collection of nearly 14,000 preparations of over 500 species of plants and animals into a teaching museum.

He had a reputation as a blunt speaker with an argumentative nature. His death in 1793 followed a fit brought on during an argument at St George's Hospital over the admission of students.

In 1799 the government purchased Hunter's collection of papers and specimens, which it presented to the Company of Surgeons.

Hunter was a philosopher in more senses than one; he had philosophy enough to bear prosperity, as well as adversity, and with a rough exterior was a very kind man. The poor could command his services more than the rich. He would see an industrious tradesman before a duke, when his house was full of grandees, "you have no time to spare," he would say, "you live by it; most of these can wait, they have nothing to do when they go home." No man cared less for the profits of the profession, or more for the honour of it. He cared not for money himself, and wished the Doctor [his brother William] to estimate it by the same scale, when he sent a poor man with this laconic note:—

"Dear Brother,—The bearer wants your advice. I do not know the nature of case. He has no money, and you have plenty, so are well met."
"Yours, J. HUNTER."

He was applied to once to perform a serious operation on a tradesman's wife; the fee agreed upon was twenty guineas. He heard no more of the case for two months; at the end of which time he was called upon to perform it. In the course of his attendance, he found out that the cause of the delay had been the difficulty under which the patient's husband had laboured to raise the money; and that they were worthy people, who had been unfortunate, and were by no means able to support the expense of such an affliction. "I sent back to the husband nineteen guineas, and kept the twentieth," said he, "that they might not be hurt with an idea of too great obligation. It somewhat more than paid me for the expense I had been at in the business."


Moore, Wendy. The knife man. London: Bantam, 2005. ISBN 0-593-05209-9

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