Hey friends, crossing the border to Glasgow today to bring you a beautiful building called the HUNTERIAN.
The Hunterian is the legacy of Dr William Hunter (1718 – 1783), a pioneering obstetrician and teacher with a passion for collecting.
Born locally, and a student at the University of Glasgow, Hunter found fame and fortune in London as physician to Queen Charlotte and as a teacher of anatomy. He lavished his wealth on building up the vast private collection which he bequeathed to the University in 1783, along with money to create a suitable museum.
The Hunterian opened its doors in 1807, making it Scotland’s oldest museum and giving it a unique place within Scotland’s cultural heritage.
The Hunterian has undergone many changes over the years. The first Hunterian Museum, built with William Hunter’s bequest and filled with his collections, opened in 1807. It was located in the University of Glasgow’s first site, in the East End near Glasgow Cathedral. The classical style building, designed by William Stark, was open to the public from 12.00pm until 2.00pm every day except Sunday.
When the University moved west to its present location in 1870, the Hunterian collections were relocated to the Gilbert Scott building, where the Museum remains today. To begin with, the whole collection was displayed together, but gradually sizeable sections were removed to other parts of the University.
The zoology collections are now housed within the Graham Kerr building, the art collections in the purpose built Hunterian Art Gallery, and the books and manuscripts in Glasgow University Library. Hunter’s anatomical collections are housed in the Thomson Building, and his pathological preparations at Glasgow Royal Infirmary.
At over 200 years old, the Hunterian today is home to one of the finest university collections in the world and one of Scotland’s most important cultural assets.
Hunterian founder, Dr William Hunter, was born at Long Calderwood, East Kilbride in 1718. Hunter’s father was a retired grain merchant from Glasgow and although the family was not poor, their income was small. His mother, Agnes Paul, was the daughter of a Glasgow magistrate. She was well educated and ensured that her children shared her taste for theatre, literature and the arts.
John and Agnes Hunter had ten children, but the family was affected by tuberculosis and ill health. William was their seventh child and only he, James, John, and their sister Dorothea survived into adulthood.
In 1731, at the age of 13, William Hunter enrolled at the University of Glasgow to study for a Master of Arts degree, which would lead him into a career in the church. During his four years at the University, William was taught by important figures in the Scottish Enlightenment. These included Alexander Dunlop, John Loudon, and the renowned Francis Hutcheson.
He also made lifelong friends among his fellow students, particularly the Foulis brothers, who became printers of the leading Enlightenment texts, and Tobias Smollet, the famous 18th century novelist.
William left the University of Glasgow at 19 without a degree but was later awarded a Doctor of Medicine in 1750.
Frances Hutcheson was the Professor of Moral Philosophy when William Hunter was a student at the University of Glasgow. Hutcheson was one who “awakened in the students a taste for literature, fine arts and everything that is ornamental and useful in human life, and spread such an ardour for knowledge and such a spirit of enquiry everywhere around him”. His philosophy had a major impact on William Hunter, helping him realise that he was no longer suited for a career in the church.
John Hunter .
John was the youngest son of the Hunter family. His character was very different from his older brother, William. John was not a natural student. He preferred nature to books, but like his brother, he learned most of all from observation and experience.
When he was 20 years old, John followed his brother to London and became an assistant in William’s anatomy school. He quickly gained the reputation as an excellent anatomist and surgeon. As John’s fame grew, tensions between the brothers increased. John was not mentioned in William’s will.
Though their relationship was strained they did still share a love of collecting. John’s collections are now housed at the Royal College of Surgeons of England.
The Baillie Family.
Much of what we know of William’s character has come from letters that were exchanged between him and the Baillie family.William’s sister, Dorothea, married a family friend, the Reverend James Baillie, whose unexpected death led William to step in and support the family. He oversaw the education of his nephew, Matthew, who worked as an assistant in his anatomy school. Matthew went on to become a celebrated physician in his own right, and was appointed Physician Extraordinary to King George III.
On his death, William left the majority of his property to Matthew and the rest of the Baillie family.
Images: Allan’s Ramsay’s portrait of William Hunter. Engraving of John Hunter by William Sharp, 1788, after a portrait by Sir Joshua Reynolds.