John Hunter (surgeon)
|Born||(1728-02-13)13 February 1728
Long Calderwood near East Kilbride, Scotland
|Died||16 October 1793(1793-10-16) (aged 65)
|Education||St. Bartholomew's Hospital|
|Known for||Scientific method in medicine
Many discoveries in surgery and medicine
|Institutions||St George's Hospital|
|Research||Dentistry, gunshot wounds, venereal diseases, digestion, child development, foetal development, lymphatic system|
|Awards||Copley Medal (1787)|
He was an early advocate of careful observation and scientific method in medicine.
He is alleged to have paid for the stolen body of Charles Byrne, and proceeded to study and exhibit it against the deceased's explicit wishes.
He learned anatomy by assisting his elder brother William with dissections in William's anatomy school in Central London, starting in 1748, and quickly became an expert in anatomy.
He spent some years as an Army surgeon, worked with the dentist James Spence conducting tooth transplants, and in 1764 set up his own anatomy school in London.
He built up a collection of living animals whose skeletons and other organs he prepared as anatomical specimens, eventually amassing nearly 14,000 preparations demonstrating the anatomy of humans and other vertebrates, including 3,000+ animals.
Hunter became a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1767.
It still contains the illegally procured body of Charles Byrne, despite ongoing protests.
Hunter was born at Long Calderwood, the youngest of ten children.
Three of Hunter's siblings (one of whom had also been named John) died of illness before he was born.
As a youth, John showed little talent, and helped his brother-in-law as a cabinet-maker.
Education and training
When nearly 21 he visited William in London, where his brother had become an admired teacher of anatomy.
John started as his assistant in dissections (1748), and was soon running the practical classes on his own.
It has recently been alleged that Hunter's brother William, and his brother's former tutor William Smellie, were responsible for the deaths of many women whose corpses were used for their studies on pregnancy.
John is alleged to have been connected to these deaths, since at the time he was acting as William's assistant.
However, persons who have studied life in Georgian London agree that the number of gravid women who died in London during the years of Hunter's and Smellie's work was not particularly high for that locality and time; the prevalence of pre-eclampsia — a common condition affecting 10% of all pregnancies, and one which is easily treated today, but for which no treatment was known in Hunter's time — would more than suffice to explain a mortality rate that seems suspiciously high to 21st-century readers.
In The Anatomy of the Gravid Uterus Exhibited in Figures, published in 1774, Hunter provides case histories for at least four of the subjects illustrated.
Hunter heavily researched blood while bloodletting patients with various diseases.
This helped him develop his theory that inflammation was a bodily response to disease, and was not itself pathological.
Hunter also studied with Marie Marguerite Bihéron, a famous anatomist and wax modeler teaching in London; some of the illustrations in his text were likely hers.
After qualifying, he became assistant surgeon (house surgeon) at St George's Hospital (1756) and surgeon (1768).
Hunter was commissioned as an Army surgeon in 1760 and was staff surgeon on expedition to the French island of Belle Île in 1761, then served in 1762 with the British Army.
Hunter left the Army in 1763, and spent at least five years working in partnership with James Spence, a well-known London dentist.
Hunter set up his own anatomy school in London in 1764 and started in private surgical practice.
Hunter was elected as Fellow of the Royal Society in 1767.
Living in an age when physicians frequently experimented on themselves, he was the subject of an often-repeated legend claiming that he had inoculated himself with gonorrhea, using a needle that was unknowingly contaminated with syphilis.
When he contracted both syphilis and gonorrhea, he claimed it proved his erroneous theory that they were the same underlying venereal disease.
The experiment, reported in Hunter's A Treatise on the Venereal Diseases (part 6 section 2, 1786), does not indicate self-experimentation; this experiment was most likely performed on a third party.
Hunter championed treatment of gonorrhea and syphilis with mercury and cauterization.
Because of Hunter's reputation, knowledge concerning the true nature of gonorrhea and syphilis was set back, and his theory was not proved to be wrong until 51 years later through research by French physician Philippe Ricord.
In 1768, Hunter 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 1783, Hunter moved to a large house in Leicester Square.
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.
The same year, he acquired the skeleton of the 2.31 m (7' 7") Irish giant Charles Byrne against Byrne's clear deathbed wishes—he had asked to be buried at sea.
Hunter bribed a member of the funeral party (possibly for £500) and filled the coffin with rocks at an overnight stop, then subsequently published a scientific description of the anatomy and skeleton.
"He is now, after having being stolen on the way to his funeral," says Muinzer, "on display permanently as a sort of freak exhibit in the memorial museum to the person who screwed him over, effectively."
The skeleton, today, with much of Hunter's surviving collection, is in the Hunterian Museum at the Royal College of Surgeons in London.
While in this post, he instituted a reform of the system for appointment and promotion of army surgeons based on experience and merit, rather than the patronage-based system that had been in place.
Hunter's death in 1793 was due to a heart attack brought on by an argument at St George's Hospital concerning the admission of students.
Hunter's character has been discussed by biographers:
He was described by one of his assistants late in his life as a man 'warm and impatient, readily provoked, and when irritated, not easily soothed'.
They had four children, two of whom died before the age of five.
One of his infant children is buried in the churchyard in Kirkheaton, Northumberland, and the gravestone is Grade II listed.
Their fourth child, Agnes, married General Sir James Campbell of Inverneill.
In 1799, the government purchased Hunter's collection of papers and specimens, which it presented to the Company of Surgeons.
Contributions to medicine
Hunter helped to improve understanding of human teeth, bone growth and remodeling, inflammation, gunshot wounds, venereal diseases, digestion, the functioning of the lacteals, child development, the separateness of maternal and foetal blood supplies, and the role of the lymphatic system.
He carried out the first recorded artificial insemination in 1790 on a linen draper's wife.
Samuel Taylor Coleridge, a key figure in Romantic thought, science, and medicine, saw in Hunter's work the seeds of Romantic medicine, namely as regards his principle of life, which he felt had come from the mind of genius.
In Imogen Robertson's 2009 novel, Instruments of Darkness, anatomist Gabriel Crowther advises an acquaintance to seek refuge at his friend Hunter's home for the young Earl of Sussex's party from deadly pursuers released during the Gordon Riots; leopards in Hunter's menagerie killed the would-be assassins, and he envisaged their bodies' dissection.
The John Hunter Clinic of the Chelsea and Westminster Hospital in London is named after him, as are the John Hunter Hospital in Newcastle, Australia and the Hunterian Neurosurgical Laboratory of the Johns Hopkins Hospital.
His birthplace in Long Calderwood, Scotland, has been preserved as Hunter House Museum.
There had been a bust of Hunter in Leicester Square until the 2010–12 redesign of the square.
Credits to the contents of this page go to the authors of the corresponding Wikipedia page: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John Hunter (surgeon).