Notes from Lectures of John Hunter

Scope and Content

Notes from lectures given by John Hunter in London taken by John Ford Davis. Although they are not dated it is likely that the lectures were given in the early 1790s shortly before Hunter's death when Davis was a young student in London. Notes on the inside cover of both volumes indicate that they were acquired by the Manchester Medical Society in 1881 and were subsequently allocated the reference number Q1082 viz. their 1890 catalogue. The second volume contains additional extracts made by Davis and case notes of some of his patients.

Administrative / Biographical History

John Ford Davis was born in Bath in 1773 and studied medicine in London and later in Edinburgh, from where he gained his M.D. in 1797. The awarding of his degree was announced in the Edinburgh Magazine or Literary Miscellany in June 1797 and indicates that his dissertation was entitled 'De Contagio'. It is believed that he returned to Bath to practice soon after graduating and soon became a Licentiate of the Royal College of Physicians in 1808. He became Consulting Physician to the Bath Eye Infirmary in 1811 and was later elected physician to the Bath General Hospital in 1817, a post he held until his retirement in 1834. He is known to have published works on carditis and the composition of the Bath waters and he also held several civic offices within the city of Bath. He died at his home in Bath in January 1864 at the age of 90.

John Hunter (1728-1793) was born on the 13 February 1728 in East Kilbride to John Hunter and Agnes Paul. John was the youngest of ten children, with his equally famous anatomist brother, William Hunter (1718-1783) being the seventh oldest. In 1748, following some uncertainty about what career he wished to pursue, Hunter headed to London to join his brother William and assist him with his anatomy school. William was immediately impressed with his dissection skills. In 1749/50 he attended the Chelsea Army Hospital under William Cheselden and in 1751 became a pupil at St Bartholomew's Hospital studying under Percivall Pott. In 1754 he entered St George's Hospital as a surgical pupil and in summer 1755 was persuaded by his brother to leave in favour of becoming a student at St Mary Hall, Oxford to improve his credentials. The lifestyle and teaching did not suit Hunter and he returned to St George's just a few months later in 1756.

His career having not progressed significantly Hunter joined the army as a staff surgeon in October 1760 in the midst of the Seven Years' War and set sail with the expeditionary force for Belle Île-en-Mer. During this time he also spent time in Portugal and learnt much from his experiences of military medicine but returned to London in 1763 after the official cessation of hostilities earlier that year. Back in London he established his own practice in Golden Square where he continued his experiments and dissections. On 5 February 1767 he was elected a fellow of the Royal Society and on 7 July 1768 passed the diploma of the Company of Surgeons which qualified to take a senior post at a hospital. Later that year on 9 December he was appointed to the role of surgeon at St George's Hospital. That same year his brother William had moved from his premises on Jermyn Street to his new anatomy school on Great Windmill Street, and so Hunter took over this property, which was well-suited for private practice.

With rooms of his own he gave lectures on surgery and anatomy and taught a great number of students, including such individuals as Edward Jenner, John Abernethy, and William Shippen. He also lectured at St George's, doing so for free in the winters of 1773 & 1774, but was not overly fond of lecturing in general despite being popular with students. Hunter placed much importance on the needs of his patients and focused on means of prevention as well as cure. He also dedicated a lot of time to comparative anatomy and had purchased a property at Earls Court to this end, as it gave him the space to experiment on a range of animals both dead and alive.

In 1776 he was appointed surgeon-extraordinary to the king and in 1790 surgeon-general of the army and inspector of its hospitals. In 1787 he received the Copley medal from the Royal Society and gave the Croonian lectures from 1776 to 1782 based on his research into muscular motion. Hunter was a founder member of both the Society for the Improvement of Medical and Chirurgical Knowledge in 1783 and the Lyceum Medicum Londinenses for the Advancement of Medical Knowledge in 1785, both small intimate groupings of medical men who met to discuss their work. He published liberally and broadly during his career and some of his key works include A Treatise on the Natural History of the Human Teeth (1771 & 1778), Treatise on Venereal Disease (1786), Observations on Certain Parts of the Animal Oeconomy (1786), and Treatise on the Blood, Inflammation, and Gunshot Wounds (1794).

During his career Hunter amassed a vast collection of pathological specimens, and items relating to comparative anatomy and natural history and on occasion reportedly paid huge sums of money for single items. All his specimens were carefully prepared and arranged with the student in mind, each offering its own explanation of some animal structure or manifestation of disease. After his death his collections became part of the Royal College of Surgeons and despite significant depletions over the years can still be seen today.

Hunter died on 16 October 1793 at a meeting of the board of governors held at St George's Hospital. His body was originally placed in the vaults of St Martin in the Fields but in 1859 was reinterred in Westminster Abbey where a plaque marks his grave.


J. Hunter, A Treatise on the Blood, Inflammation, and Gun-Shot Wounds, by the late John Hunter, To which is prefixed a short account of the authors' life, by his brother-in-law, Everard Home, London: John Richardson, 1794. Jacob W. Gruber, 'Hunter, John (1728-1793)', Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004. Peter R. Fleming, 'Davis, John Ford (1773-1864)', Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004.