Papers of William Clift

Scope and Content

Account book, 1792-1822; MS copy of account book; letters and notes to and from Clift, 1792-1841; note from Thomas O. Hunter, 1763; notebook describing a visit to Paris, 1819; manuscript copy of the chapter entitled ‘De Dolore Nephritico’ from Paul Barbettes “Practice”, 1841.

Administrative / Biographical History

William Clift was born at Bodmin in Cornwall in 1775 and came to live with John Hunter in London when he was 17, only 20 months before Hunter’s death. His task was to write and make drawings, to dissect, and take part in the charge of the museum. Clift found himself a member of a very large household which stretched from Leicester Square eastwards to Castle Street with a further property at Earl’s Court. There were about 50 people depending on Hunter for sustenance and pay. On Hunter’s death in 1793 all the servants were dismissed except Mrs Elisabeth Adams the housekeeper in Castle Street and William Clift to look after the Museum. The care of the museum devolved on Hunter’s executors, Everard Home, Hunter’s brother in law and Matthew Baillie, Hunter’s nephew. Clift copied volumes of Hunters manuscripts and thus saved nearly half of Hunter’s work, the rest being lost when Everard Home burnt them in 1823 “because they were unfit to meet the public eye”. The Royal College of Surgeons took care of the museum in 1800, appointing Clift as Conservator. A new building was erected to house the museum at Lincoln’s Inn Fields next door to the Corporation of Surgeons and opened to visitors in 1813. Clift became Fellow of the Royal Society in 1823.

Access Information

Access to some items may be restricted. Please contact Heritage staff at the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Glasgow.

Other Finding Aids

Descriptive list available at the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Glasgow.


James Finlayson, "Account of a MS. volume, by William Clift, relating to John Hunter's household and estate; and to Sir Everard Home's publications", British Medical Journal, 29 March 1890, pp. 738-40 & Glasgow Medical Journal, Vol. 33(4), April 1890, pp. 241-50.