Papers and manuscripts from the library of William Hunter, 1718-1783, anatomist

Scope and Content

  • Personal papers of William Hunter 1747-1783
  • Manuscript collection of William Hunter c800-1777

Administrative / Biographical History

William Hunter was born in Long Calderwood, Lanarkshire, Scotland, in 1718  Intended for the church, he attended the University of Glasgow from 1731-1736  where he was exposed to the philosophical teachings of Francis Hutcheson which turned him against the rigid dogmas of Presbyterian theology. An acquaintance with the physician William Cullen (1710-1790) disposed him to the medical profession, and he studied with Cullen for three years. Eager to widen his experience, he went to London in 1741  where he worked as an assistant to William Smellie MD (1697-1763) and then from 1741-1742  with James Douglas, both of whom fostered his interest in obstetrics and gynaecology. Between 1741-1749 he was tutor to William George Douglas.

His career prospered; already by 1743  he had communicated the first of several papers to the Royal Society - On the Structure and Diseases of Articulating Cartilage , and in 1750  he was awarded an MD by the University of Glasgow. In 1749  he was appointed as a surgeon at Middlesex Hospital, England, before transferring for a brief time to the British Lying-in Hospital in 1749  .

From the first he had particularly interested himself in obstetrics and in 1762  was called to attend Queen Charlotte on the birth of her first child. Two years later, he was appointed as Physician Extraordinary to Queen Charlotte and rapidly became the most sought after physician in London.

His research, embodied in his Anatomical Description of the Human Gravid Uterus (1774) and his practical example, including the establishment of specialist training for both physicians and midwives, did much to establish obstetrics as a respectable branch of medicine for the first time, though he took a perverse pleasure in continuing to describe himself as a despised 'man-midwife'. However, he continued to lecture on surgical and anatomical topics also, with great success, being described as'admirably clear in exposition, and very attractive by reason of his stores of apposite anecdotes'.

In private life he was a man of wide learning and artistic sensibilities and devoted many years to assembling a magnificent collection of books and manuscripts, coins, antiquities and works of art; these, with his working collection of anatomical and other specimens, were bequeathed to the University of Glasgow on his death in 1783  .

Source: After Carol Primrose, St Mungo's Bairns: Some notable Glasgow students down the centuries, (Glasgow: Glasgow University Library, 1990)


The material is arranged into two sections, as show in the scope and content

Access Information


Acquisition Information

Gift : William Hunter : December 1807 : ACCN 2482

Transferred : Hunterian Museum : 1968 : ACCN 2502

Addition deposits of individual pieces of correspondence : ACCNs 1245, 1510, 1731, 1777, 1789, 1790, 1803, 1827, 1896, 1951

Other Finding Aids

Item level descriptions are available via the department's online manuscripts catalogue available at searching by the call number MS Hunter

Collection guide available at the National Registers of Archives in Edinburgh (NRA(S)) and London (NRA)

Alternative Form Available

No known copies

Archivist's Note

Compiled by David Powell, Hub Project Archivist, 8 March 2002

No alterations made to date

Conditions Governing Use

Applications for permission to quote should be sent to the Head of Special Collections

Reproduction subject to usual conditions: educational use & condition of documents

Appraisal Information

This material has been appraised in line with standard GB 247 procedures

Custodial History

Under the terms of Hunter's will, his library and other collections remained in London for several years after his death - for the use of his nephew, Matthew Baillie (1761-1823) - and finally came to the University of Glasgow in 1807 . After Matthew Baillie's death in 1823 other papers were sent to Glasgow by his widow. Some papers known to have existed are now lost. The collection was initially housed in the Hunterian Museum and fully incorporated in Glasgow University Library after 1968.


None expected

Related Material

GB 247 MS Hunter B: Chinese and other oriental books, manuscripts, and papers of Theophilus Bayer

GB 247 MS Hunter D: Papers of James Douglas

GB 247 MS Hunter H493-H509: Papers of Helen Brock relating to her research on William Hunter

Around 10,000 volumes from the library of William Hunter can be found on the Glasgow University library catalogue at

GB 117: Papers of William Hunter (Royal Society)

GB 161 MS Eng misc e 29: Papers of William Hunter relating to aneurisms (Oxford University: Bodleian Library, Special Collections and Western Manuscripts)

See also the for miscellaneous deposits of Hunter material held in other repositories

For contact details of all repositories with a GB code, see the ARCHON repository search page at


Mungo Ferguson, The printed books in the library of the Hunterian Museum of the University of Glasgow: a catalogue (Glasgow, 1930)

John Young and P Henderson Aitken, A catalogue of the manuscripts in the library of the Hunterian Museum (Glasgow, 1908)

Geographical Names