Papers of John Hunter (1728-1793)

Scope and Content

The material includes notes of lectures on surgery, and notes of his lectures.

Administrative / Biographical History

John Hunter was born on 13 February 1728 in Long Calderwood in the area of East Kilbride. As the youngest of ten children his early education was somewhat neglected but when he was seventeen he began to acquire cabinet-making skills from his brother-in-law in Glasgow. At the age of twenty he went to London, working with his anatomist brother William Hunter (1718-1783) in his dissecting-room. Taking to the work quite well, he attended Chelsea Hospital and St. Bartholomew's between 1749 and 1751, and after appointment in 1753 as a 'master of anatomy' to the Surgeons' Corporation he entered St. George's Hospital in 1754 as a surgeon's pupil. Hunter then studied at St. Mary's Hall, Oxford, between 1755 and 1756. In the late-1750s, Hunter was assisting his brother and at this time traced the descent of the testes in the foetus, made discoveries as to the nature of placental circulation, and investigated the nasal and olfactory nerves. In 1760, poor health encouraged him to accept a place as surgeon on an expedition to Belle Isle, Newfoundland, and while there he occupied himself studying coagulation of blood. In 1762 he served with the army in Portugal and on his return in 1763 he opened a surgical practice in London and gave private classes in anatomy and operative surgery. In 1766 Hunter was elected a Fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons, London, and in 1767 he became a member of the Surgeons' Corporation. In 1768 he was appointed Surgeon at St. George's Hospital and his own practice expanded as a result, so that he was able to take house-pupils one of whom was the young Edward Jenner (1749-1823). In 1776 Hunter was appointed Surgeon Extraordinary to King George III. By 1788 he headed the surgical profession. Hunter's publications and papers include Treatise on the human teeth (1771), On the digestion of the stomach after death (1772), Proposals for the recovery of people apparently drowned (1776), Treatise on the venereal disease (1786), and posthumously A treatise on the blood, inflammation, and gunshot wounds (1794). John Hunter died on 16 October 1793.

Access Information

Generally open for consultation to bona fide researchers, but please contact repository for details in advance.


The biographical/administrative history was compiled using the following material: (1) Lee, Sidney (ed.). Dictionary of national biography. Vol. 10. Howard-Kenneth. London: Smith, Elder and Co., 1908.

Compiled by Graeme D Eddie, Edinburgh University Library, Special Collections Division.

Other Finding Aids

Important finding aids generally are: the alphabetical Index to Manuscripts held at Edinburgh University Library, Special Collections and Archives, consisting of typed slips in sheaf binders and to which additions were made until 1987; and the Index to Accessions Since 1987.


Check the local Indexes for details of any additions.

Related Material

The local Indexes show a reference to Hunter related material in the Laing Collection (check the Indexes for more details): letters to J. Davidson, 1787-1788, at La.II.158. There is also mention of Hunter in letters at Gen. 1730 and in Dc.4.101-103. In addition, the UK National Register of Archives (NRA), updated by the Historical Manuscripts Commission, notes: correspondence and papers, Royal College of Surgeons of England, Ref. Hunter-Baillie NRA 9521 RCS scientific, and letters (32) to Edward Jenner, 1773-1793, see HMC MS papers of British scientists 1600-1940, 1982; papers, Royal Society; correspondence and papers, Natural History Museum; anatomical notes, British Library, Manuscript Collections, Ref. Add MS 34407; miscellaneous papers, St Georges Hospital Medical School Library, NRA 9767 London St Georges; lecture notes, circa 1765-1787, Wellcome Library for the History and Understanding of Medicine, Ref. MSS 2959-64, 5597-98, and notes on the principles of surgery and venereal diseases, Ref. acc 349837; lecture notes (copies), 1813, Oxford University: Bodleian Library, Special Collections and Western Manuscripts, Ref. MS Don e 116; lecture notes, National Library of Medicine, see NUC MS 66-1486; lecture notes, circa 1770, Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh, Ref. Hunter NRA 16015 Coll of Physicians; and, lecture notes, 1777, London University: Kings College Archives, Ref. KCLCA Hunter.