William Hunter’s Tercentenary

23 May 2018 marks the 300th anniversary of William Hunter’s birth. Dr William Hunter (1718-1783) was an anatomist, physician, teacher of medicine and man-midwife. Today we view him as major figure in the Enlightenment and in the development of museums and university teaching collections.

Born in East Kilbride, Glasgow, Hunter studied at the University from 1731 to 1736 when he became a medical apprentice to William Cullen. In 1741 he moved to London permanently and became a leading anatomist and medical teacher. He was Professor of Anatomy at the Royal Academy of Arts in London from 1769 until 1772 and was appointed Physician Extraordinary to Queen Charlotte from 1764-1783.

The Hunterian was named for William Hunter who bequeathed his vast collection of coins, books, manuscripts, art works and anatomical and natural history specimens for use in teaching and research at his alma mater, arriving here in 1807.

Hunter’s library is now held in our Archives and Special Collections department within the University Library. It comprises around 10,000 printed books and 650 manuscripts and forms one of the finest 18th-century libraries to survive intact. The majority of the manuscripts collected by Hunter date to the Medieval and Renaissance periods as well as around 100 oriental manuscripts which form an important part of the collection. Of the printed works there are over 500 incunabula, as well as medical works ranging from Classical medical authors to Hunter’s contemporaries in which anatomy and obstetrics – the two fields in which Hunter made his fame and fortune – are well represented.

Hunter’s library also includes the working papers of his mentor, James Douglas and a large corpus of Hunter’s own papers representing his research in anatomy and medicine and includes a series of drawings by Jan van Rymsdyk for Hunter’s major work, first published in 1774, ‘The Anatomy of the Human Gravid Uterus’.

In Hunter’s Tercentenary year his legacy continues to inspire research and support teaching within the University of Glasgow. This very much includes his wonderful library collections and this year has seen a lot of work going on around Hunter’s Library and in making the collection available to researchers.

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William Hunter’s Library: A Transcription of the Early Catalogues

This project looked at the Hunter collection Trustees catalogue to determine which books actually belonged to Hunter.

Led by Dr Karen Baston, Team Hunter’s work is now done and downloadable resources from the project are already available. You can download a Word version of the transcription of MR3, the Excel spreadsheet used to create it, and an author index from the University of Glasgow’s Enlighten repository: http://eprints.gla.ac.uk/151114/.  This work will be incorporated into the William Hunter online site. We hope that in the meantime researchers may also find the raw data to be useful for their own work.


William Hunter Online site

Staff from across the Library and Hunterian have been working to create a website for enhancing the discoverability of University of Glasgow collections. The William Hunter online site will provide access to resources to celebrate the 300th birthday of the founder of the University’s Museum and centring Hunter’s collections at the heart of this work. Catalogues and digitised materials are being uploaded over the course of the next few months to accompany a major new exhibition ‘William Hunter and the Anatomy of the Modern Museum’ which will take place in Glasgow from 28th September 2018 to 6 January 2019.


In the Conservation Studio: preparing for the exhibition

Almost 100 books, drawings, prints and manuscripts from our archives and special collections will be included in the Hunter Tercentenary exhibition. With this wealth of items to prepare, a book conservator and paper conservator have been employed on the run up to the exhibition to work solely on the items selected for display to ensure that they are in an appropriate condition to be exhibited. This means that they must not only look good, but they must also be in a stable enough condition to withstand the handling required, and the proposed methods of display.

Over the coming months our conservators will be blogging about some of the treatments that they have been undertaking on our collection items, but here are a few images as a taster of what to come.

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New Catalogue of the Bayer collection with Hunter’s Library

Museum Sinicum (1730) from the Bayer collection.

The library of William Hunter includes manuscripts and books which formerly belonged to the sinologist Prof Theophilus Siegfried Bayer (1694-1738), who died 280 years ago. Today marks the publication of the first detailed catalogue of this material, which has been produced by David Weston, former Keeper of Special Collections.

It provides not only greatly enhanced descriptions of items long identified, but also many more items discovered, and progressively described from the 1980s onwards. A PDF of this catalogue is available on the Bayer collection page on our website here: https://www.gla.ac.uk/myglasgow/specialcollections/collectionsa-z/bayercollection/.

Keep your eyes peeled for a forthcoming blog and display of Bayer collection items in the level 12 foyer of the University Library from June 2018!



The Hunterian Collection draws researchers from far and wide every year and, true to the spirit of Hunter’s original bequest, is used in University teaching to this day.

This year has seen three Leverhulme Trust doctoral scholars working closely with Hunter’s library collections: Michelle Craig is researching provenance in William Hunter’s Library; Alicia Hughes is researching the history of collecting and anatomical art through Hunter’s collection of anatomical drawings; and Frances Osis is looking at how venereal disease was classified in the Enlightenment by comparing archive material with DNA from preserved anatomical specimens held in the Hunterian.

Not to mention the attentions paid to Hunter’s manuscripts by Dr Johanna Green in University of Glasgow’s Information Studies, including a project examining sixteenth century children’s marginal illustrations in our fifteenth century manuscript copy of Lydgate’s ‘Life of Our Lady’ (MS Hunter 232 (U.3.5)).



This summer the Hunterian Art Gallery and Museum has staged The Philosophy Chamber as part of the William Hunter Tercentenary celebrations, seeking to highlight Hunter and his collections’ unique place in our understanding of Enlightenment Scotland and his contribution to the idea of modern museum as public institution.

From September 2018 this exhibition in the Hunterian Art Gallery and Museum will host William Hunter and the Anatomy of the Modern Museum. This exhibition will explore how Hunter formed his collections and the role they have played in our understanding of museums today. It will, for the first time in 150 years, give visitors the opportunity to experience Hunter’s collections in one place, reuniting paintings, ethonographic objects, anatomical and natural history preparations, coin collection –  and including examples from his library!

We’re very much looking forward to this exhibition as an excellent way to celebrate William Hunter’s legacy. To mark the countdown to its opening we will be taking a look at different parts of Hunter’s Library and papers from now until September – so keep an eye on our Twitter and Instagram for stories from the Hunterian Library with #Hunter300.

Categories: Archives and Special Collections, Library

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