Last Wednesday, as i walked by the Royal College of Surgeons in London, i saw a small sign that said “Hunterian Museum” with an arrow pointing to the top of stairs. I dutifully followed the arrow.
I wasn’t fully prepared for what i encountered there: animal foetuses in jars, the skull of a little boy born with a second skull attached to the top of his head, a transverse section of a leg and foot of a man suffering from elephantiasis, skeletons of animals born with extra legs or heads, pickled deformed animals, a prosthetic nose attached to eyeglasses, organs attacked by almost any kind of disease you could think of, and various bits and pieces of human and non-human animals preserved in glass jars.
Hunterian Museum – Elephantiasis. Image by Mister J. Photography
Hunterian Museum – Syphilitic Penises. Photo credit: Mister J. Photography
Reading through the online reviews of the museum makes me realize how much i’ve missed (namely the skeleton of ‘Irish giant’ Charles Byrne, the tooth of an extinct giant sloth donated by Charles Darwin, the brain of computer pioneer Charles Babbage and Winston Churchill’s dentures) during my short and shocked visit. Be sure that i’ll be walking around the place before the end of the week.
The museum is mostly based on the collection amassed by John Hunter, an 18th century Scottish surgeon and anatomist whom wikipedia defines as an early advocate of careful observation and scientific method in medicine. And indeed once you’ve recovered from the surprise, there is much to learn about the history of medicine and anatomy in the permanent collection as well as from the temporary exhibition that the museum presents in a couple of rooms on the top floor. The current one is dedicated to the outcome of artist Ju Gosling aka ju90’s inquest into the cultural construction of disability via society’s (mis)interpretation of science and medicine.
A transverse section of a leg and foot of a patient with elephantiasis
Eyewear for a woman who had lost her nose
Visitors are not allowed to take pictures in the museum so obviously, none of the uncredited picture above is mine.
The Hunterian Museum is open Tuesday to Saturday from 10am to 5pm. Admission is free.