William Hunter (anatomist)

William Hunter
William Hunter (anatomist).jpg
Born23 May 1718 (1718-05-23)
Died30 March 1783 (1783-03-31) (aged 64)
NationalityScottish
Alma materUniversity of Glasgow
University of Edinburgh
Scientific career
FieldsAnatomy, Obstetrics
William Hunter's microscope, Hunterian Museum, Glasgow

William Hunter FRS (23 May 1718 – 30 March 1783) was a Scottish anatomist and physician. He was a leading teacher of anatomy, and the outstanding obstetrician of his day. His guidance and training of his equally famous brother, John Hunter, was also of great importance.

Early life and career

He was born at Long Calderwood – now a part of East Kilbride, South Lanarkshire – the elder brother of John Hunter. After studying divinity at the University of Glasgow, he went into medicine in 1737, studying under William Cullen.

Arriving in London, Hunter became resident pupil to William Smellie (1741–44) and he was trained in anatomy at St George's Hospital, London, specialising in obstetrics. He followed the example of Smellie in giving a private course on dissecting, operative procedures and bandaging, from 1746. His courtly manners and sensible judgement helped him to advance until he became the leading obstetric consultant of London. Unlike Smellie, he did not favour the use of forceps in delivery. Stephen Paget said of him:

"He never married; he had no country house; he looks, in his portraits, a fastidious, fine gentleman; but he worked till he dropped and he lectured when he was dying."[1]

To orthopaedic surgeons he is famous for his studies on bone and cartilage. In 1743 he published the paper On the structure and diseases of articulating cartilages – which is often cited – especially the following sentence: “If we consult the standard Chirurgical Writers from Hippocrates down to the present Age, we shall find, that an ulcerated Cartilage is universally allowed to be a very troublesome Disease; that it admits of a Cure with more Difficulty than carious Bone; and that, when destroyed, it is not recovered”.[2]