William Hunter, a British physician and anatomist, elder brother of John Hunter, born at Long Calderwood, Lanarkshire, May 23, 1718, died in London, March 30, 1783. At the age of 14 he was sent to the university of Glasgow with, the intention of studying for the ministry; but in 1737, not being inclined to the study of theology, he went to reside in Dr. William Cullen's family as a medical student. Three years after he formed a partnership with Cullen, by which he was to take charge of the surgical part of their practice. To prepare himself for this he studied in Edinburgh, and in 1741 went to London with letters of introduction to Dr. James Douglass. Douglass offered to employ him as tutor of his son and as dissector for a work on the anatomy of the bones which he was preparing. Hunter accepted the offer. Douglass died the following year, but Hunter continued to reside with the family as tutor, and to pursue his studies in anatomy and surgery. Concluding to remain in London, the partnership with Cullen was dissolved, but they remained warm friends through life. In the winter of 1746 he made his first appearance as a lecturer on surgery before the society of navy surgeons, and such was the favor with which he was received that he was invited to extend his course to anatomy.
About the same time he began to acquire an extensive practice both as a surgeon and an accoucheur; but having in 1748 received the appointment of surgeon accoucheur to the Middlesex hospital, and in 1749 to the British lying-in hospital, he abandoned surgery, and thenceforth devoted himself almost exclusively to obstetrics. About this time he established himself in a house in Jermyn street, where he commenced the formation of a large anatomical museum. In 1754 he entered into a professional partnership with his brother John, whose industry was of great use in adding to the contents of the museum. In consequence of the illness of John, however, the partnership terminated in 1759. In 1762 he officiated as consulting physician to Queen Charlotte, and two years later was appointed her physician extraordinary. In 1762-'4 appeared his "Medical Commentaries, Part I." (4to, London). In 1765 he applied to Mr. Grenville, then minister, for a piece of ground in the Mews for the site of an anatomical museum.
Notwithstanding that he offered to expend £7,000 on the building, and to endow a professorship of anatomy, the application was unfavorably received, and he accordingly purchased a spot of ground in Great Windmill street, and erected the necessary buildings, into which he removed in 1770 with his whole collection. From time to time the collections of eminent practitioners were purchased and incorporated with it, and the zeal of friends and pupils procured him a great number of morbid preparations. Not contented with his anatomical collection, he began to accumulate fossils, books, coins, and other objects of antiquarian research. His library was said to contain " the most magnificent treasure of Greek and Latin works accumulated since the clays of Mead;" and his coins, of a portion of which a description was published under the title of Nummorum Veterum Populorum et Urbiam, qui in Museo Guilielmi Hunteri asservantur, Description Figuris Illustrata, cost upward of £20,000. In 1781 Dr. Fothergill's collection of shells, corals, and other objects of natural history, was added to the museum at an expense of £1,200. The whole collection, with a fund of £8,000 for its support and augmentation, was bequeathed to the university of Glasgow, where, under the name of the Hunterian museum, it is now deposited.
In 1774 appeared his Anatomia Humani Uteri Gravidi, in Latin and English (atlas fol., with 34 plates, Birmingham; fol., London, 1828), on which he had been engaged since 1751. It has been called one of the most splendid medical works of the age. A work describing the engravings, entitled "An Anatomical Disquisition of the Human Gravid Uterus and its Contents" (4to, London), was published in 1794 by his nephew Dr. Baillie. The subsequent claim of John Hunter to the discovery of the mode of union between the placenta and the uterus, as described by William in this work, caused a bitter hostility between the brothers, which lasted until the elder was on his deathbed, when a reconciliation took place. In 1768 he was appointed by the king professor of anatomy in the royal academy of arts. In 1767 he ■was elected a fellow of the royal society, and two years before his death he succeeded Dr. John Fothergill as president of the medical society. He contributed important papers to the medical and scientific periodicals of the day, and left several lectures and unfinished works in manuscript.
He was esteemed one of the chief ornaments of the medical profession in the 18th century, and by his anatomy of the gravid uterus, and his description of varicose aneurism, materially advanced the sciences of anatomy and midwifery.