John Hunter, a British surgeon and physiologist, born at Long Calderwood, Lanarkshire, July 14, 1728, died in London, Oct. 16, 1793. He was the son of a farmer, and the youngest of ten children. At 17 years he went to Glasgow to assist his brother-in-law, a cabinet maker; but soon returned home, and wrote to his brother William, who was already successful as a lecturer on surgery, offering to assist him in his anatomical labors. His brother's reply was favorable, and he went to London in September, 1748. He soon gave evidence of his abilities in the dissecting room. In 1749-'50 he attended the practice at Chelsea hospital, and in 1751 became a pupil at St. Bartholomew's hospital, continuing at the same time his labors in the dissecting room of his brother. In 1754 he became surgeon's pupil at St. George's hospital, of which he was appointed house surgeon two years later; and in the winter of 1755 he became a partner in the lectures of his brother. In the mean time he had succeeded in following more minutely than had before been done the ramifications of the olfactory nerve, in tracing the branches of the fifth pair of nerves, in discovering the system and functions of the lymphatic vessels in birds, and the cause and mode of descent of the testis in the foetus.
In 1759 he obtained the appointment of staff surgeon in the army, accompanied the expedition to Belleisle in 1761, and after the siege of that place served in Portugal until the peace of 1763. During this time he collected the materials for his work on gun-shot wounds, which was published after his death. He returned to London, was put on half pay, and was obliged to receive pupils in anatomy and surgery as a means of subsistence. Purchasing a small piece of ground about two miles from London, he built a house, and carried on there his investigations in comparative anatomy. He bargained with the keepers of menageries for the bodies of dead animals, spent all his available means in procuring rare species, and often exposed himself to personal danger in watching their habits and instincts and experimenting on their dispositions. His papers communicated to the royal society drew attention to his labors, and in 1767 he was elected a fellow of the society, and the following year surgeon of St. George's hospital and a member of the college of surgeons.
In 1771 he married the sister of Sir Everard Home, his pupil and subsequently his biographer, and in the same year published his first original work, " Natural History of the Human Teeth " (4to), of which the second part appeared in 1778. In 1773 he commenced his first regular course of lectures, a task which he seldom succeeded in discharging with satisfaction to himself or his pupils, and as a preparation for which he was accustomed to dose himself with laudanum. In 1776 he was appointed surgeon extraordinary to the king, and at the request of the royal humane society drew up a paper on the best mode of restoring apparently drowned persons. He also published papers on the action of the gastric juice upon the stomach after death, the torpedo, electric eel, etc. Between 1777 and 1785 appeared his papers on the heat of vegetables and animals, the structure of the placenta, the organs of hearing in fishes, etc, and the six Croonian lectures on muscular motion. The paper on the placenta, claiming for the author the discovery of the union between the uterus and placenta, which William Hunter had claimed in 1775 in his "Gravid Uterus," caused an estrangement between the brothers which only terminated a short time before the death of William. In 1785 he removed his whole museum to a house erected for the purpose in Leicester square, to which he admitted the public in May and October of each year.
It had now assumed enormous dimensions, and such was his reputation as a naturalist that no new animal was brought to the country which was not shown to him. In the same year he was prostrated by a severe spasmodic attack, and was obliged to relinquish practice for a time; and thenceforth until his death he was a constant sufferer, his paroxysms occurring after any mental excitement. He nevertheless persevered in his experiments, and was constantly performing operations then new to the art of surgery. Soon after his attack in 1785 he practised the new method of tying the artery for popliteal aneurism, which has been called the most brilliant surgical discovery of the century. In 1786 appeared his " Treatise on the Venereal Disease " (4to, London; new ed. by Sir Everard Home, 1809, and by Joseph Adams, 1818), and "Observations on Certain Parts of the Animal Economy" (4to, London; new ed. by Prof. Owen, 1800, 1837), the latter a republication of papers from the " Philosophical Transactions," and of others on anatomical and physiological discoveries by the author.
In the same year he was appointed surgeon general of the army, and in 1787 he received the Copley gold medal from the royal society for papers on the ovarium, the specific identity of the wolf, jackal, and dog, and on the structure and economy of whales. Soon after he published valuable papers on the treatment of inflamed veins, on introsusception, and on the mode of conveying food into the stomach in cases of paralysis of the oesophagus; and in 1792 he contributed his last paper to the "Philosophical Transactions," entitled "Observations on the Economy of Bees." In this year he resigned his lectureship at St. George's hospital, and devoted himself to the completion of his work on inflammation. On Oct. 16, 1793, while attending a meeting of the board of directors of St. George's hospital, he became violently excited by a remark made to him by one of his colleagues, and leaving the room instantly expired. - As a surgical operator John Hunter was undoubtedly one of the greatest men of his time.
As an anatomist and physiologist, he displayed a keenness of intellect, a faculty of generalization, and a philosophic turn of mind, which must rank him among the greatest of modern natural philosophers, and of which he has left an enduring monument in the celebrated museum named after him, and in 1799 purchased by the nation and placed in the keeping of the college of surgeons. At the time of his death it contained more than 10,000 preparations illustrating human and comparative anatomy, physiology, pathology, and natural history, so arranged as to exhibit the gradations of nature from the simplest form of life up to man. The physiological series, which comprised considerably more than half the collection, contained 1,000 skeletons, 3,000 animals and plants illustrating natural history (the animals stuffed or preserved in spirits), and 1,200 fossils, besides monsters and other eccentric forms of animal life. He left in addition 19 MS. volumes of materials for a catalogue of his museum, the preparation of which occupied him during the last few years of his life.
The completion of the work was assigned to Sir Everard Home, his executor, who was intrusted for that purpose with the ten most valuable volumes, which he subsequently burned, in accordance, as he said, with Hunter's express desire; although there is little doubt that he destroyed them to conceal his own appropriation of their contents in the preparation of the anatomical papers which pass under his name. After his death appeared his "Treatise on the Blood, Inflammation, and Gun-shot "Wounds," preceded by a biography by Sir Everard Home (4to, 1794); and in 1835-7 his surgical works, with notes by J. F. Palmer, were published in 4 vols. 4to, with an atlas of 60 plates. Biographies of him have also been published by Jesse Foot (8vo, 1794) and Joseph Adams (8vo, 1816). His remains, after a repose of more than half a century under the church of St Martin-in-the-Fields, were in March, 1859, disentombed by the royal college of surgeons, and on the 28th of the month deposited with much ceremony in Westminster abbey, next to the remains of Ben Jonson. - His wife, Anne Home Hunter (born in 1741, died in 1821), published in 1802 a volume of poems, several of which were set to music by Haydn.