Hunterian Museum – London, England - Atlas Obscura
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Hunterian Museum

Royal College of Surgeons of England

The anatomical-pathological collection of a man who changed surgery. 


The Hunterian Museum has an amazing anatomy and pathology collection amassed by John Hunter; an anatomist, obstetrician, doctor, naturalist, and dedicated collector of oddities who lived from 1728 to 1793. Hunter had a reputation as a bit of a mad scientist, and the idiosyncratic collection reflects this.

The museum houses one of the oldest collections of anatomical, pathological, and zoological specimens in the United Kingdom. The collection comprises more than 3,500 anatomical and pathological preparations, fossils, paintings, and drawings.

One half of the brain of the famous mathematician Charles Babbage is on display (the other half is with his Difference Engine at the London Science Museum).

Also in the collection are the Evelyn Tables, acquired from Italy in 1646 by John Evelyn, a prolific diarist best known for his detailed journals written during the Great Fire of London in 1666. The tables are wooden slabs of “mounted dry tissue” displaying veins and arteries from dissections and are the earliest known anatomical preparations in Europe.

The surgical instruments carried by doomed Scottish explorer Mungo Park are also in the collection.

However, the specimen with the most interesting story is the skeleton of 7’7” tall Charles Byrne, known as the Irish giant. Byrne had requested to be buried at sea to prevent just such a posthumous showing. Hunter, ever the determined doctor, managed to bribe the undertaker, purchased the giant’s body, boiled off the flesh in a giant cauldron, and articulated the huge skeleton for display. In this case, Hunter definitely earned his mad scientist reputation.

John’s older brother, also a noted physician, anatomist, and collector bequeathed his belongings to the University of Glasgow, Scotland, forming the basis for the Hunterian Museum, Glasgow.

Update: The Hunterian Museum is currently closed to the public while it undergoes renovations. According to its website, the museum will open again to the public in early 2023.

Know Before You Go

The nearest Underground station is Holborn. It's inside the Royal College of Surgeons building. You need to go through security to gain access.It's on the opposite side of the park from the also great Sir John Soanes museum.


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