A Field Trip: Hunterian Museum at The Royal College of Surgeons.

At the end of May I organised a field trip for the volunteers who have been assisting me on the HLF Eastbourne Ancestors Project.

This trip needed to be special, a way of saying ‘thank you’ to my volunteers for their dedication and hard work for over a year. So, what better place for people drawn together by morbid curiosity to visit than the Hunterian Museum, one of my most favourite places.

If you are visiting London this Museum needs to be part of your itinerary, check out the July to December 2013 events here. I also thoroughly recommend buying the guidebook as it is extremely informative and interesting. The displays are fantastic and the little shop is also full of goodies.

The collections relate to John Hunter, the development of surgery through the ages and prominent surgeons of the times, wet and dry examples of human and animal diseases and trauma. As well as displays of art, fossils and specimens from the natural world. You can see why it’s one of my most favourite places to be, especially amongst the pathology and trauma sections!

Several of the volunteers who attended reviewed the Museum and their experience:


‘From start – the Evelyn Tables (is this science or art?) to finish – the little shop area with such friendly staff, the Hunterian is an absolute gem. The specimens were exhibited in an attractive and informative way. There is much to learn at the Museum about the history of medicine and anatomy and the labelled specimen jars tell fascinating stories about this history. The Museum told us about a time when there was less distinction between art and science, with artists such as George Stubbs assisting with the research. It was a great visit to a Museum that deserves to be more well known!’


The range of exhibits was quite amazing and as a visitor you were transported to another age. I don’t have any problem with the fact that these are body parts and bodies. Can anyone imagine someone collecting things such as these today?  It is all a bit macabre for today’s taste but without the men who lived in this bizarre world of competitive collecting, science would not have advanced’.


Our visit to the Hunterian Museum last Thursday was a real success – everyone seemed to thoroughly enjoy it.   The museum exhibits were very well laid out, and the labels were easy to decipher – and this really made all the difference.  One didn’t lose the will to live, trying to work out which label referred to which exhibit.  I think the highlight for me was the long bones, distorted  by the effects of rickets’.


‘I found the resources held in the Hunterian Museum incredibly useful. Some of the Anglo-Saxon skeletons we have been working with have interesting pathologies and to be able to visit your museum to look at specific examples of such conditions helped with my understanding of the effect of such illnesses on skeletal remains. As I am also an amateur palaeontologist I was surprised but delighted to see fossils in the Hunterian collection. I live on the south coast and have collected fossil sea urchins (Echinoids)for many years – and I enjoyed seeing the urchin’s preserved internal organs in one of the displays.The collection is so unique it is difficult to sum it up – I left with a sense of wonder that surgery and medicine have advanced so far yet it has only been possible by the brave early pioneers of science. Thank you for preserving this collection for future generations!’.

All in all, a great day out if you’re not squeamish.

I’ve developed a fascination with the history of medicine and the development of surgery through my visits.