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Free entry - booking recommended

Tuesday to Saturday: 10am – 5pm

New Hunterian Museum displays, Room 1

Hunterian Museum displays

The Hunterian Museum is named after the 18th century surgeon and anatomist, John Hunter (1728-1793). It includes the display of over 2,000 anatomical preparations from Hunter’s original collection, alongside instruments, equipment, models, paintings and archive material, which trace the history of surgery from ancient times to the latest robot-assisted operations. The Museum includes England’s largest public display of human anatomy.

Layout of the Hunterian Museum

Room 1

Hunterian Museum - an introduction

A journey through the museum begins with an introduction to the Royal College of Surgeons of England's museum collections. The Hunterian Museum, with John Hunter’s collection of 14,000 anatomical specimens at its heart, first opened in 1813. Thousands of anatomy and natural history preparations, surgical instruments, models, paintings, drawings and other objects have been added since. This space displays highlights from these collections. 

The painting shows a man, facing to the left of the picture, sitting up in an iron-framed bed. He is wearing a clean white nightcap and nightgown and is propped up by two pillows, also in clean white covers. The sheets of the bed are turned down, and the lower part of the bed is covered by a quilted blanket made up of triangular patches of yellow, red, white and black fabric. On this quilt rests a red army uniform jacket with a white chevron on the lower part of the sleeve and a yellow cuff. A silver medal with a pale blue ribbon edged in gold is attached to the breast of the jacket. On top of the jacket is a dark infantryman's shako - a kind of cylindrical hat with a peak - which has '95' and a red and gold badge featuring a curved horn. The man holds a small section of red and black quilt in his left hand, and his right is pulling a needle and thread from the top of the piece he is stitching. On the sheet in front of him are scissors and more triangular sections of cloth. The colours of the quilt are the same as those of the uniform.

Private Thomas Walker, by Thomas William Wood, 1856

Surgery and Anatomy - from ancient times to the 1700s

Surgery has been practiced throughout the world for thousands of years. This area charts how surgical treatments and anatomical knowledge have developed over centuries.

This space displays the Evelyn Tables, made from real human tissue. Anatomists carefully dissected blood vessels and nerves from bodies and pasted the tissue onto wooden boards. Dating from the 1640s, they are the oldest surviving anatomical preparations of their kind.

A museum case containing four large rectangular orange/brown wooden boards, displayed upright side by side. Human tissue - nerves, blood vessels and veins - have been dissected away from the rest of the body and pasted onto the boards.

The Evelyn Tables

Room 2

John Hunter - A Curious Mind

John Hunter - the  18th century surgeon and anatomist who gives the museum its name - is introduced in this room. Born in Scotland in 1728, he received little formal education as a child; Hunter’s learning and inspiration came instead from observing and questioning the natural world around him.

When I was a boy, I wanted to know all about the clouds and the grasses, and why the leaves changed colour in the autumn; I watched the ants, bees, birds, tadpoles, and caddisworms; I pestered people with questions about what nobody knew or cared anything about.
John Hunter
Perspex specimen pot, labelled X 39, containing seven bumble bees showing the larval, pupal and adult states, suspended in fluid

Bumblebees, prepared by John Hunter, 1760-1793

Glass specimen pot, labelled 2051, containing a twig with leaves and tiny flowers, suspended in fluid

Twig showing small flowers, prepared by John Hunter, 1760-1793

Room 3

John Hunter - The Making of a Surgeon 

How did John Hunter become a surgeon? This room explores Hunter's early career, working at his brother William's anatomy school before enlisting as an army surgeon, his partnership with the dentist James Spence, and appointment as surgeon to St George’s Hospital.

A piece of black card onto which is mounted 11 human teeth. The teeth have been split, revealing their internal structure.

Human teeth, prepared by John Hunter, 1760-1793

Room 4

The Long Gallery - John Hunter's Collection

The majority of John Hunter's collection - his life's work - is displayed in this gallery. Made from human, animal and plant tissue, they show how he understood the natural world.

Room 5

John Hunter - Earl's Court 

By 1765, John Hunter was earning enough to buy a small country estate at Earl’s Court, a village west of London. This room looks at some of the work he carried out there - observing nature, setting up experiments, dissecting animals and preparing specimens. 

Glass specimen pot, labelled 2874, containing a plant seed pod suspended in fluid

Love-in-a-mist (Nigella) seed pod, prepared by John Hunter, 1760-1793

Room 6

John Hunter - Leicester Square 

In 1783 John and his family moved to a new home in the center of London. The property combined two houses: 28 Leicester Square and 13 Castle Street. The front was a fashionable town house, the back Hunter’s work rooms and anatomy school. The displays in this room explore the differences between these spaces, and how Hunter acquired specimens. 

Circular gold frame containing a coiled, metallic structure arranged in a spiral

Boar’s epididymis (tube which stores and transports sperm) injected with mercury and framed for display, prepared by John Hunter, 1760–93

Room 7

John Hunter - St Georges Hospital

John Hunter’s patients ranged from the poor to the wealthy. He served as a surgeon at London’s St George’s Hospital for 25 years, and had a private practice treating people in their own homes. This space tells the stories of a some of his patients - their lives, professions, illnesses, treatments and in some cases their deaths. 

John Hunter died in 1793. The displays in this room goes on to look at the students he influenced, and the development of the Royal College of Surgeons of England collection after his death.  

A drawing of a man with large tumour on the left side of his face and jaw, extending well below his chin

John Burley, aged 37, who had a salivary adenoma - a benign tumour - growing in his jaw

A drawing of a man looking to his right, with a scar extending from his ear to the middle of his neck

John Burley after Hunter successfully operated to remove the tumour in 1785

Room 8

New Frontiers 

The practice of surgery was transformed in the 1800s by three major breakthroughs which are explored in this gallery: the relief of pain, the introduction of germ-free surgical environments and the identification of disease at a cellular level. By 1900, surgeons were operating on every part of the human body. 

A painting of a seated man, wearing a white gown and orange rubber surgical gloves, and holding a white cap

Ivor Back FRCS (1879–1951) by William Orpen, 1926

Room 9

Modern Surgery 

Dynamic and innovative, modern surgery continues to respond to the challenges of a complex world. This room looks at scientific advances from 1914 to 2023, and how they have transformed the way we understand and operate on the human body. The displays also explore what key developments and challenges the future may bring. 

A surgical device consisting of yellow plastic, white tubing and metal valves

Akutsu artificial heart, 1981

Room 10

Transforming Lives

The final room looks at personal experiences of surgery, from both the patients’ and the surgeons’ perspectives. It tells of life saving and life enhancing surgery, and the forging of unique personal and professional bonds.

An operating room, with patient - covered in blue surgical drapes - in the centre, with two seated surgeons working on their ankle. In the background there are several screens showing X-Rays on an ankle. In the foreground there is a table covered with a blue drape.

The Operation Room, 2022