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William, the seventh child of John and Agnes Hunter, was born at Long Calderwood, Kilbride, Lanarkshire, 23 May 1718. At the age of 14 he entered the University of Glasgow to study theology, but after five years decided to become a doctor and for three happy years assisted Dr William Cullen in Hamilton. In 1741, after a brief period of study in Edinburgh, he travelled to London to become first a house pupil of the famous Dr William Smellie and then assistant to the distinguished obstetrician–anatomist, Dr James Douglas. He also studied surgery at St George’s, London.
In 1747 Hunter was admitted to the Corporation of Surgeons and in 1750 received the degree of MD from the University of Glasgow; the Licentiate of the College of Physicians followed in 1756. In 1748 he was appointed to the Lying-in Department of the Middlesex Hospital and to the British Lying-in Hospital in 1749. Meantime his private practice was flourishing. By 1762, at the age of 44, when he was appointed Physician Extraordinary to Queen Charlotte, he had become the leading physician–man midwife of his day.1 2
From his earliest days in London, anatomy was Hunter’s main interest. He wrote: “Anatomy is the only solid foundation of medicine; it is to the physician and surgeon what geometry is to the astronomer. It discovers and ascertains the truth, overturns superstition and vulgar error ...” He started his own course of lectures in 1746 and these continued till his death 37 years later. His young brother John, who was to become equally famous as a surgeon–scientist, joined him for 10 years as an assistant in 1748. From 1751 William based his practice and anatomical work at 42 Jermyn Street, but in 1768 he opened a School for Anatomy in Great Windmill Street, with its …