Friday, 22 June 2012

John Hunter’s Museum of Monsters

HUNTER, JOHN (1728-1793), anatomist and surgeon.

"Hunter designed his museum to illustrate the entire phenomena of life in all organisms, in health and disease. Its essential plan was physiological. It included, besides wet preparations which enabled all structures with similar functions to be compared, dried and osteological preparations of all kinds, monsters and malformations, fossils, plants and parts of plants, and all manner of products of diseased action. There were also many drawings, oil-paintings, and casts illustrating disease. He had apparently intended to give in a catalogue an account of his observations in each department. On matters relating to dissection, preservation, and embalming, his hints and directions are of the greatest value."

More on his Life and Works here.

An Account of his Collection of Monsters

The department which next claims our attention is that containing preparations of monsters and malformations. These are disposed in two divisions, according as the preparations are preserved in spirit or in a dry state, and each division comprises four series, as arranged by Hunter.

The first series contains examples of the preternatural situation of parts. The second, of the addition of parts. The third, of the deficiency of parts. The fourth, of hermaphroditism. Several curious and valuable preparations are contained in this collection ; many have been added since Hunter's death. Amongst the latter are to be numbered two in the first series, which exhibit curious instances of one foetus becoming inclosed in the belly of another. The first is that which occurred to Mr. Highmore, of Sherborne ; in which the foetus was encysted in the belly of a young man of seventeen. In the second, which occurred to Mr. G. Young, the containing child was six months old when it died. The histories of both have been published.

Under the second head we find various examples of double parts in animals ; amongst others, of a double uterus and vagina in a woman, and one of the uteri containing a foetus of seven months.

The case of deficiency of parts is exemplified by preparations of the heads of pigs and lambs, in the former of which animals malformations appear to be very common. In several of these the whole of the face which lies anterior to the ears is wanting ; in others there is but one eye, in the centre of the forehead, with a proboscis from the forehead. Pigs so constructed go under the name of elephant pigs.

The fourth series contains preparations from the hermaphrodite cow, or free-martin, on the generative organs of which Hunter wrote a paper in the Philosophical Transactions ; as also of the organs of generation in hermaphrodite sheep and dogs. The organs of the hen pheasant, which has taken on the plumage of the cock, are also here exhibited.

Amongst the series of dry preparations the most curious is that of a double skull, which belonged to a child of six years of age. The skulls are united by their vertices ; the upper one was supplied by blood-vessels passing through the united portions ; and from the account given by eyewitnesses, the upper head seems during life to have experienced sensations, and to have exhibited mental operations, distinct from those of the lower head.

These preparations are described in the fifth part of the General Catalogue.

The works of John Hunter, with notes, ed. by J.F. Palmer. (1835) 4 vols, Vol 1, pp. 181-183

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