Friday, November 2, 2012
Items Deserving Notice, November: Museum Macabre
[Grumble, grumble, kick the wall, grumble some more.]
But there are other ways to learn about anatomy, be it of an animal nature or the human body. We could, with permission of the curators, visit Dr. John Hunter’s museum under the care of the Company of Surgeons.
In glass bottles and cases, he presented almost 14,000 preparations, from the simplest forms of life like a shrimp up to man himself, embalmed or preserved in spirits. Hunter arranged them by parts: those used for motion, for bodily function, for reproduction of the species, and for maintenance and protection of the young. Specimens from the animal kingdom included a rhinoceros from Egypt, a giant beaked squid brought back from Captain Cook’s voyages in the Pacific, and ostriches from Australia. He had some of the only skeletons of whales in Europe. Not content with the animals still living, he also collected fossils of extinct animals.
Perhaps most interesting, or disturbing as the case might be, were the specimens of the human form. Anatomists required human cadavers to perfect their art, yet procuring such specimens often involved unsavory pursuits like grave robbing. Thankfully, Mr. Hunter’s fame was such that he was often provided with cadavers to experiment upon. His collection included everything from dwarfs to giants, all standing appropriately for study.
The Hunterian Collection is still available for tour at the Royal College of Surgeons in London. And women are welcome.