Till 1800, the surgeons remained united in the charter which incorporated them and the barbers, granted by Henry VIII.: but at that time they obtained a royal charter making them a separate college. Since that period, valuable legislative and other regulations have been adopted to promote their utility and respectability. They have now their own building;—they raised a most elegant structure, called "SURGEONS' HALL, or ROYAL COLLEGE and THEATRE," in Lincoln's Inn Fields, occupying the space to Portugal street, where there is a commodious back-front. The building is of the Ionic order; and in front the college is ornamented with a noble colonnade and portico.
Its, interior is grand, spacious, and appropriate in the extreme. Their museum is an extensive building, of an oblong form, with galleries; and amongst its valuable possessions are the collections of the great John Hunter, purchased by order of Government, and intrusted to them. The series of experiments instituted by that wonderful man was carried on in the true spirit of philosophical inquiry, always doubting what he could not prove. During those investigation, Mr. Hunter acquired the art of making anatomical preparations in so superior a style of excellence, that the objects to be displayed were set off to the greatest advantage; so that in many instances, their exquisite beauty excite our admiration, as much as the most finished works of the painter. The perfect knowledge which he had acquired of HUMAN, only tended to stimulate him in the pursuit of COMPARATIVE, ANATOMY. With a zeal peculiarly his own, as Mr. Norris justly stated in the afore-mentioned oration, Mr. Hunter entered on this study, which be prosecuted with an ardour never surpassed, and at an expense from which, under like circumstances, any other man would have shrunk with dismay. In the prosecution of these studies, he made many and very important discoveries.—The existence of an absorbing system of vessels in birds,—the apparatus by which the torpedo and the electrical eel give the shock,—the variety of structure and disposition of parts which animals living in different media are provided with, to produce the same end, &c. Mr. Hunter was incessantly and disinterestedly engaged in pursuits the object of which was to enlighten and benefit the world; and he was at the same time silently erecting for himself a monument of renown,—and the extraordinary collection within the walls of this college is that monument. To adopt the language of Sir Everard Home, in his "Life" of Mr. Hunter, "In this collection, we find an attempt to expose to view the gradations of nature, from the most simple state in which life is found to exist, up to the most perfect and most complex of the animal creation, —Man himself."
This collection contains preparations of every part of the human body, in a sound and natural state. In regular series, are displayed the digestive organs, and the alimentary canal, with their varieties and appendages;—the heart, and the vascular system;—the kidney,—the brain and nerves;—the organs of respiration,—of touch,—of taste,—of smell,—of hearing,—and of vision. It also contains a very great number of deviations from the natural form and usual structure of the several parts. A portion of it is allotted to morbid preparations; and there are few of the diseases to which man is liable, of which examples are not to be found. There is also a rare and extensive collection of objects of natural history, which, through the medium of comparative anatomy, greatly contribute to physiological illustration; and also a very considerable number of fossil and vegetable productions. The whole amount to not fewer than TWENTY THOUSAND specimens and preparations!
The whole of the preparations, &c., are displayed in the GALLERY; except such parts as consist of specimens, and are too large for preservation in spirits, or which are better preserved or seen in a dried state; and those are on the floor of the museum. There, is no printed catalogue of the Hunterian collection, but we have given a summary of the arrangement of the preparations.
This collection, which, as already stated, was purchased by Government, was presented to this college with the view that it should annually deliver "a course of lectures on COMPARATIVE ANATOMY, and other subjects, illustrated by the preparations."
The museum also contains many valuable contributions made by Sir Joseph Banks; 500 specimens of natural and diseased structure presented by Sir William Blizard; specimens in natural history, and contributions to the library, by Sir E. Home, &c. Amongst the many curiosities that are to be found here, may be mentioned, the preserved wife of the celebrated VAN BUTCHELL. On her death, that curious character preserved her in the present form. She is laid-out in a long square mahogany box. The spaces are occupied with some composition; but over the face is a square of glass, which may be removed at pleasure. The face is completely preserved; and it is justly considered a curious specimen of what art can accomplish. It has been done many years, and is still as perfect as ever.
The other buildings connected with the institution, the theatre, &c., possess equal merit. Utility and architectural excellence are successfully combined.
There are at least twenty-four LECTURES delivered annually at this college, called "The Museum Lectures," the subjects of which are illustrated by the preparations, according to the agreement with government. There are also anatomical lectures, called "Arris and Gale's Lectures," according to the intention of Alderman Arris and Mr. Gale, the donors of funds for that purpose.
Besides these, there is an annual oration, recently instituted, called the Hunterian Oration, delivered every Feb. 14; there have been five orations since the institution: the first was by Sir W. Blizard, the second by Sir E. Home, the third by Mr. Cline, (which was an extremely eloquent, but unfortunately an extempore oration, that preventing its publication,) the fourth by Mr. Norris, and the last, Feb. 14, 1818, by Sir D. Dundas.
The by-laws state, that " the dissection of murderers, according to the 25th of Geo. II., entitled, An Act for the better Prevention of the horrid Crime of Murder, is under the direction of the master and governors for the time being."
The library is only serviceable to the members; and it is somewhat too difficult to gain permission to view that museum which is national property.
Source: Leigh's New Picture of London. Printed for Samuel Leigh, 18, Strand;
by W. Clowes, Northumberland Court. 1819