On Saturday I visited, among other places, the Hunterian Museum. It’s free to get into and contains some of the comparative anatomical collection of John Hunter. Located at Lincoln’s Inn Field near the John Soane museum I’d really recommend combining both. Each is a fairly small, yet utterly unique which are slightly less popular than other museums in London which get a lot more traffic and tourists.
I wasn’t sure what to expect from the Hunterian Museum, there was certainly a lot more human anatomy than I expected and more things floating in formaldehyde than I ever felt the urge to witness. The collection is predominantly comparative so there are a large number of pieces from animals. Some of this was very interesting: a beautifully displayed flying fish and some of the insects such as the inside of a hornets’ nest. But then there was the more disturbing: a variety of kangaroo foetuses illustrating the marsupial’s development inside the pouch. Next to this was, naturally, a selection of human fetuses. At the best of times human fetuses freak me out: the potential for life cut short, the way they look a little like aliens. Being confronted by 11 or more at once was a bit grim and I swiftly moved on to tamer parts of the collection.
Alongside the “everything you’d never want to see in formaldehyde collection” there were a number of skeletons. Alongside some rather freakish spinal curvatures there was also the skeleton of Charles Byrne. At 7′ 7″ his remains were very impressive. There were also some great skulls from children where the front part of the jaw had been removed to illustrate baby teeth with adult teeth beginning to erupt beneath. It’s amazing that these begin to develop whilst you’re still a fetus. I also learnt that teeth are not bone, a misapprehension I possessed until this Saturday!
Upstairs then, to continue with the collection. The impacts of syphilis on the skull also proved of interest. I didn’t know it could cause that much damage to your bone, the disease basically untreated seems to destroy every part of your body. The worst part of this floor for me was the human penis case. I’m a bit squeamish about this part of anatomy, so seeing various abnormalities resulting from syphilis or tumors was gross. When I was younger in year 8 I remember feeling faint following a science class discussion on circumcision so it’s evidently a little thing for me! Upstairs though I did enjoy learning about facial re-constructive surgery post World War I (reminded me of Richard Harrow in Boardwalk Empire). There were also some video clips showing surgery which were fascinating. It’s truly remarkable how surgeons can work doing heart bypass surgery with the level of blood flowing from the incisions. All in all I probably spent slightly less than an hour and a half in the museum and had probably seen enough floating animal and human parts by then.
The Hunterian Museum is certainly not for squeamish and I’m not sure how much young children would enjoy it. The small boy I saw seemed to be very excited by it all, although as I’ve said parts made me feel a little disturbed and faint. It combines the better aspects of Victorian freak shows with anatomical discussion. I Wish I could have gone around with my sister who would have aided my understanding tremendously. I shall have to return possibly!