The Knife Man: The Extraordinary Life and Times of John Hunter, Father of Modern SurgeryBMJ 2005; 330 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.330.7488.425 (Published 17 February 2005) Cite this as: BMJ 2005;330:425
- Harold Ellis, clinical anatomist
- King's College London/Guy's campus
John Hunter (1728-93), surgeon of St George's Hospital, was a brilliant observer, naturalist, and thinker, as well as being an innovative doctor. His philosophy of surgery and his teachings were based on his close observation of his patients, both in life and after death, and on a truly amazing study of the whole field of biology, from the artificial fertilisation of moths' eggs to dissection of the whale. He proudly claimed to pay little attention to the writings of his contemporaries or his predecessors. Although he cannot be said to have made a particular major advance in surgery, his fresh approach to the subject entitles him to be regarded as the father of scientific surgery in the United Kingdom.
Hunter's life is a biographer's dream. Born a farmer's son in a village outside Glasgow, he was slow in learning to read and write, disliked school, and preferred to wander through the countryside observing nature. At the age of 20, having failed to find any vocation, he joined his brother William, 10 years his senior, who had already established himself in London as a teacher of anatomy and a highly successful obstetrician—he was to deliver the children of Queen Charlotte, wife of George III. Here John proved to be a brilliant dissector and investigator. He studied surgery under Cheselden and Pott, became …