London’s Lost Museums: Nature and Medicine reveals forgotten collections at Hunterian Museum

By Ben Miller | 24 February 2011

A black and white photo of skeletons in a museum
The Royal College of Surgeons’ Museum (circa 1899)© The Royal College of Surgeons of England
Exhibition: London’s Lost Museums: Nature and Medicine, Hunterian Museum, London, March 1 – July 2 2011

Ever wondered what happens to lost collections? The Royal College of Surgeons is exploring how seven of them across the centuries – from the Royal Society’s 17th century Repository to William Bullock’s Egyptian Hall 200 years later – were lost due to neglect, dispersal or destruction.

A photo of a large curvy wooden sculpture
Tusk of an African elephant with a spiral curve, possibly from the collection of Sir Hans Sloane or from the cabinet of the Royal Society© The Royal College of Surgeons of England
“Displays of natural history and anatomy have been popular in London since the 17th century and were curated for various reasons,” says curator Sarah Pearson, glancing over manuscripts, illustrations and specimens from this portrait of museum practices.

An image of a painting of two birds on a tree branch
Illustration of hummingbirds from Museum Leverianum (1792-96)© The Royal College of Surgeons of England
“Some enhanced social and professional credentials while others were created to inspire wonder or to educate. Whatever their purpose, precious remains of collections have found their way into today’s museums, including the Hunterian Museum, and are still helping to explain the world of nature and medicine centuries on.”

An image of a drawing of a tall museum on a street
William Bullock’s Egyptian Hall on Piccadilly (1816)© The Royal College of Surgeons of England
Highlights include a mummified foot from the Royal Society, dated from 1681, and insights into the devastating bomb damage wreaked on the Hunterian during the Second World War.

  • Admission free. Open 10am-5pm Tuesday-Saturday.

The seven lost collections:
  • The Royal Society’s Repository - 17th to 18th century.
  • Sir Hans Sloane’s Museum - 17th to 18th century.
  • Sir Ashton Lever’s Holophusikon and the Museum Leverianum - 18th to 19th century.
  • William Bullock’s Egyptian Hall - early 19th century.
  • Joshua Brookes’ museum of anatomy and natural history - 18th to 19th century.
  • John Heaviside’s anatomy museum - 18th to 19th century.
  • The original College Museum at the Royal College of Surgeons - 19th to 20th century.
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