LETTER: Ambivalent anatomist

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The Independent Online
Sir: Maggie O'Farrell delightfully captured the ambivalent character of the 18th-century surgeon-anatomist John Hunter (Independent Magazine, 29 January). She may not be surprised to hear that his house gave Robert Louis Stevenson the setting for his gothic tale of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde.

Georgian patients knew that Hunter might save their lives - but if he didn't they would most likely end up on his dissecting bench and ultimately in his collection. She rightly describes the Hunterian Museum as "one of the most extraordinary sights in the world", just as Hunter was an extraordinary man.

While in no way seeking to defend Hunter's macabre body quests, as his current biographer I should point out that it was not Hunter who obtained the corpse of the "Sicilian Fairy", Caroline Crachami, when she died in 1824 (he was long dead when she made her brief and tragic visit to Britain). That was the real villain of Hunter's story, his brother-in-law, Sir Everard Home, who roundly plagiarised his work and burnt his manuscripts.


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