The Hunterian Society, one of the oldest in England, was founded in 1819 by Dr. William Cooke, a general practitioner, and Mr. Thomas Armiger, a surgeon, both practicing in the City and east district of London. The Society was named to honour John Hunter, the Father of Scientific Surgery, to whose lifetime of teaching and innovative experimentation the Society was then, and is yet now, dedicated to celebrate.

The Society has, since its inception, devoted its activities to the pursuit of medical knowledge and learning in the broadest sense. Meetings, which by custom established from the earliest years, are conducted in a spirit of convivial companionship over dinner which traditionally precedes the subject for debate. This conjunction of food, wine and conversation, debate, deliberation and discussion remains the hallmark of every meeting of the Hunterian Society to this day.

A lithograph of the internment of John Hunter in Westminster Abbey on April 9th 1859

A lithograph of the re-internment of John Hunter in Westminster Abbey on April 9th 1859

“try the experiment”!

The story of the Hunterian Society is reflected most truly in the words of its own Minutes and Abstracts of meetings, and later in The Transactions.

These, as recorded over the 175 years of existence since its foundation, show an earnest body of dedicated medical practitioners pursuing the ideals of John Hunter –  more in an enthusiastic, energetic and practical manner than in a narrow, scholarly or academic fashion…. so following the exhortation of their mentor…“try the experiment”!

John Hunter (1728-1793)
Oil painting from the Reynold’s School which is displayed in Lettsom House.

Albert Edward Mortimer Woolf,
President 1926-28, 1945-46.


These same records tell the story of the fortunes of the Society – waxing and waning, waning and waxing – as it responded to the larger changes in the affairs of men moving through time from the relatively settled stability of the mid and later 1800’s to the political and social turmoil that preceded and followed two world wars.

Three recent vignettes of the history of the Society provide an overview: the Preface to the Catalogue of the Hunterian Society Collections; the first two pages of a brief History of the Society by Dr Richard Palmer, which constitutes an element of the Catalogue;  extracts from Mr. Edward Stewart’s article, ‘The 150th Anniversary of the Hunterian Society’ as printed in The Practitioner , April 1969, Volume 202, pages 572-580 (less the illustrations).

The Transactions can be accessed from the Wellcome Library.