London’s surgical museum reopens after £100m redevelopment

“There are certain ways to display the remains, and I think we have that in mind,” said Dawn Kemp, director of the Museum and Archives Department at the Royal College of Surgeons. “This is a deep tribute to the unnamed people whose bodies have been used to advance medical knowledge and understanding.”

Kemp is talking about the Hunter Museumis housed in the Royal College of Surgeons (RCS) building in Lincoln-In-Fields, London and will reopen on 16th May after a five-year redevelopment. Named after the 18th century surgeon John Hunter. His fellow physician brother William named the similarly titled Hunterian Museum and Art Gallery in Glasgow after him. 3,500 items, the remains of Hunter’s original 14,000-strong collection, many of which were destroyed in German bombing during his 1940 London Blitzkrieg.

A £100 million redevelopment overseen by architect Hawkins\Brown retained the museum’s Grade II* listed façade, but rebuilt the rest of the site. As a result, the RCS exhibition gallery was he moved to the ground floor for better public access and awareness, but this meant the destruction of the famous Crystal Gallery.

Kemp is keen to point out that RCS does not own Hunter’s collection. It was purchased by the government in his 1799 and has been managed by its own trustee ever too
More recent, such as teeth, bones, ancient artifacts, and various surgical and medical tools (from items developed by medical pioneers such as British surgeon Joseph Lister to robotic devices used in surgery today) holds a collection of

According to Kemp, the restructuring of displays was dominated by growing public interest in and awareness of scientific and medical innovations. “Originally, this collection was for medical personnel to study. We are committed to public engagement and helping people learn more about and understand the history of medicine.”

“Irish Giant”

That the museum’s display of human remains is such a hot topic is reflected in the uproar surrounding one of Hunter’s most famous specimens. Charles Byrne’s skeleton, or “Irish Giant,” grew to be at least 7 feet 7 inches. Hunters purchased Byrne’s corpse, and his skeleton has now been on display for over two centuries. But after a vociferous campaign (which included the late Hillary his Mantel, who wrote the novel in 1998). Giant O’Brien Byrne and Hunter), the Trustees have decided to remove the remains from the exhibition when Hunter reopens, instead showing a portrait of Hunter by Sir Joshua Reynolds, in which the skeleton is partially visible. Consent issues are important. By all accounts, Byrne requested a sea burial.

The museum is named after the 18th-century surgeon John Hunter, who was depicted by Sir Joshua Reynolds in 1785 in The Irish Giant.

© Hunter Museum; Royal College of Surgeons

Kemp refers to a statement issued by the Board observing “sensitivity and differing views surrounding the display and preservation of the skeleton of Charles Byrne.” The skeleton will be removed from display, but “will remain available for bona fide medical research into the conditions of acromegaly and gigantism.” Kemp stresses that this is a decision of the Trustees, not of the Royal College. “It’s absolutely about this reflection—change in sensitivity and mindfulness,” she says. Byrne, however, appears to have yet to receive his sea burial.

The controversy over Byrne mirrors a broader controversy over the systematic collection and preservation of human remains. The Human Tissues Act of 2004 stipulates that only body parts older than 100 years can be preserved without permission. The act was introduced after the 1999 Alder Hay scandal. In this scandal, it was discovered that the Alder Hay Children’s Hospital in Liverpool, UK, had a large number of dead children’s organs stored. As with Byrne, there is also a focus on Aboriginal artifacts, particularly those from Australia and New Zealand, held in the RCS collection. RCS has not publicly commented on the matter, but a PhD, submitted by Oxford University student Sarah Morton in 2017, states that since 2001, the repatriation of RCS remains to Australia, New Zealand and Hawaii. During the same period, the RCS released the skull of notorious 19th-century killer William Corder for cremation, and dissected the bodies of Belsen concentration camp victims for burial in the Jewish cemetery. Did.

art and anatomy

Kemp is keen to talk about the richness of the RCS art collection, from 14th-century surgeon John of Ardern’s papers to 21st-century 3D body imaging. She is particularly enthused about the subject of pioneering plastic surgery by Henry Tonks, a professor at Slade College of Art and a former surgeon, depicting World War I victims. “Artists are often the unsung heroes in developing the study of human anatomy,” she says.

But for Kemp, Hunter is ultimately about helping people become more aware of themselves. We can care more about our own well-being,” she says.

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