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Hunter-Baillie Collection

Identity Statement

Reference code(s): GB 0114 MS0014
Held at: Royal College of Surgeons of England
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Full title: Hunter-Baillie Collection
Date(s): 1704-1923
Level of description: Collection (fonds)
Extent: 13 volumes
Name of creator(s): Baillie | Hunter- | family
Detailed catalogue: Click here to view repository detailed catalogue


Administrative/Biographical history:

These are the collected letters, poems and relicts of the Hunter-Baillie family. Matthew Baillie, (1761-1823), was an anatomist and physician extraordinary to George III and nephew to the surgeons William Hunter (1718-1833) and John Hunter (1728-1893). Matthew had two sisters, Joanna Baillie, (1762-1851) poet and dramatist and Agnes Baillie (1760-1861), their parents were Revd James Baillie and Dorothea Hunter Baillie. The family moved from the manse at Bothwell, Lanarkshire, Scotland in 1775 to Glasgow when Revd Baillie was appointed Professor of Divinity at the University of Glasgow. Revd Baillie died in 1778 and Dorothea's brother William Hunter supported the family.

Matthew moved to London in 1779 to lecture at William Hunter's medical school in Great Windmill Street. When William Hunter died in 1783, he left his medical museum and his collections of manuscripts, books and coins to Glasgow University, subject only to the life interest of his nephew, Matthew Baillie, who succeeded him in his school of anatomy. Matthew Baillie kept only certain personal things, among them the letter-book, which Hunter had acquired from the family of Queen Anne's physician, John Arbuthnot (1667-1735). To this William Hunter had added letters written to himself by famous or distinguished people.

In 1783 Joanna, Agnes and Dorothea moved to London to keep house for Matthew. Joanna built up a close relationship in London with her other uncle, John Hunter, his wife, the poet, Anne Home Hunter [whose poems are included in this collection] and their daughter Agnes, later Lady Campbell. After Matthew's marriage to Sophia Denman in 1791 Joanna, Agnes and Dorothea moved to Red Lion Hill and later after the death of Dorothea in 1802 to Hampstead.

Joanna started publishing poems and plays in 1790 and gradually her reputation became known. She made friends with many leading literary and society figures of the day including Maria Edgeworth, Samuel Rogers, William Sotheby, William Wordsworth, and Lord Byron among many others. Joanna was particularly close to Sir Walter Scott [over sixty letters between them are included in this collection].

Joanna's long life, she died aged 88 in 1851 meant that she witnessed the death of many of her contemporaries, the death of her brother, Matthew in 1823 affected her strongly but she became close to younger generation especially her niece Elizabeth Margaret Baillie (1794-1876) companion of Walter Scott's daughter Sophia; and her nephew William Hunter Baillie (1797-1894). William, a barrister, moved in the same literary circles as his aunt and was interested in Hunter-Baillie family history.

Matthew Baillie was one of the leading London physicians of his day and a favoured friend at Court. He continued to add to the family collection letters, which he received, from his distinguished friends and patients. He also kept together the letters written to him by the Royal Princesses, all of which begin 'Dear Baillie.'

Matthew Baillie's wife was Sophia, daughter of Dr. Thomas Denman, (1733-1815) whose reminiscences of his early life as a ship's surgeon have been quarried for some historical novels. Denman had a fashionable obstetric practice, in which he was followed by his other son-in-law, the ill-fated Sir Richard Croft (1762-1818), who killed himself after the death of his patient Princess Charlotte, the heir to the Throne. Denman's son, Thomas Denman (1779-1854), a lawyer, advocated legal reform including the abolition of slavery, defended Queen Charlotte and became Lord Chief Justice.

Justice Denman interested himself in the family collection, helping Matthew Baillie's granddaughters to complete the work, begun by Matthew's wife Sophia, of identifying and arranging the letters. He also brought into it a miscellaneous collection of autographs gathered by his side of the family. Matthew Baillie had been a friend of Edward Jenner (1749-1823), discoverer of the small pox vaccine and of Jenner's biographer John Baron (1786-1851), and at the end of his life settled near them in Gloucestershire. Through Baron a small collection of papers of Jennerian interest was added.


Scope and content/abstract:

The collection represents the contacts through two centuries of a group of men and women of high distinction ramifying through the medical, legal and literary worlds. It forms a not unimportant fund of minor historical material, comprising more than a thousand letters from nearly five hundred writers.

The autograph letters are mounted in 10 large volumes: -

1. Letterbook of John Arbuthnot (1667-1735). The most interesting letters are those of Pope and Swift and their circle written in 1714 when the Queen's death involved the destruction of their political hopes. Letterbook of William Hunter (1719-1783). It includes letters from Tobias Smollett the novelist, from Dr. Johnson thanking Hunter for presenting his book to the King, and from Edward Gibbon 'proposing himself the pleasure of attending some of Dr. Hunter's Anatomical lectures.'

2. Hunter and Baillie family letters and reminiscences, including the letters written by John to William Hunter from active service in 1761-62; poems by Sophia Baillie, Jenner family letters.

3. Letters to Matthew Baillie from the Royal Princesses. Letters of the Bentham family, including three from Jeremy Bentham. Autograph letter collection includes letters from Thomas Carlyle and Charles Dickens. 1735 - 1845

4. Denman family collection; autographs collections of Lady Bell and Dr. William Whewell; letters of John Baron, Edward Jenner's biographer; fragment of unpublished music by Mozart; letters from Joanna Baillie's friends including c.1782-1877

5. Letters to Joanna Baillie includes letters from Sir Walter Scott and Maria Edgeworth. Various dates

6. William Hunter's diplomas, and letters to him, Hunter family documents, and notes on family history compiled by Joanna and Matthew Baillie. Locks of hair and christening caps worn by Hunter family. Various dates

7. Matthew Baillie's letters to William Hunter includes material relating to treatment of George III and to his wife Sophia (Denman) and his diplomas. C. 1783-1823

8. Matthew Baillie's professional correspondence including notes on illness of George III and on labour of Princess Charlotte. Letter to Helen Hunter Baillie from George Peachy re Matthew Baillie's notebooks (1923). 1783-1923

9. Joanna Baillie's letters and papers relating to her plays, sale of her works, mss. of two stories and a comedy, letters from Mrs Sigourney, Henry Siddons, Anne Hunter, Mary Somerville; Agnes Baillie's reminiscences, prescriptions by Matthew Baillie

10. Princess Mary's letters to Baillie concerning the illness of Princess Amelia, Anne Hunter's autograph poems, libretto of Haydn's Creation; account of death of Princess Charlotte.

The Hunter Baillie collection comprises also a number of manuscript books, the oldest of which is a commonplace book of the early eighteenth century, giving details of family history of the Hunters. Matthew Baillie's notebooks include: -

Journal of a tour in Europe in 1788 and A short memoir of my life, 1818. 'Some brief observations from my own experience upon a considerable number of diseases', in two volumes. n.d. With these are his casebooks, fee-books and other professional notes, including details of his attendance on King George III. Baillie records that his total annual fees mounted from £121 in 1792 to £9,995 in 1815.

Access & Use

Language/scripts of material:
Mostly English some French.

System of arrangement:

Volumes arranged by major recipient; within individual volume the arrangement is unclear.

Conditions governing access:

Access only on written application to archivist.

Conditions governing reproduction:

Copy permission on application to Archivist, Royal College of Surgeons of England 35-43 Lincoln Inn Fields London WC2A 3PN.

Finding aids:

Card Index.

Archival Information

Archival history:

In 1958 the first Hunter-Baillie volume, containing the letters of William Hunter and John Arbuthnot, was repaired and rebound by John Gray and Son of Cambridge. John Arbuthnot's letters were removed to a separate volume. The John Arbuthnot volume was then referenced as Hunter-Baillie Letters Volume 1A, and the William Hunter volume as Hunter-Baillie Letters Volume 1B.

In January 1975 the remaining Hunter-Baillie volumes were repaired and rebound by the Julian Bruner Gift in memory of Archibald McIndoe. Some of the volumes were rebound in a number of separate parts.

In July 1926, after the donation of the second 5 volumes of papers, Helen Hunter-Baillie sent two additional volumes to the College to be added to the collection. These were a commonplace book written by an uncle of William and John Hunter, and a clasped notebook recording a journey to Europe by Matthew Baillie in 1788.

Immediate source of acquisition:

The first 5 volumes were given in 1895 by William Hunter-Baillie [son of Matthew Baillie] and then five further volumes were given in 1926 Helen Hunter-Baillie daughter of William Hunter Baillie.

Allied Materials

Related material:

National Register of Archives: Click here to view NRA record

Publication note:

Journal of a tour in Europe in 1788 by Matthew Baillie, extracts from which were published by V. G. Plarr, Librarian of the College, in 1927; A short memoir of my life, 1818 by Matthew Baillie, printed by J. B. Bailey 1896; John Arbuthnot's letter book, published by G. A. Aitken in 1892; The Collected letters of Joanna Baillie by Judith Slagle 2 vols. 1999.

Description Notes

Archivist's note:
The use of a hyphen between Hunter and Baillie is not always consistently used by members of the family or by those who have written about the family. However, the collection is always known at the Hunter-Baillie Collection. Description prepared by Claire Jackson.

Rules or conventions:
National Council on Archives, Rules for the Construction of Personal, Place and Corporate Names, 1997; ISAD(G), Second Edition, 2000.

Date(s) of descriptions:
September 2000.

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