Society, and in 1768 was appointed the first professor of anatomy to the newly founded Royal Academy. In the same year he became a fellow of the Society of Antiquaries. He had already formed a notable anatomical and pathological collection. In 1765 he formed a project for building a museum 'for the improvement of anatomy, surgery, and physic,' and in a memorial to Mr. Grenville, then prime minister, he offered to spend 7,000l. on the building if a plot of ground were granted to him, and to endow a professorship of anatomy in perpetuity. This request was not granted, but Lord Shelburne some time afterwards offered to give a thousand guineas if the project were carried out by public subscription. Hunter preferred to undertake it alone, and bought a plot of land in Great Windmill Street, on which he built a house, with a lecture-theatre, dissecting-room, and a large museum. He removed thither from Jermyn Street in 1770. His anatomical and pathological collections had become enriched by large purchases from the collections of Francis Sandys [q.v.], Hewson, Magnus Falconar, Andrew Blackall, and others. He now added to it coins and medals, minerals, shells, and corals, and a remarkable library of rare and valuable Greek and Latin books. Hunter's duplicates when disposed of in 1777 furnished material for seven days' sale. In 1781 Dr. Fothergill's large collection, under the terms of his will, was added to Hunter's at a cost of 1,200l. In 1783 Hunter calculated that his museum had cost him 20,000l.
Hunter had not been on good terms with his brother when they parted in 1760, and there was little intercourse between them in later years. William seems to have claimed for himself several discoveries made by John, and in 1780 their disputes about discoveries connected with the placenta -and uterus led to a final breach [see under Hunter, John]. In January 1781, after the death of Dr. Fothergill, Hunter was elected president of the Medical Society. He continued to practise, though he suffered greatly from gout in his later years. In 1780 he was elected a foreign associate of the Royal Medical Society of Paris, and in 1782 of the Academy of Sciences of Paris. On 20 March 1783, notwithstanding severe illness for several days and the dissuasions of his friends, he gave his introductory lecture on the operations of surgery, but fainted near the close, and had to be carried to bed. During his subsequent illness he said to his friend Charles Combe (1743-1817) [q.v.]: `If I had strength enough to hold a pen, I would write how easy and pleasant a thing it is to die.' He died on 30 March 1783, aged 64, and was buried at St. James's, Piccadilly, in the rector's vault. He was unmarried.
In a painting by Zoffany of Hunter lecturing at the Royal Academy, Hunter's is the only finished portrait. It was presented by Mr. Bransby Cooper to the Royal College of Physicians in 1829. A portrait of Hunter, by Sir Joshua Reynolds, is in the Hunterian Museum at Glasgow. Of another portrait by Chamberlin there is a good engraving by Collyer belonging to the Royal Academy. Numerous other engravings by different hands are extant.
Hunter by his will left his museum to three trustees, Dr. George Fordyce, Dr. David Pitcairn, and Charles Combe, each with an annuity of 20l. a year for twenty years, giving the use of it during that period to his nephew, Dr. Matthew Baillie [q.v.], together with 8.000l. for its maintenance and augmentation. After the twenty years it was to be given entire to the university of Glasgow. It now forms the Hunterian Museum in the university buildings at Gilmore Hill (see Glasgow University Calendar). He also left an annuity of 100l. to his sister, Mrs. Baillie, and 2,000l. to each of her two daughters. The residue of his estate and effects (including his paternal estate of Long Calderwood) was left to Dr. Baillie, who soon transferred Long Calderwood to John Hunter.
Hunter was slender but well made, and his face was refined and pleasing, with very bright eyes. His mode of life was very frugal. He was an early riser and constant worker, his antiquarian pursuits forming his chief amusement. He had a good memory, quick perception, sound judgment, and great precision. As an anatomical lecturer he was admirably clear in exposition, and very attractive by reason of his stores of apposite anecdotes. In medical practice he was cautious in making advances. His papers in 'Medical Observations and Inquiries' (vols. i-vi.) show sound reasoning, based on normal as well as morbid anatomy, but modern advances in microscopic anatomy and in physiology render much of his work out of date. His papers ' On Aneurysm ' (vols. i. ii. iv.), 'On Diseases of the Cellular Membrane' (ii.), 'On the Symphysis Pubis ' (ii.), 'On Retroverted Uterus ' (iv. v. vi.), and ' On the Uncertainty of the Signs of Murder in the case of Bastard Children ' (vi.) are still worth reading, and each of them has a distinct place in the advance of medicine. The latter paper has been several times reprinted in editions of Samuel Farr's edition of 'Faselius on Medical Jurisprudence.' For a controversy on his paper 'On Aneurysm' see ' Monthly Review/ xvi. 555 (1757), 'Critical Review,' iv.