After wandering around the Hunterian Museum for a few hours I headed back to my hotel, stopping in at the Wellcome Collection on the way. The Wellcome Collection explores the relationship between life, medicine, and art. If you can manage to do what I did and visit the Hunterian and Wellcome Collection in the same day, then you really should. There are many links that can be drawn between the two, and I found that the information I learned at the Hunterian enhanced my experience of seeing the artefacts in the Wellcome Collection.
Henry Wellcome (1853-1936) was a pharmacist and philanthropist, as well as collector of interesting things. He was one of the co-founders of the Burroughs Wellcome & Co. pharmaceutical company, the first to give the world medicine in tablet form in 1884. In later years he would go on to assemble one of the world’s largest collections of medical and health related paraphernalia.
On display here are a wide variety items from different cultures around the world. Along with an impressive display of pharmaceutical glassware, there are chastity belts, a mummified body from Peru, Egyptian canonic jars, paintings, jewellery from different cultures, frightening medical instruments, sex aids, and for the gents, terrifying anti-masturbation devices. There are items belonging to important historical figures, such as a toothbrush belonging to Napoleon Bonaparte. The life of Henry Wellcome is also explored, and it’s well worth getting yourself an audio-guide to learn more about him and the items on display (they are free here which is awesome if you’re like me and love audio-guides).
There’s also an exhibition called ‘Medicine Now’ which explores medicine since the death of Wellcome in 1936. It focuses on a few key areas including obesity and the exploration of the genome. This probably wasn’t my favourite exhibition (it wasn’t gruesome enough I think), but it was interesting nonetheless. Two stand outs in the exhibition are the Library of the Human Genome (there’s a photo below) and a slideshow put together by a woman who took a photograph of herself eating every day for a year. It takes a while to get through the slideshow, but if you have the time, you should definitely watch it – we don’t realise how much we eat until it’s all there in front of us.
Also if you get the chance, make sure you check out the library. Unfortunately I had less time to spare than I thought when I visited, so I missed out (but it’s just another unneeded excuse to go back to London). It’s a very specialised library, with the contents focussing on medicine and its recording through time. You can read more about the library here.
And now, here are a few photos. I must apologise for the quality of some of these. The lighting was pretty terrible and the battery on my good camera died just as I finished up in the Medicine Now exhibition, so I didn’t have its services in the poorly lit areas.