Hunter, William (1755-1812) (DNB00)

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HUNTER, WILLIAM, M.D. (1755–1812), orientalist, was born at Montrose in 1755, and was educated at the Marischal College and university of Aberdeen, where he took the degree of M.A. in 1777. He began his career with mechanical contrivances, and an improvement of the screw invented by him was dignified by notice in the ‘Philosophical Transactions’ in 1780 (Gent. Mag. 1830, pt. ii. p. 627; Phil. Trans. lxxi. 58). After serving as apprentice to a surgeon for four years, he became doctor on board an East Indiaman; but, on his arrival in India in 1781, was transferred to the company's service. In July 1782 he was medical officer on board the Success galley, which was employed to convey reinforcements from Bengal to the Carnatic. The ship was dismasted by a storm, and obliged to put into the river Syriam in Pegu, where it was detained for a month. In the interval Hunter gathered materials for his ‘Concise Account of the Kingdom of Pegu, its Climate, Produce, … the Manners and Customs of its Inhabitants.… With an appendix containing an enquiry into the cause of the variety observable in the fleeces of sheep in different climates. To which is added a description of the Caves at Elephanta, Ambola, and Canara,’ Calcutta, 1785, 8vo; Lond. 1789, 12mo. This book obtained considerable popularity, and was translated into French by L. L——(i.e. Langlès) in 1793. Hunter was (according to Dodwell and Miles, East India Medical Officers) gazetted an assistant-surgeon in the company's service at Bengal 6 April 1783, and surgeon 21 Oct. 1794. For some time he was surgeon to the British residency at Agra, and accompanied the resident, Major Palmer, in his march with Madhuji Sindhia from Agra to Oujein and back. Of this expedition, which lasted from 23 Feb. 1792 to 21 April 1793, Hunter gave a detailed account in vol. vi. of the ‘Asiatic Researches.’ From 1794 to 1806 he held the post of surgeon to the marines. During two periods (from 17 May 1798 to 6 March 1802, and from 4 April 1804 to 3 April 1811) he acted as secretary to the Asiatic Society of Bengal. On the foundation of the college of Fort William in 1801, Hunter was appointed regular examiner in Persian and Hindustani, and in July 1807 he succeeded Lumsden as public examiner. On 1 Nov. 1805 he succeeded Rothman as secretary of the college, a post which he retained until his resignation in 1811. In 1808, being then surgeon at the general hospital of Bengal, he received the degree of M.D. from a Scottish university (East India Register, 1808, pt. ii. p. 102; 1809, pt. i. p. 101). On the conquest of Java from the Dutch in 1811, Hunter received the special appointment of superintendent-surgeon in the island and its territories. He died there in December 1812.

Hunter was a foreign member of the Medical Society of London and an honorary member of the Academical Society of Sciences of Paris. He contributed to the ‘Asiatic Researches’ a number of scientific articles, chiefly botanical and astronomical. The latter comprise the results of his own observations and an ‘Account of the Labours of Jayasimha,’ the celebrated Hindu astronomer, with a detailed account of his observatory at Delhi. He also contributed an essay on ‘Some Artificial Caverns near Bombay’ to ‘Archæologia,’ 1785, published separately Lond. 1788, 12mo. In 1808 Hunter published at Calcutta his valuable Hindustani and English dictionary in two volumes, 4to. This work was based on a vocabulary drawn up for private use by Captain Joseph Taylor. For some years Hunter was engaged in forming a ‘Collection of Proverbs and Proverbial Phrases in Persian and Hindustani, with Translations.’ This work was left incomplete at his death, and was finished and published by his friend Captain Roebuck and by Horace Hayman Wilson in 1824 (Calcutta, 8vo). In the introduction Wilson eulogises Hunter's ‘distinguished learning and merit.’ Hunter was also the author of an ‘Essay on Diseases incident to Indian Seamen, or Lascars, on Long Voyages,’ five hundred copies of which were printed at the expense of the government, Calcutta, 1804, and reissued in 1824, both in fol.

In 1805 Hunter compared with the original Greek and thoroughly revised the Hindustani New Testament by Mirza Mohummed Fitrut, Calcutta, 4to. He also superintended the publication of the ‘Mejmua Shemsi,’ a summary of the Copernican system of astronomy translated into Persian by Maulavi Abul Khwa (new edition, Calcutta, 1826, 8vo). The earliest attempt to form a dictionary of the Afghan language was made by Amir Muhammed of Peshawar in accordance with Hunter's advice.

Hunter also contributed to the ‘Memoirs’ of the Medical Society (v. 349) a ‘History of an Aneurism of the Aorta;’ and to the ‘Transactions’ of the Linnean Society (ix. 218) a paper ‘On Nauclea Gambir, the plant producing the drug called Gutta Gambier.’

[Asiatic Researches; Brit. Mus. Cat.; Anderson's Scottish Nation; Roebuck's Annals of the College of Fort William; obituary notice in European Mag. for August 1813; Wilson's introduction to Hunter's Proverbs.]

E. J. R.