William Clift, 1775-1849

William Clift (1775-1849), museum curator and scientific illustrator, was born near Bodmin in Cornwall on 14 February 1775. He was the youngest of the seven children of Robert Clift (1720-1784), a miller, and his wife Joanna, a seamstress.

Clift went to school at Bodmin, where he demonstrated his ability in illustration. This attracted the attention of Walter Raleigh Gilbert and his wife Nancy, who had been a schoolfellow of Anne Home who had married John Hunter in 1771. On the Gilbert’s recommendation, Clift was apprenticed to John Hunter as an anatomical assistant, employed to make drawings, copy dictation and assist in the care of Hunter’s anatomical specimens. Until Hunter’s sudden death in 1793, Clift assisted him with dissections and often wrote from dictation from early morning until late at night.


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