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Home › News › Hunterian Museum celebrates life and career of dental pioneer Sir John Tomes

Hunterian Museum celebrates life and career of dental pioneer Sir John Tomes

21 June 2010

Sir John Tomes: Victorian Dental Pioneer is the new exhibition at the Hunterian Museum at the Royal College of Surgeons (RCS). The exhibition, which runs from Tuesday 22 June to Saturday 25 September, 2010 celebrates the life, career and achievements of one Britain’s most influential dentists, Sir John Tomes.

Dental artefacts dating back to the 19th century, including some of Tomes’s original instruments, texts and drawings, will explore the dentist’s pioneering clinical work. Also on show will be a variety of skulls and teeth which Tomes used and prepared to educate students about the structure and development of the teeth and jaws.

The exhibition will also include documents and certificates narrating Tomes’s political interest in elevating dentistry from a trade into a profession. Tomes notably lobbied for the introduction of the first ever dental examination called the Licence in Dental Surgery; and was also the first person to officially register himself as a ‘dentist’ in 1878 following an Act of Parliament.

Speaking before the exhibition launch, Professor Derrick Willmot, Faculty of Dental Surgery Dean of the Royal College of Surgeons said:
“It’s wonderful to welcome this exhibition about the dental pioneer Sir John Tomes as the RCS commemorates 150 years of the Licence in Dental Surgery. Tomes was key in lobbying for the creation of qualification, and was one of the first to examine candidates for the award in 1860.”

Martin Rees, President of the Royal Society said:
“In its anniversary year, the Royal Society is delighted to be working with the Hunterian Museum to celebrate Royal Society Fellow Sir John Tomes. Our past Fellows share a remarkable role in history, advancing our understanding of the world around us in extraordinary ways. They truly are the giants on whose shoulders we have stood and we hope that this exhibition will inspire renewed interest in science and help us all to see further.” 

Museum Director Briony Hudson said: “Sir John Tomes is a seminal figure in the history of British dentistry and his clinical, educational and political interests played a vital role in the development of modern dentistry and dental surgery.  It is therefore fitting that the Hunterian Museum, in the heart of the Royal College of Surgeons, will showcase Tomes’s life and achievements, reflecting on how dentistry has progressed in history from a trade to becoming a highly respected career in medicine.”

Key Exhibits


  • Draft pencil sketches of each tooth type by Sir John Tomes, in preparation for his book Dental Physiology and Surgery, 1848
  • Examples from Tomes’s microscope slide collection
  • Tomes’s British Dental Association chairman medal

Exhibit photographs and press visits available on request.

For this exhibition the Hunterian Museum has partnered with the Royal Society, the UK’s national academy of science, of which Sir John Tomes was a Fellow. Between November 2009 and November 2010, the Royal Society is celebrating its 350th anniversary, with a series of events, exhibitions and publications to increase the profile of science and engagement with science among the public. This exhibition is part of the Society’s Local Heroes programme, a nation-wide celebration of Royal Society Fellows at 50 museums and galleries

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Notes to Editors

  1. The Royal College of Surgeons of England is committed to enabling surgeons to achieve and maintain the highest standards of surgical practice and patient care. Registered charity number: 212808. For more information please visit:
  2. The Hunterian Museum at the Royal College of Surgeons of England is based on the collections of the 18th-century surgeon John Hunter. Its permanent displays include over 3,500 specimens of human and animal anatomy and pathology, as well as exhibitions about surgery and medicine. The museum is open to all and admission is free. See:
  3. Between November 2009 and November 2010, the Royal Society will be celebrating its 350th anniversary, promoting a spirit of enquiry, excitement and engagement with science.  The Society will be working with organisations, across the country to raise the profile of science and bring scientific activities to a new audience. For further information about the 350th anniversary celebrations, visit

If you have any queries please contact:

-    Matthew Worrall - Email:; T: 020 7869 6047
-    Elaine Towell - Email: ; T: 020 7869 6045
-    Heather Casey - Email:; T: 020 7869 6042
-    Out-of-hours: 07966 486 832