Thursday, 16 October 2008

Resurrection Men

In preparing my presentation for the OGS Toronto Branch Genealogy in London Day I've been reading about resurrection men.

It turns out The Society of Genealogists is presenting, just in time for Halloween, a lecture Death & Resurrection by Alec Tritton. According to the session information:

"In 1831 in London it was estimated that there were at least 800 medical students each requiring at least three bodies for their anatomical studies for dissection. The only legal source was that of hanged felons which yielded just 52 bodies in the same year. Thus the resurrection trade flourished and bodysnatching was in the medical establishment, if not condoned, then they turned a blind eye to the trade. Where did these bodies come from and how were they transported? What was the price of a body and what happened to the bodies afterwards? These are just some of the questions answered in presentation."

Although resurrection men are mostly thought of as body-snatchers and grave-robbers the most famous case is that associated with the names Burke and Hare. The story of William Burke and William Hare, both of Irish origin, and the murders they committed in Edinburgh to supply fresh bodies for a medical school is found in a Wikipedia article.

2 comments:

Alec Tritton said...

Actually when I heard about your conference through Else Churchill, the geneaslogy officer at the SoG, I wrote to your conference organiser asking if they would like me to speak as I also do a lecture on the London Burial Grounds of which there were 362 in 1896 but only 41 open for burial, most being closed in 1853. Too late now of course!!

Leslie Still said...

And I as going to add that Alec Tritton has an interesting article in the September edition of Family Tree magazine on burial grounds outlying the City of London in which he notes that during the clearance of the St. John of Jerusalem Cemetery in Clerkenwell in 1894 "a number of empty coffins were found that had the lead of the top cut away - one of the methods used by the body snatchers or resurrection men before the Anatomy Act of 1832"(p.67).