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The Diary of a Resurrectionist, 1811-1812 To Which Are Added an Account of the Resurrection Men in London and a Short History of the Passing of the Anatomy Act   By:

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THE DIARY OF A RESURRECTIONIST

[Illustration: "THE DISSECTING ROOM." By ROWLANDSON.

The figure standing up above the rest is William Hunter; his brother John is on his right hand side, and Matthew Baillie is the next figure to William Hunter on the left; Cruikshank is seated at the extreme left of the picture, and Hewson is working on the eye of the subject on the middle table.]

THE DIARY OF A RESURRECTIONIST

1811 1812

TO WHICH ARE ADDED AN ACCOUNT OF THE RESURRECTION MEN IN LONDON AND A SHORT HISTORY OF THE PASSING OF THE ANATOMY ACT

BY JAMES BLAKE BAILEY, B.A.

LIBRARIAN OF THE ROYAL COLLEGE OF SURGEONS OF ENGLAND

LONDON SWAN SONNENSCHEIN & CO., LIM. PATERNOSTER SQUARE 1896

INTRODUCTION

The "Diary of a Resurrectionist" here reprinted is only of a fragmentary character. It is, however, unique in being an actual record of the doings of one gang of the resurrection men in London. Many persons have expressed a wish that so interesting a document should be published; permission having been obtained to print the Diary, an endeavour has been made to gratify this wish. To make the reprint more interesting, and to explain some of the allusions in the Diary, an account of the resurrection men in London, and a short history of the events which preceded the passing of the Anatomy Act, have been prepared.

The great crimes of Burke and Hare drew especial attention to body snatching in Edinburgh, and consequently there have been published ample accounts of the resurrection men in Scotland.[1] For this reason, Edinburgh has been omitted from the present work.

As to the genuineness of the Diary there can be no doubt. It was presented to the Royal College of Surgeons of England by the late Sir Thomas Longmore. In his early days, Sir Thomas was dresser to Bransby Cooper, and assisted him in writing the Life of Sir Astley Cooper .

At the suggestion of Lord Abinger, it was decided to introduce an account of the resurrection men into the book. The information for this was partly obtained by Mr. Longmore from personal communication with some of the resurrection men, who were then living in London. One of these handed over portions of a Diary he had kept during his resurrectionist days. This was preserved for some years at Netley, and was afterwards presented to the College, as stated above. A few extracts from the Diary were printed in the Life of Sir Astley Cooper .

The information respecting the resurrection men is very scattered; the two most useful works for getting up this subject are the Life of Astley Cooper before mentioned, and the Report of the Committee on Anatomy published in 1828. Most of the detailed information has to be sought for in the newspapers of the period. The accounts there given are, however, generally of such an exaggerated character that it is often very difficult to arrive at the truth. When any fresh scandal had given prominence to the doings of the resurrection men, the newspapers saw "Burking" in every trivial case of assault. If a child were lost, the paragraph announcing the fact was headed, "Another supposed case of Burking." Reports of the most ridiculous character were duly chronicled as facts by the newspapers of the day. Sometimes over a hundred bodies were supposed to have been found in some building, and it was expected that several persons of eminence would be named in the subsequent proceedings. Search in the papers nearly always fails to find any further mention of the case.

In reading these accounts it must be remembered that "Burking" did not always mean killing a person for the purpose of selling the body, but it referred to the mode adopted by Burke and Hare in killing their victims, viz., suffocation. Elizabeth Ross is called a "Burker," and may be found so described in Haydn's Dictionary of Dates . She murdered an old woman named Catherine Walsh, but in the report of her trial there is no evidence of her having attempted to sell the body... Continue reading book >>




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