For those who enjoy the more macabre aspects of London’s history a new exhibition, which launches at the Museum of London on 19th October 2012 is an absolute must. “Doctors, Dissection and Resurrection Men” will cast a light into a dark corner of London’s past – the nefarious activities of the sack ‘em up men, the resurrectionists, or – as they’re more commonly known – the bodysnatchers.
If you’re coming up to London for our evening Jack the Ripper Tour, then why not arrive early and stop off en route to visit what promises to be a fascinating experience.
The origins of the exhibition (at least in modern times) go back to 2006 when the Museum’s archaeologists conducted and excavation on a burial ground at the Royal London Hospital in Whitechapel.They uncovered in the region of 260 burials. The “confusing mix of bones,” to quote the Museum of London’s advance publicity, showed extensive evidence of dissection, autopsy, and amputation and the finds gave experts a fresh insight into the relationship between doctors and surgeons and those who provided them with cadavers to dissect and experiment on prior to the passing, in 1832, of the Anatomy Act.
The Act came about as a result of public outrage at a series of early 19th century murders where the victims had been killed solely for the purpose of the murderers being able to sell their corpses to doctors.
For the first time in history, the State was given the right to commandeer ‘unclaimed’ bodies. These could then be handed over to doctors and medical schools for dissection and experimentation. By providing an adequate supply of bodies to fulfill the requirements of medical practitioners, the Anatomy Act ended the need for doctors and surgeons to turn to more nefarious methods of obtaining corpses to experiment on and thus rendered the activities of the bodysnatchers obsolete.
The exhibition, which has a £9 admission charge, promises to shed new light on several notorious bodysnatchers, and visitors will be able to gain a vivid – though, no doubt, excrutiating – insight into surgical procedures and amputations in the days before anaesthetic.
Attendees will also have the opportunity to debate the Anatomy Act and reflect on medical ethics. Indeed, it remains an uncomfortable truth that several of the surgical advancements of the early 19th century came about as a result of doctors and surgeons having access to a regular supply of fresh corpses to dissect and experiment on. So, much as we might grimace at the nefarious activities of the bodysnatchers, they did, in their own way, contribute to the advancement of medical knowledge.
The exhibition runs at the Museum of London from 19th October 2012 to 14th April 2013. Booking is essential. Click here to book.