Joseph Merrick (1862 – 1890) – also known as “The Elephant Man” on account of his deformities, died at the London Hospital on Whitechapel Road on Friday the 11th of April, 1890.
The Dundee Evening Telegraph announced his death to its reader in the next day’s edition of Saturday, 12th April 1890:-
DEATH OF THE ELEPHANT MAN
“The Central News learns that Joseph Merrick, the unfortunate man who, owing to his strange deformities, was known as the “Elephant Man,” died yesterday afternoon at the London Hospital, in which institution he has resided as a patient for about five years.
A post-mortem examination will be necessary”
THE INQUEST INTO HIS DEATH
A week later, on Saturday, 19th April, 1890, The Worcestershire Chronicle carried the following report on the inquest into his death:-
“The inquest on the body of Joseph Merrick, better known the “Elephant man,” was held on Tuesday at the London Hospital by Mr. Baxter.
HIS UNCLE’S TESTIMONY
Charles Merrick, of Church Gate, Leicester, hairdresser, identified the body as that of his nephew. He was 29 years of age, and he had followed no occupation.
From birth he had been deformed, but got much worse of late.
He had been in the hospital for four or five years. His parents were in no way afflicted, and the father, an engine driver, is alive now.
THE DOCTOR WAS CALLED
Mr. Ashe, house surgeon, said that he was called to Merrick at 3.30 p.m. on Friday, and found him dead. It was expected that he would die suddenly.
There were no marks of violence, and the death was quite natural. The man had a great overgrowth of skin and bone, but he did not complain of anything.
The witness believed that the exact cause of death was asphyxia, the back of his head being greatly deformed; and while the patient was taking natural sleep, the weight of the head overcame him, and so suffocated him.
MR. HODGES THE HOUSE SURGEON
Mr. Hodges, another house surgeon, stated that on Friday last he went to visit Merrick, and found him lying across the bed dead. He was in a ward specially set apart for him.
The Witness did not touch him.
NURSE IRELAND’S TESTIMONY
Nurse Ireland said that Merrick was in her charge.
She saw him on Friday morning, when he appeared in his usual health.
His midday meal was taken to him, he did not touch it.
DEATH FROM SUFFOCATION
The Coroner, in summing up, said that there could be no doubt that death was quite in accordance with the theory put forward by the doctor.
The jury accepted this view, and returned a verdict to the effect that death was due to suffocation from the weight of the head pressing on the windpipe.”
THE “ELEPHANT MAN”
The Leicester Journal, on Friday 25th April, 1890, reproduced an article that had appeared in The Speaker and which looked back on the tragic life of Joseph Merrick:-
Commenting on the death of Joseph Merrick, the “Elephant Man,” The Speaker says:-
“We can remember no invented tale that speaks so to the heart at once of the cruelty of life, and the beauty of human compassion as the true story, closed this week by a sentence in the newspapers, announcing that Joseph Merrick, “The Elephant Man”, was dead.
Imagine a human soul clothed in a body so unspeakably frightful that, seeing it, men turned sick with loathing, and women fainted; a being who had to be conveyed from place to place in secret; who hardly dared to venture abroad even by night; who, finding his fellow-creatures run from him, grew terrified by the terror he created, and shuddered in dark corners like a hunted beast.
EXHIBITED IN WHITECHAPEL
Imagine him, driven by starvation to accept a showman’s offer and be exhibited to the most brutal of audiences, that commonly enough shrieked and ran pell-mell from the tent as soon as the curtain was drawn.
Early in 1886, Mr. Frederick Treves, one of the surgeons of the London Hospital, found Merrick in a penny show, in a room of the Whitechapel Road, crouching behind an old curtain and trying to warm himself over a brick that was heated by a gas jet.
Mr. Treves went up to him not only without fear or loathing, but with sympathy.
For the first time in his life of twenty-four years, Merrick heard a kind word, and was spoken to like a man. The effect was curious. It made him afraid at first. He shrank as an ordinary man would from something uncanny. Then, as he began to realise the truth, he broke into sobs of gratitude.
Days and even weeks passed, however, before he recovered from the shook of hearing a compassionate word.
HE WENT TO BELGIUM
The police prohibited his show on the grounds of public decency. So he went to Belgium, where again the police interfered, and where an agent decamped with his money.
Poor Merrick was left destitute and starving in the streets of a foreign town, where the ignorant mob thought him a fiend.
RETURNED TO LONDON
He moved back to London – how, no one quite Knows. At every station and landing place crowds dogged him. Steamers refused to have him on board.
But he came back to London because in London lived the only man who had ever given him kind a word. He made his way to the London Hospital, found Mr. Treve’s, who had him lodged for a time in an attic in the hospital, and determined to find a permanent shelter for him.
But now it was found that no institution would receive him. The Royal Hospital for Incurables and the British Home for Incurables alike declined to take him in unless sufficient funds were forthcoming to pay for his maintenance for life. He himself begged that be might be placed in a Blind Hospital. It is hard to match the pathos of this plea.
Then, in November, 1886. Mr. Carr Gomm, the chairman of the London Hospital, wrote to The Times asking for help for this case, and the British public responded.
A room was built for Merrick on the ground floor of a remote wing at the hospital, and there, surrounded with books, flowers, and a hundred tokens of the kindness that is really quick in the public heart, he has lived until this last week.
He had found many friends – the Prince and Princess of Wales, Mr. Gladstone Mrs. Kendall and others.
To Mrs. Kendall is due the happy suggestion that Merrick should be taken to see the Christmas pantomime at Drury Lane. She engaged the Royal box; she had him brought to the theatre, and took every precaution that no strange eye should see him. Hidden from the house, behind the curtains of the box, the Elephant Man tasted an hour or two of intoxicating happiness. It was real to him – the fairies, the splendour, and the jewels.
Merrick, in spite of his hideous exterior, and his terrible experiences, was in his way a gentle sentimentalist, and gushed forth at times under the happy conditions of his life at the hospital, in verse modelled on the hymns of Dr. Watts, in which he gave utterance to feelings of gratitude the sincerity of which none ever questioned.
It was a tender heart that was beating beneath a mask more hideous than that of Orson.
Above all, it was a heart that was filled with love for the man who was literally his saviour. who first spoke kindly to him, who rescued him from a fate a thousand times worse than death, and to the end was both his doctor and his friend.
Recently it was only Mr. Treves who could thoroughly understand the poor creatures maimed utterances; and to Mr. Treves he clung to the last with the wistful trust and affection of a dumb animal.”
VISITING HIS MEMORIAL
Joseph Merrick was laid to rest in the City of London Cemetery, Aldersbrook Rd, Manor Park, London E12 5DQ. where recently a small memorial plaque to him was placed.
This is the same cemetery in which Mary Nichols and Catherine Eddowes were buried, and his memorial is just past the memorials to these two victims of Jack the Ripper.
The City of London Cemetery can be reached from Central London by taking an overground train from Liverpool Street Station to Manor Park Station.
Exiting the station, go right along Whitta Road, at the end of which make a right turn along Forest Drive. Keep going along there until you reach the roundabout, on the other side of which you will see the main entrance to the City of London Cemetery,
Make your way over to the gate and enter the cemetery.
Just past two black bollards on the right, turn right and begin walking along that path – you will see a sign and an arrow pointing to “Traditional Crematorium” and “Memorial Gardens” on the left side of the path.
DIRECTIONS TO THE MEMORIAL PLAQUES
Keep ahead along that path, and at the crossroads, turn right (the white cross on the grave of George Leslie Drewry will be to your right on the corner as you turn right).
Keep ahead along that asphalt roadway, and in a little while, away to your left, you will see the red-tiled roof of the Traditional Crematorium. This is what you will be heading for, so look out for the left turn towards it – just after a red circled 10 speed limit sign – then walk to the Crematorium, proceed counter-clockwise around it, and then continue straight along the path on its other side.
You will pass a pond on your right, and then turn right along Memorial Gardens, Gardens Way and keep ahead, to pass the end of a hedge on your right, and, a little further along, you will pass the end of a wall, and a line of trees.
Keep ahead – you will pass the memorial plaque to Mary Nichols on the lawn to your right – pass a white board on your left – the memorial plaque to Catherine Eddowes will be on the lawn to your left – and go past a holly hedge a little further along on the left. Two trees past the hedge, you will come to a bench on your left. Turn left past it onto the grass, veer right and look for a plaque on the left marking “Bed 1771”.
Walk along the right side of this bed and you will see the memorial plaque to Joseph Merrick, a little way along on the left.