Victorian death trade uncovered

Posted by hct16 at Nov 08, 2012 12:55 PM |
University researcher appears in BBC History Magazine
Victorian death trade uncovered

Dr Elizabeth Hurren

Dr Elizabeth Hurren, Reader in Medical Humanities at the University of Leicester appears in the December issue of the BBC History Magazine.

In The Victorian Trade in Dead Bodies, she reveals for the first time the body trade that supplied medical students in the 19th century. The business of anatomical supply was very profitable and involved a network of body dealers. The article takes readers to dark street corners, back doors of workhouses, and inside dissection rooms hidden from public view, where bodies were bought and sold for anatomical teaching. On the internet today this body trade is still lucrative, producing thought-provoking historical parallels.

Dr Hurren also looks at some of the stories of people who became involved in this illicit trade:

In the article we meet the poorest like John Unsworth an ordinary office clerk who had a run of bad luck in the financial markets. With large debts and the humiliation of debtor’s prison – suicide was his only answer. Unfortunately an overdose of drugs did not kill him instantly – he was found foaming at the mouth by his landlady and servant.  Rushing him across to the emergency room of St Bartholomew’s hospital – tragically they were too late to save his life. At his death, his name was unknown because he had been using an alias. He had no family to claim his body and was sold on for anatomy by a body dealer and dissected for over 48 hours. Pretty gruesome!

The profits made from trading over 150, 000 cadavers and another 150, 000 body parts (it was more profitable to sell a body in pieces) are retraced for the first time in Dr Elizabeth Hurren’s latest book, Dying for Victorian Medicine: English Anatomy and its Trade in the Dead Poor.

It is this new research that features in the BBC History Magazine podcast of the month for December too. Elizabeth talks about the body-dealers and their grisly night-time trade. Everyone – doctors and patients – has benefitted from this secret history of medicine, we just never think about the thousands of dissected bodies buried beneath our feet in towns and cities across Britain.  

The podcast goes live 6th December 2012:

During December Blackwell’s bookshop at the Wellcome Trust is featuring a special book discount for all BBC History Magazine readers – a reduction from £65.00 to £20.99. Orders should quote: Dying for Victorian Medicine: English Anatomy and its Trade in the Dead Poor, 1834-1929 ISBN 978-0-230- 21966-3 (Palgrave, 2012) £20.99 and be emailed direct to:

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