Monday, 15 June 2015

Bodysnatchers

Hands up if you have not seen any of the Peter Cushing Hammer films as Baron Frankenstein, or any of the subsequent films.  Let us not forget the first two films about the most infamous body snatchers Burke & Hare - "The Flesh & The Fiends" 1959, with Peter Cushing, Donald Pleasance & Billie Whitelaw.  There was "Burke & Hare" 1971, with Harry Andrews, Darren Nesbitt & Yootha Joyce.   But the gruesome trade of the "Resurrectionists" went on all over the British Isles.  Wherever there was a medical school, there would be resurrectionists going about supplying the schools with freshly interred bodies, for the doctors to teach their students about anatomy, with the real thing.  Despite the high social standing of these doctors, they had no qualms about paying for nice, fresh bodies, for dissection.  Burke & Hare operated in Edinburgh, supplying Dr Alexander Knox.

    Bodies that were legally allowed to be taken to medical schools were those were executed, children who died before they were baptised, and children who were not in any apprenticeship.  Another source of "trade" was the local workhouse.  These were institutions where the homeless, destitute and ill, went because there was nowhere else for them, except begging and starving on the streets.  Because of the state and desperation of the people in there, there was also a nice supply for the dissectionists.  Not all in charge of workhouses were philanthropists!  The price paid for bodies was high, so this outweighed the consequences of being caught.  In many areas, grave robbing was so frequent, watchmen were employed to keep guard at night.  As long as they did not kill, the resurrectionists would face very heavy fines and jail.  Two caught in Liverpool, William Stewart and a baker by the name of Armstrong, were fined £50 - a fortune to most people -and six months in Kirkdale Jail.  This was in 1824.

    Another case of the 1820`s in Liverpool concerned a huge discovery of bodies of men, women & children, stored in sacks in a cellar in Hope Street.  The bodies of the children were pickling in brine in barrels.  There were three barrels of "salt" waiting at George`s Dock, to be shipped to Leith, stunk.  The captain of the ship had the barrels and discovered eleven bodies of men and women, and a couple of children.  The captain immediately summoned the Dock Police.  At that time, Liverpool had three Police divisions; The Night Watch, Dock Police & Corporation Constabulary. The task fell to Robert Boughey of the Dock Watch.  He soon had two of three men in custody.  A man named Donaldson was jailed for one year, the second man, Gillespie, was released without charge but the third man, Henderson, was never found.  After this horrific discovery, local people were asked to check the cemeteries to ensure their loved ones had not been disinterred.   Gruesome!