SNIPPETS OF BRITISH HISTORY: ‘ The Resurrectionist’s ‘

#AceBritishNews – Nov.16 – Resurrectionists (depicted in action) were commonly employed by anatomists in the United Kingdom during the 18th and 19th centuries to disinter the bodies of the recently deceased for anatomical research. Between 1506 and 1752 only a very few cadavers were available each year.

The supply was increased when, in an attempt to intensify the deterrent effect of the death penalty, the Murder Act 1752 allowed executed criminals to be dissected—a fate generally viewed with horror—in place of gibbeting. The change was insufficient to meet the needs of hospitals and teaching centres. Corpses and their component parts became a commodity, but although the practice of disinterment was hated by the general public, bodies were not legally anyone’s property.

Resurrectionists caught plying their trade ran the risk of attack.

Measures taken to stop them included increased security at graveyards, secure coffins, and physical barriers. Matters came to a head following the Burke and Hare murders of 1828.

Although it did not make body snatching illegal, the Anatomy Act 1832 effectively put an end to the work of the resurrectionists by allowing anatomists access to the workhouse dead.