Why snatch bodies?

   It is estimated that around 500 corpses were needed each year by the anatomy schools. The only legal source was the bodies of executed criminals; in the eighteenth century there was a ready supply, but changes in the law meant that by the nineteenth century far fewer bodies were available. Thus the growth of the bodysnatching or 'ressurectionist' trade. 
   By a strange quirk of the law stealing a body was considered only a minor offence or misdemeanour as, technically, a dead body was not the property of anyone; stealing anything found on the body (such as William's ring) was a felony and was treated far more seriously. 
   In general bodysnatching was regarded as a necessary evil and the authorities tended to close their eyes to it.
   Burke and Hare from Edinburgh are sometimes described as bodysnatchers, but this is not the case; to chose the much easier option of simply murdering people, thus ensuring the corpses were nice and fresh.
   The book below, by Ruth Richardson, is highly recommended, and has been a useful source of information in writing The Bodysnatcher's apprentice.  One detail I particularly enjoyed, and just had to include, was the 'Nattomy soup' scandal. A 'turbulent pauper' accused the workhouse authorities of including human remains in the soup served to inmates. This scandal occurred in 1829, not 1825 so I have cheated a little in bringing it forward. 
   Bodysnatching largely  came to an end with the passing of the Anatomy Act of 1832 allowing for the dissection of unclaimed bodies.

  Read Chapter 1                         Explore the locations                      Real people, real events                  Read  the rest          

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