Thursday, 31 October 2013

The Velho and Nuevo Cemeteries at QMUL

The Sephardic Jewish Cemeteries at Mile End Campus
Nuevo Beth Chaim (New Cemetery) North end
To say that an article about a cemetery is appropriate for this time of year doesn’t mean that cemeteries are spooky and Halloween is spooky, therefore they go together. It means that many years ago our Celtic relatives recognised this date as the festival of Samhain (pronounced Sow-en), the time when the veil between the living and the dead was at its thinnest. Within our tribes we thought about our dead more at this time of year and became more introverted, considering our own mortality. We left cakes out for them in case they should visit, decorated our altars with the orange leaves of autumn and celebrated this time as the beginning of the death of the year.  (October 31st also happens to be the two year anniversary of my starting this post – an apt coincidence for the same reasons stated above - and a further reason to celebrate.)

Perhaps that’s why many people consider a 24/7 focus on death somehow ‘spooky’ or ‘macabre’. We all must die, yet it seems people should only legitimately consider it at this time of year, perhaps as a throwback to those old days of the Celts. Those of us who are always discussing our inevitable fate (such as The Chirurgeon's ApprenticeThe Order of the Good Death and The Death Salon) are somehow considered morbid. What is not being understood is that in many ways the dead benefit the living, particularly for those of us whose careers and academic interests lie within that sphere.
I thought about this when recently researching the Jewish Cemeteries which are based within Queen Mary University of London’s Mile End campus – that’s right, a University with its own cemetery.
QMUL (to which we at Barts Pathology Museum belong) championed the cemetery as a historical resource, funded the re-development, and even incorporated some of the foundations of the old boundary into the floor of the new buildings (with windows down into the stone so it can be seen by staff and students) It’s therefore obvious there is a progressive attitude towards death here which has led to the support of this museum’s aims in attempting to discuss these issues to a wider audience.
The Nuevo was described by Dr Caron Lipman as telling “an important and compelling story about the first Jewish community to settle in England during the time of Cromwell” and as “providing a material link to one of the oldest immigrant communities to settle in the area – the Sephardic Jews.” Again a good example of the deceased informing the living. This can be said for any cemetery – they will always provide a wonderful snapshot into a time and a place and shouldn’t simply be considered a hangout for spooky goths – but I’m going to focus on ours and tell the story of the Sephardic Jews.

Very small numbers of Jews had existed in England since Norman times, but they didn’t live in communities as such and were few and far between. The official figure between 1290 and 1656 was ‘0’ since they couldn’t officially live here, although many had escaped the Iberian Peninsula where they were being forced to convert or be massacred, and had made England their home. Despite having the support of Henry VIII (who employed Jewish Scholars to look for something – anything – within religious texts that would enable him to divorce Catherine of Aragon. This was before he’d thought up the convenient method of beheading them) they still married and buried using the rites of the Church of England.
Eventually they petitioned for two basic things: the right to conduct religious ceremonies and the right to bury their dead. A heart-breaking request reads:
“And being wee ar all mortall, wee alsoe Humbly pray your Highnesse to graunt us License that those which may die of our nation may be buryed in such place out of the cittye as wee shall thinck convenient…”
Velho Beth Chaim
The request was granted and plans for a new synagogue and cemetery were drawn up. Jewish law stated that cemeteries should be outside the boundaries of the town and Mile End, as the name suggests, was a small hamlet a mile away from the metropolis of London (very difficult to imagine now when you walk down the busy main road!) It was the perfect location.  First the old cemetery Velho Beth Chaim (above) was built in 1657 and this is also still in existence, being overlooked now by University Halls of Residence. However it filled quickly since the Jews’ newly recognised status meant more migration into London’s East End so a new Cemetery the Nuevo Beth Chaim (below) was built in 1733 a few hundred metres away.
Nueveo Beth Chaim - South end
The striking thing about both graveyards is the flat uniform gravestones which lie close to the ground. They are mainly unembellished oblongs which is customary for Jewish burials to symbolise that death is the great leveller and also that we enter the world with nothing and leave the same way. Stones and pebbles are placed on the top rather than flowers. The reason for this tradition is unknown but the most accepted theory is that stones last longer than flowers yet are still a respectful indication that somebody has been there. I wonder whether it’s simply another attempt to keep things un-ostentatious and humble, illustrating that everyone is equal in death like the old Danse Macabre engravings of the Medieval era did.
In the newer cemetery, The Nuevo, 'Keepers' were eventually appointed to maintain a burial register and ensure the graves were all the correct size. However, they did have another aspect added to their job description. They were to examine the cemetery morning and evening and “..not to suffer any playing, revelling or other irregularity” and to “observe with caution if any strange person attends frequently at funerals, so as to give cause for suspicion”. No they weren’t on the lookout for  Sisters of Mercy fans drinking cider in white frilly shirts at midnight – they were on the lookout for pliers of the new trade in Bodysnatching....
In April 1786 several graves had been pillaged and the cemetery keeper was also reprimanded so the logical conclusion is he may well have been in cahoots with those Resurrection Men, turning a blind eye for a few coins.  The solution was to hire four new night watchmen (two Jews and two Christians) who’d work together in shifts. They were given a watch house and a new moveable hut on wheels, fitted with alarm bells, which was placed over every new grave (I initially thought they stayed near to the new grave, hidden in this wheeled hut or ‘Bodymobile’ which they would use to chase the Body Snatcher’s, alarm bells ringing, until they dropped their loot but that seems more like a scene out of a ‘Carry On Graverobbing’ film and it’s not what happened here! However, there were some ludicrous moments during this dark time of cadaver theft. Guards were dismissed after being discovered drunk on duty, or because they fell asleep. There were reports of suspicious burials happening under the curtain of night, practical jokes being played on new guards and various shenanigans. By the time the Anatomy Act of 1832 came about and had rendered bodysnatching defunct, it was decided the guards were more trouble than they were worth and they were no longer employed.
Carry On Screaming - a fun film for this time of year
For further information on the rich histories of these cemeteries do read Dr Caron Lipman’s “The Sephardic Jewish Cemeteries at Queen Mary University of London” (purchase here) You’ll learn more about the most famous inhabitants and the touching lives of the non-famous whose stories may have disappeared into oblivion if it wasn’t for the graves that are available for us all to see.
I’ll end then, with a wonderful quote from a plaque which used to exist at the Nuevo . It says
“Rich and poor; just and wicked; all as one
Cut off in God’s good time must feel death’s sting.
Within an acre of death their life did run.
Are, then, the living worth considering?”

Wednesday, 18 September 2013

Specimen C.92 - From the Archives

Judicial Hanging (Fracture of the Cervical Vertebra)
This post could contain some upsetting material but I have done my best to avoid any unnecessary content

“The base of a skull and the upper three cervical vertebrae, showing a transverse fracture of the body of the axis, just above its lower border. From a native of the West Nile district of Uganda who was hanged for the murder of a warder with a hoe.”
A wonderful book for Forensics Students - mine is signed by
Dick Shepherd as I used to work with him :)
In Simpson’s Forensic Medicine hanging is described as “…a form of ligature strangulation in which the pressure of the ligature on the neck is produced by the weight of the body itself.” This means that it need not necessarily be from a high point of suspension and in fact there are several different ways in which hanging can occur.
When considering a typical hanging death, most people will picture bulging eyes and protruding tongue. These are a peri-mortem consequence of hanging, but only usually from a low point. The mechanism which causes these characteristics is asphyxia or suffocation and that is why they are known as florid asphyxial changes. They usually include congestion of the face (which is the redness of the skin caused by blood in the capillaries being unable to drain back to the heart), oedema of the face (which is the swelling caused by excess fluid being forced out of the veins), cyanosis (a blueness caused by de-oxygenated blood in the congested venous system - the congestion and cyanosis together are what can make the face appear purple) and petechial haemorrhages (which are tiny pinpoint bleeds caused by blood being forced out of the small vessels, particularly in the delicate skin in and around the eyes).
An example of petechiae but not from a  hanging death
With this in mind it should now be clear why the eyes and tongue may protrude with the pressure of all this excess fluid. Death will take around 10-20 minutes which is ample time for post-mortem changes to occur.

As mentioned earlier, this mechanism tends to be from a low-point hanging and can include such sad instances as unsupervised children becoming entangled in safety harnesses or toys hanging from cribs; and suicides carried out via attachment to a door knob, kneeling and simply leaning forward.
Conversely, the other form of hanging is from a higher point and that is what specimen C.92 represents.
Typical Gallows for Judicial Hangings
There are several different methods of judicial hanging. This pot is a good example of The Long Drop or “Measured Drop” which was introduced to Britain in 1872 and became the standard method as it was considered the most humane. Unlike previous methods, this one took the person’s height and weight into consideration. It meant that the rope was the right length to ensure a correct and speedy hanging but didn’t result in the decapitation of the victim which did occur frequently.

The desired result was the instantaneous death caused by ‘a broken neck’ or in correct terms the cervical spine being completely disrupted at the 2nd and 3rd cervical vertebrae as in the case below:
The jagged line which can be seen within the ellipse
is the disrupted portion of the cervical spine

The instantaneous nature of this professional method means that florid asphyxial changes won’t be observed.
It doesn’t just occur in long drop hangings however – this method can also cause immediate death during, for example, road traffic collisions. Below is a close up picture of the first two cervical vertebrae, the Atlas and Axis (you can see that the Atlas is so-called as it is balanced on the shoulders of the Axis, the same way the Titan Atlas held the world on his shoulders in Greek mythology). The part labelled the ‘dens’ is the odontoid process which fractures very easily in whiplash situations and causes instantaneous death like the method above.
In the UK, by the time 1926 came around, people were really only hanged for murder – however in the early 19th Century there were 222 hanging offences! They included: stealing a loaf of bread, setting fire to a haystack, impersonating a Chelsea pensioner, vandalising London Bridge, writing a threatening letter, being on the highway with a sooty face and associating with gypsies. Much more information on the procedure in the UK can be found here.
So now that you know enough about hanging deaths to rival Quincy, I’ll turn to the story of the “Ugandan who murdered a warden with a hoe” Many times when researching the pots during conservation I delve into my specimen archives with excitement but find literally two sentences of information, like the ones at the top of this post. I can’t help thinking: who was the “Ugandan” and was it a prison warden he murdered? Why did he do it and why was he in prison in the first place? It can be difficult to get a backstory on many of these people but sometimes, with the help of the archives at St Bartholomew’s Hospital and The Royal London Hospital (and of course the internet) it can be done.
But that's all I'll say for now! If you’d like to hear them then you’d better grab a ticket for the lecture I’m giving, here, on October 23rd entitled “Re-Fleshing the Bones: The Stories Behind the Specimens”. Not only will you hear fantastic tales from myself and Professor Paola Domizio, you'll recieve a glass of wine and be able to look on the second floor for the first time!
I hope to see you there - Carla

Thursday, 15 August 2013

Specimen B.224 - From the Archives

“A left hand preserved intact to show advanced Gout. It is markedly shortened, mainly due to the changes in the fingers, and it is grossly deformed. Removed, at post-mortem, from a man aged 64 who had previousoly been a professional footballer”
Gout was once considered “The Disease of Kings” or “The Rich Man’s Disease” as it was highly prevalent within in social classes who could afford to binge on rich foods and wine. Because of this reputation, Gout was portrayed as a humorous disease and was satirised in many ways, such as these caricatures by James Gillray
The reality is that gout is an incredibly painful condition and, in today’s lazy junk food-laden society, it is on the rise.
Gout is a type of arthritis (inflammation of the joints) which is caused by high levels of uric acid in the blood. The main joint affected is the metatarsal-phalangeal one at the base of the big toe, and in this instance the disease is also called Podagra.

Early Gouty changes

Advanced Gout
However, many other joints can be affected by these uric acid deposits (heels, knees, wrists, elbows and fingers) and their placement can have a severe impact on independence and mobility. This specimen is one of five from the same patient. It is a hand, removed after death, to show the disfigurement that can be caused by severe Gout:

As well as this arthritis, (remember ‘arthro’ means JOINT which is why arthropods are jointed creatures like arachnids and crustaceans, and anything ending in ‘-itis’ is INFLAMMATION: appendicitis, colitis, tonsilitis etc) Gout will also present as tophi, renal calculi and renal insufficiency. Tophi and calculi are both types of ‘stones’ created in the organs and joints by these uric acid deposits (you can see them above in the 'advanced gout' picture. We have many examples of them here in the Pathology Museum. In fact, the first specimens ever introduced to Barts Medical school museum were urinary calculi or bladder stones. Renal insufficiency is poor kidney function, caused by the placement of these stones. Various other co-morbidities exist alongside Gout such as hypertension, diabetes and obesity. This list tells me straight away that Gout is usually caused by bad diet and lack of exercise, so you can see why it was labelled a silly disease that the rich brought on themselves. However, our diet nowadays is very rich in comparison to theirs and this is why gout is becoming increasingly common. The rates in the UK doubled between 1990-2010.

Men are six times more likely to suffer from it than women and it particularly affects those whose diets are rich in purines (natural substances which are metabolised into uric acid). The foods with the highest purine levels are anchovies, brains, kidneys, liver, sweetbreads and sardines. I have to say, I would reject any of those things from my daily menu anyway so I feel quite safe! Incidentally, has anybody made a movie yet about the blight of gout amongst zombies because surely they are at high risk?!
There are also high levels in bacon, beef, lobster, salmon, tuna, turkey and even legumes such as kidney beans and lentils – so even vegetarians aren’t safe (for once!) The consumption of alcohol and fructose-sweetened drinks is also responsible for the increase, as well as not drinking enough water. It makes you look at your steak, chips & beer in a different way, doesn’t it?
The good news (for fellow caffeine addicts) is coffee helps protect against gout, as do cherries both sour and sweet. As with all things, balance is key. Stick to a healthy diet 80% of the time and there’s no reason you can’t treat yourself 20% of the time. To me, the above sounds like a great excuse for a latte and a piece of Black Forest Gateau! And remember to stay active. Leading a sedentary lifestyle is one of the major causes of the comorbidities associated with gout, such as high blood pressure.
The Gin Lane Gazette - Adrian Teal
If you're a fan of the caricatures by James Gillray at the top of this post, then do check out the work of modern satirical cartoonist Adrian Teal. He is the illustrator of the Q.I annuals and will be chatting about his fictional Georgian 'newspaper' The Gin Lane Gazette at our final, gin soaked seminar here in the Pathology Museum in December.
He did the above cartoon of a gouty gent appearing in an advert for a gout remedy called 'Dr. Blenkensop’s Bilious Specific.' The bearded man is none other than Q.I's head of research John Mitchinson who actually suffers from gout!
- C

Tuesday, 9 July 2013

Specimen N.192 - From the Archives

"Tight-Lacer's Liver"

“A portion of a liver, showing the deformity produced by prolonged “tight-lacing”. From a woman aged 52, who died from chronic nephritis and diarrhoea. Post-mortem there was chronic renal disease, ulcerative colitis and a malignant new growth of the stomach” 

Perusing a recent issue of Grazia magazine I was very interested to see an article entitled Shock Rise of the 'Barbie Waist' as I have been researching this very topic after conserving specimen N.192.
N.192 before and after conservation
This pot contains a large portion of the liver of a 52 year old female. It is supposedly exhibiting the deformities caused by prolonged 'tight-lacing' of corsets (as you can see from the above catalogue excerpt) and is dated 1907. The liver is on its side in the glass pot, and the deformity can clearly be seen in the form of a sulcus or cleft splitting the right lobe of the liver in two. Turned on its side and placed next to a normal liver you can see this groove shouldn't be present. The theory by the doctor performing the autopsy is that it may have been formed by the upward pushing action of the corset on the liver during prolonged wear. (The depression in the top part of the right lobe is a cyst.)
The sulcus, circled, is an anomaly
In fact it's large enough to have created an 'accessory lobe' in the right lower quadrant (which you can see from the back)
This is an interesting pot particularly in light of the Victorian Body Parts Conference to be held in the museum in September. In fact they even have their own fascinating 'tight-lacing' post with video footage on their site here. However the jury is still out as to whether or not this damage is caused by corset-wearing.

Corsets were a popular addition to female attire from the 16th Century onwards, introduced from Italy to France by Catherine de Medici. It wasn't until later they became an integral part of every woman's outfit, and the term 'corset' was used in English around 1830. It was 10-20 years after this that 'tight-lacing' became incredibly popular in order to create an 'hourglass' figure.
A typical Victorian corset
At the time, the medical issues attributed to prolonged corseting included such conditions as 'hysteria' and 'fainting', but the reality is they were causing visceroptosis which is a prolapse or sinking of the abdominal viscera. However, visceroptosis is also caused by pregnancy. The corsets were, in extreme cases, leading to indigestion and heartburn, constipation OR diarrhoea, headache, vertigo and much more. But if these symptoms had been very common then perhaps corsets wouldn't have become so popular?

Our female in specimen N.192 had her cause of death declared as 'Chronic Nephritis and Diarrhoea'. She also had chronic renal (kidney) disease, ulcerative colitis (inflammatory bowel disease) and a malignant new growth of the stomach. However, cancer of the stomach is not caused by wearing a corset - it's coincidental that she suffered from this illness. Furthermore, the deformity has subsequently been identified by two different doctors as actually being Reidel’s Lobe or Accessory: a normal anatomical variant that is very rarely seen.
We've learned however, via Grazia, that the corset is not yet confined to history and there is a similar article here. A slim waist has once again become a status symbol for young females trying to attain the perfect figure, and despite the dangers cited, waist training is increasing in popularity. We tend to associate corsets with the Victorian era but they did of course continue into the Edwardian era when the popular S-shape (above) became a new female ideal. Then, despite the famous Campaign for Rational Dress they became popular again in the pin-up era (late 1940s to early 1960s) as epitomised by the beautiful Betty Brosmer. Her measurements were an incredible 38-18-36!
And of course one of the world's most famous corset wearers is currently burlesque artist Dita Von Teese. She looks quite healthy and in proportion as her measurements are 32-21-32 but in a corset she can squeeze her waist down to a miniscule 16 inches.
However, the current Guinness World Record holder for 'smallest waist in the world on a living person is Cathie Jung who is 39-15-39!!

Looking at the above picture I'm not sure the effort is worth it. My own thoughts on the subject are that while the corset may well cause deformity to the bones over several years (such as the floating ribs, below) it’s unlikely to cause deformities to the organs, like the one in our collection. In fact, the rarity of that specimen leads me to believe that surely if the corset caused so much deformity this wouldn’t be such a rare specimen?
Corset damage to rib cage, 19th Century London,
Hunterian Collection, RCSEng, Joakim Blockstrom

Thursday, 6 June 2013

Specimen M.74 - From the Archives

M.74 Inguinal Hernia (The oldest in the museum)
"A congenital hernia from an adult. The roll of paper is passed through the inguinal canal into the cavity of the tunica vaginalis testis, in the place formerly occupied by the protruded intestine.
Dissected by Percivall Pott, Esq, circa 1750."
A hernia occurs when an organ (or part of an organ) protrudes through the wall of the cavity which normally contains and protects it. A hernia can therefore happen in many places on the body. This is an inguinal hernia which is very common and in fact my younger brother suffered two at different times – luckily they can now easily be treated with surgery and they are in fact the most common elective surgery.

In a hernia such as this, the small bowel descends through a weakness in the abdominal walls and manages to protrude into the tunica vaginalis of the testicle. (It may seem that something with the word ‘vaginalis’ in it would belong to a woman but the word ‘vagina’ actually comes from the latin meaning ‘sheath’, so in this instance it’s the sheath which covers and protects the testicle that we’re talking about. There are different factors which cause hernias, some congenital, but there are lifestyle choices which can make the likelihood of getting a hernia worse: obesity for example, or incorrect posture and incorrectly lifting heavy weights.
In this specimen, you can see a roll of paper which was placed there by the esteemed surgeon Percival Pott after dissection of the hernia and removal of the intestine portion that originally occupied that space. The pictures below will help to explain the pot:
What’s really remarkable about this specimen is that it’s the oldest in the collection and as you can see from the archive data it’s from around 1750. The fact that the roll of paper has still survived is quite amazing. Unfortunately the Perspex was leaking so I decided that for safety of the specimen and for aesthetic appeal, I would put the hernia into a glass pot with fresh fluid. I hope you think the results are worth it, and I’ll be chatting more about the legendary Percivall Pott in my October lecture (see our upcoming events )

Monday, 20 May 2013

New Specimen Arrived: Shellac Child

Just in case you missed it, today's blog info is via Morbid Anatomy as I did a guest post for the site last week. You can read it and see more photographs on the Morbid Anatomy Page and you'll be able to see the specimen up close if you come to our June event.

Monday, 13 May 2013

Specimen TE.230 - From the Archives

Bound Foot of a Chinese Woman - 1862

The practice of binding feet in China began during the Tang dynasty (circa 950 AD) and continued as late as the 1870s. I've often heard comparisons of this strange and extreme vanity practice with the modern day wearing of high, uncomfortable shoes by women. In reality there IS no comparison. Foot binding was incredibly painful and quite barbaric and caused long-term, irreparable damage. I mention that because if you do have a slightly queasy disposition then please don't read this post any further!

TE.230 Before and After
The process of creating these 'Lotus Feet' was started usually in the winter months when feet were numb and slightly less likely to feel pain. It began by soaking the feet of a young girl (around 2-5 years old – before the arch of the foot had a chance to develop fully) in warm animal blood in which herbs had been steeped. Toe nails were clipped, as far back as possible to prevent ingrowth and infection, and then a foot massage was given – possibly as a last attempt at comfort since the next step involved breaking every toe except for the big toe. The arch of the foot was also forcibly broken. This was all done by pressing toes tightly down and into the sole of the foot and then binding them even tighter with bandages soaked into the blood and herb mixture.
The procedure continued with unbinding (every couple of days), re-cutting toenails, soaking the feet to remove necrotic tissue, massaging broken bones then re-binding even tighter. As well as the more obvious problems of pain, the main issue with this techniques was infection due to ingrown toenails: many dropped off and were unable to grow back. Also, with circulation to the feet being compromised then complications such as necrotic flesh were rife. However, this could be considered a benefit as it meant that toes would drop off and 'unwanted' flesh could be removed. In certain instances, girls with fleshier toes or larger feet risked having shards of glass inserted deliberately to cause infection and ultimately necrosis of tissue which could be sloughed away. Unfortunately this form of infection could lead to septic shock and death.
The view from the back: The toes are bent underneath the sole
and the arch is high and broken
So why do this? Why was this a practice for nearly 1000 years?? It was simply so that a woman could be seen as desirable and 'aristocratic' – the tiny feet meant she couldn't be a labourer (she could barely walk – no chance of her going out to work!) so having lotus feet was a status symbol. Powerful, aristocratic men wanted their wives to have this deformity, and ultimately their daughters would have the process done so that they in turn married aristocratic men.
The special thing about the two pots in our collection is that this soft tissue specimen (above) allows you to see the folded toes under the feet and how they would look in life and the skeletal specimen (no. TE.229 - below) allows you to see the actual internal damage. The picture beneath it is a normal foot from Wiki Commons Images:
Bound Foot skeleton in our collection (TE.229) compared to 'normal' foot
From a pathology point of view this phenomenon is incredibly interesting and further reading will introduce you to information on the dangers of sepsis, the fusing of bones and other associated medical conditions. However it is also worth taking the time to read about the symbolism of these tiny feet, and how they represented the history and culture of the time. How do you think it relates to corset wearing for example, or to the current trends of body modification we see such as tattoos, scarification and others? This article is a good starting point- Carla

Monday, 29 April 2013

The Skull of John Bellingham (@BellinghamSkull)

“…That you be taken from hence…to a place of execution, where you shall be hanged by the neck until you be dead; your body to be dissected and anatomized”

This is a very unique specimen in that John Bellingham is the only person in Britain who successfully assasinated a Prime Minister (May, 1812) so I thought I'd make this my second blog post.
Courtesy of Scott Grummett
We don't have too much information about this skull but we do know the museum acquired it because, as was customary at the time, the punishment for murder was to be 'hanged and anatomised' (that is dissected in a Medical School for the benefit of the students).
Prior to the Anatomy Act of 1832, there were two ways in which Medical Schools such as the one here at St Bartholomew's Hospital (established around 1790 by John Abernethy) acquired cadavers for teaching: They were prisoners sentenced to death or they were purchased from Ressurection Men.
Many of our readers will be familiar with Ressurection Men or Resurrectionists as we have had a lecture here on the topic, and despite the unsavoury nature of the trade it was a necessary practice if young medics were to train to become doctors and surgeons.

In this case, the skull of Bellingham was acquired legitimately after he was dissected in entirety at The Royal College of Surgeons by Sir William Clift and he meticulously recorded his findings so that to this day we know what he and the audience observed during the procedure:

·        The stomach contained a small quantity of fluid (“which seemed to be wine”)
      ·        The bladder was empty and contracted
     ·        The penis “seemed to be in a state of semi erection”
     ·        The brain was found to be “firm and sound throughout”

The scene would have looked a lot like this famous drawing of The Dissecting Room by Rowlandson:
Courtesy of Project Gutenberg
According to other records, 'something of interest' was found in his stomach and left testicle and these particular parts were kept in the Royal College of Surgeons Museum. After the dissection and other subsequent experiments, the body was placed into the care of Edward Stanley, one of the favoured pupils here at Barts.
Also at that time there was a fascination with animation of the dead (for example, Mary Shelley's "Frankenstein" was published in 1818) and surgeons carried out experiments to 'explore how long a heart could be made to move after death'. In this case, the surgeons experienced one of their greatest triumphs as Bellingham's heart continued to move for a period of nearly 4 hours after death!
In fact it was the dissection of Bellingham at The Royal College in 1812 that led directly to their 'Regulations Relating to the Bodies of Murderers being written. This was a set of guidelines specifically meant to ensure that the dissection of criminals was not a public spectacle or 'circus' and was done purely for medical knowledge.
John Bellingham
Let's not forget this skull began life as a man, not just a specimen: a man who believed that he was acting in a perfectly rational way after he was 'mistreated' by the government in the years prior to the murder.
You can read more about the case HERE but they do leave out the RCS dissection in this article. There is also an interesting Daily Mail Article on the topic. Although the anniversary passed by last year without too much fanfare, particularly in Parliament (as you can see in the article) we did manage to commemorate the event with a wonderful lecture by Kirsty Chilton of The Old Operating Theatre. Check our events page for similar lectures and seminars in the autumn, C

'Human Remains' by helen MacDonald
Old Bailey Transcript of the Case

Monday, 15 April 2013

Specimen A.819 - From the Archives:

Fracture of Mandible (Bi-Lateral) 1886
"A fracture of the mandible. The jaw is broken between the canine and the first bicuspid teeth on either side. This is the common seat of fracture. It was wired during life. (1886)
From a boy, aged 14, who was caught between the rollers of a printing-machine, sustaining such injuries that he died within a week."
Before Conservation

After Conservation
After some research I can surmise that the printing press mentioned is more than likely to be a rotary printing press such as those below which were popular from the 1860s:

Children working in factories suffered horrendous injuries like the one illustrated in A.819 regardless of the goods manufactured. Digits were mangled, scalps were ripped from heads and limbs were severed. In fact, we have several other examples of Occupational Injuries and diseases following the Industrial Revolution that will be on the blog in future
Thankfully, a series of Acts from 1819 onwards imposed on factory owners the duty to look after the health and safety of their workers. From 1850 mines were regularly inspected. By 1850, women, children and young people could work ‘only’ ten hours in a day, and ‘only’ between 6 am and 6 pm, so night work was now forbidden in factories, and from 1860, boys under twelve could not be employed in coal-mines. As you can see though, this didn't stop accidents from happening frequently.
- C