The Sneezing Corpse

I come across many cases whilst researching that often remain unanswered. It is clear that bodysnatchers have been involved as the evidence reported is usually a naked cadaver that has not long been buried. I also read about bits of bodies found washed up on the banks of the Thames, cadavers emerging from the banks of rivers after a particularly bad storm, or even the odd hand protruding from a dung heap. All of which are often ‘dead ends’, the cases simply being reported in the papers with no further information to use as leads.

This particular example involves the notorious resurrectionist John Samuel and the eminent surgeon Dr Martin Eccles, both of whom hailed from Edinburgh. I have found no confirmed date for this snatching but estimate, as the pair were implicated in the Edinburgh riots of 1742, that this case occurred around the same time.

The story, for I have found no articles mentioning a snatching in the newspaper, happened in the parish of Duddingston, not fair from Scotland’s capital city. It was a site that was to be plagued by the bodysnatchers in later years, but whilst the surgeons were still stealing their own corpses, in the infancy of the bodysnatching era, there were no watch-houses or mortsafes to hinder the raids.

One night Samuel and Eccles  made their way to Duddingston Kirk to steal the body of the recently deceased Miss Stewart. All was well as the pair dug down to the coffin and extracted the corpse of Miss Stewart from her grave.

As they were busy shoveling the soil back into the now empty grave, the corpse, which they considered ‘to be as dead a Julius Caesar’ suddenly sneezed.

Rather than fleeing like any sane individual would, the pair went over to Miss Stewart and found her to be slowly reviving from her ordeal. Being unsure of what to do next, the two did what anyone would do in a situation such as this – they fled, putting around a story that it was the sexton who’d done it!

One thought on “The Sneezing Corpse

  • An incident involving Martin Eccles occurred on 9 March 1742 and there is a detailed account in the Scots Magazine for 1742, page 140-41. In part it reads, “on the 9th of March a dead body was found in a house near the shop of Martin Eccles Surgeon, (which upon enquiry was found to be one Alexander Baxter's, who had been interred in the West-kirk yard March 2.) As a part of my research I have made a full transcription at


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