Mention bodysnatching and people fall into two camps. They’ve either never heard of this macabre activity or immediately mention the Edinburgh duo Burke & Hare.
My affair with bodysnatching began when I was an undergraduate history student and I wrote my dissertation looking at who made the corpse a commodity – the anatomists, legislation or the bodysnatchers themselves. Since then I research in newspapers, criminal registers and local history books at every chance I get in an attempt to find the forgotten bodysnatchers of Great Britain. I have a database of over 200 individuals, one which is steadily growing along with a database of subjects or ‘things’ snatched for the surgeons.
When back home in the UK, I spend my free time hunting out watch-houses and mortsafes so that I can attempt to gain an understanding of how someone could do such an act.
I rarely, if ever, include Burke and Hare in my research. In fact, I’ve only given them a cursory mention so far. I may delve into their affairs at some point, but there are many historians and reserachers who are more passionate about the pair than I am.
They used the dissecting table and the surgeons desperation for cadavers as a means of hiding their evil wrong doings, and pocketing a pretty penny in the process, and that is where their link with bodysnatching ends. I am astounded by the number of articles I read stating that they were once bodysnatchers.
I’m interested in the unknown bodysnatcher, the opportunist and the ‘bumbler’; the bodysnatchers that history has forgotten. Tales that don’t make it into the history books even when that book claims to be the ‘Complete History’.
Within this blog you will find stories and snippets about long forgotten resurrection men (and ocasionally women) of Great Britain and hear a tale or two in the process. Sometimes the stories are just that, pranks or hearsay, but others will be bizarre,shocking and perhaps even unbelievable.
I hope you enjoy my take on this macabre topic.
If you’d like to read more on Britain’s forgotten bodysnatchers, ‘Digging up the Untold Stories of Britain’s Resurrection Men’ is available to buy through Pen & Sword Books amazon.co.uk and amazon.com as well as all good book shops.
No matter how much research is carried out, there are times when information is just not forthcoming. Rumor and hearsay, especially during the peak of the bodysnatching era, made a lot of small, otherwise minor assaults, attempted bodysnatching cases in the eyes of the press – entries that helped create a public frenzy. The entries, that although they may appear tantalizing, unfortunately have led nowhere. For some snippets within this blog, see ‘Inhuman Wretches’
If you do happen to come across any information, however slight in relation to any of these stories, or indeed new ones, I’d love to hear from you. You can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or get in touch via Twitter or Facebook.