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ISBN: 9781841148557
Graverobbers & Bodysnatchers in Devon
Graverobbers & Bodysnatchers in Devon
  • Description

Doctor's all across Europe in the early 19th century were in great need of bodies for medical school examination and dissection. Most started out using bodies of executed criminals or unknown vagrants who'd died of natural causes. There was an excess of trainee surgeons, and only a small number of reasonably fresh bodies to study. Public executions provided one legitimate source of corpses, the other being transients who died of natural causes.

In the public eye, there remained a strong belief that in order to stand a chance of redemption, a corpse should be left intact. Most people believed dissection was equivalent to damnation.There were simply not enough bodies supplied by the hangman's gallows or deceased vagrants to meet demand and surgeons had to take more extreme measures: bodysnatching. Anatomists spawned a new profession: resurrection men. These body snatchers became the plague of the bereaved.

In many graveyards, watchtowers were built within so that people could keep an eye out for bodysnatchers. The affluent often buried their loved ones with great iron bands around the coffins, and some people were buried within 'mort-safes': fortress graves complete with walls and gates to keep the grave robbers out. Hordes of gang-like resurrection men competed for business as anatomists and doctors fought to find the best suppliers of fresh corpses.

Centred on the port of Plymouth, this book tells the story of Thomas Vaughan, body snatcher, who for 13 years supplied fresh corpses to some of the most eminent surgeons in the country. It also provides an intriguing historical background to the tidal wave of lawlessness that swept across Devon at the beginning of the nineteenth century murder, theft and scandal fuelled by a society in crisis.

Patricia Gray lives in Plymouth. She is the author of a number of books on local history.

Imprint: Halsgrove. ISBN 978 1 84114 855 7. paperback, 210x148mm, 128 pages. Published January 2009.

REVIEWS: Western Daily Press, The Weekly News.

Web Price: £8.99
10.42 EUR 11.24 USD 14.73 AUD

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