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Dissecting the Criminal Corpse: Post-Execution Punishment from the Murder Act (1752) to the Anatomy Act (1832) in England
bookposted on 07.05.2015, 10:44 by Elizabeth T. Hurren
The Murder Act (1752) is an infamous piece of penal legislation, known as the Bloody Code. It created a capital punishment system that was resented in Georgian England. An expanding medical sector relied on its penalties. Those condemned on the gallows to die for the crime of homicide were sent onwards to the dissection theatre for post-execution punishment. In a unique study, this book for the first time looks at the medico-legal aspects of the Bloody Code that have never before been examined. It examines the historical cliches that have been taken for granted in early modern studies. The central chapters reconstructs where the condemned were dissected, in what numbers, and how exactly dissection theatres in London differed from venues in the provinces and regions of England. We encounter what became known as the 'dangerous dead'. These were criminals convicted of murder that survived the gallows and had to be killed on the dissection table by penal surgeons who contravened the Hippocratic Oath. In a history of the body, historians of crime have never before examined the choreography of the legislation - social death (being condemned), legal (being hanged), and medical death (expiring in the heart, lungs and brain). Nor have they considered the fact that the boundaries of life and death were a scientific mystery. Few in fact died on the 18th century gallows. It was penal surgeons that killed the prisoner condemned 'to be hung by the neck until dead, and thence to be dissected and anatomised'. It was this set of post-execution punishments that tarnished the image of medicine over the 18th and 19th centuries. This new book has therefore wide application for historians of crime, social, legal, and medical histories of the early modern era.