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A pauper dead-house: the expansion of the Cambridge anatomical teaching school under the late-Victorian poor law, 1870-1914.

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posted on 17.09.2015, 08:43 by Elizabeth T. Hurren
In May 1901 an article appeared in the Yarmouth Advertiser and Gazette entitled ‘Alleged Traffic in Pauper Corpses—How the Medical Schools are Supplied—The Shadow of a Scandal’. It recounted that, although a pauper named Frank Hyde aged fifty had died in Yarmouth workhouse on 11 April 1901, his body was missing from the local cemetery. The case caused a public outcry because the workhouse death register stated that Hyde had been “buried by friends” in the parish five days after he had died. An editorial alleged that “the body was sent to Cambridge for dissection” instead and that the workhouse Master's clerk profited 15 shillings from the cadaver's sale. Following continued bad publicity, the visiting committee of Yarmouth Union investigated the allegations. They discovered that between 1880 and 1901 “26 bodies” had been sold for dissection and dismemberment under the terms of the Anatomy Act (1832) to the Cambridge anatomical teaching school situated at Downing College. The Master's clerk staged a false funeral each time a pauper died in his care. He arranged it so that “coffins were buried containing sand or sawdust or other ingredients but the body of the person whose name appeared on the outside [emphasis in original]” of each coffin never reached the grave. This was Hyde's fate too. Like many paupers who died in the care of Poor Law authorities in the nineteenth century, Hyde's friends and relatives lacked resources to fund his funeral expenses. Consequently, he underwent the ignominy of a pauper burial, but not in Yarmouth. His body was conveyed on the Great Eastern railway in a “death-box” to Cambridge anatomical teaching school. Following preservation, which took around four months, the cadaver was dissected and dismembered. It was interred eleven months after death in St Benedict's parish graveyard within Mill Road cemetery, Cambridge, on 8 March 1902. A basic Christian service was conducted by John Lane of the anatomy school before burial in a pauper grave containing a total of six bodies. The plot was unmarked and Frank Hyde disappeared from Poor Law records—the end product of pauperism.



Medical History, 2004, 48 (1), pp. 69-94

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/Organisation/COLLEGE OF ARTS, HUMANITIES AND LAW/School of History


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