Resurrection Man: the Diary of Joseph Naples
- The Diary
- The members of the gang
- The buyers and other characters including a list of bodies they purchased
- Resurrectionists on trial
The 18th century and the first few decades of the 19th saw an enormous rise in interest in the study of anatomy. Private anatomy schools such as the one in Great Marlborough Street advertised above sprang up like weeds in a flowerbed tended by a gardener who neither knew nor cared about the end results. Advertisements such as the following were common.
Joshua Brookes, to whom the advertisement refers, was a knowledgeable anatomist who had studied under John Hunter, the distinguished Scottish surgeon. His school undoubtedly did much to hone the skills of the surgeons of the time and to provide edifying entertainment to gentlemen of macabre tastes.
Not all the schools were so reputable. No licence was required to open an Anatomical School and their immense popularity saw them appearing everywhere, regardless of the antecedents of the instructors.
Whatever their legitimacy, all schools required a steady supply of bodies for dissection. The problem was that, before the passing of the Anatomy Act of 1832, the only bodies that might legally be used for dissection were murderers executed in London or Middlesex. While Georgian London was a violent place, demand out-stripped supply by orders of magnitude.
Enter the Resurrection Men.
The Diary of Joseph Naples
We are fortunate to have the diary of one of these bodysnatchers or Resurrection Men as they were more commonly known - one Joseph Naples. He was a member of a resurrection gang led by Ben Crouch
The diary covers the years 1811 and 1812, with an interruption between April and August of 1812 where it is thought that Naples was in involuntary guest of His Majesty.
Although the subject matter of the diary is unusual, it shows that even Resurrection Men suffered from the problems affecting any small business: sick or intoxicated workers, equipment breakdowns, inferior products, health and safety issues, business rivals and problems with cash flow. Altogether a fascinating read.
My source for this information can be found at Project Gutenberg - The Diary of a Resurrectionist, 1811-1812 written by James Blake Bailey in 1896. Bailey's work is extensive and contains a great deal of information about the profession and is well worth a read. Much of Bailey's information comes from Bransby Cooper's Life of Sir Astley Cooper but I have not been able to track this one down.
I have extracted some of information, including the diary, but have not attempted to reproduce all of it. The descriptions of the gang members are mostly taken directly from the book but for convenience, I have extracted and tabulated some of the evidence in the diary and present it separately.