Museum of London head inspired 'to leave body to medical science' by dissection exhibition

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

Doctors, Dissection and Resurrection Men which opens tomorrow has had a profound effect on Sharon Ament

A gruesome new exhibition about human dissection at the Museum of London may leave a few visitors feeling faint, but it had a far more profound effect on the new head of the institution. Sharon Ament, who started earlier this year, now intends to leave her body to science. 

Ms Ament told The Independent that she was profoundly affected by the exhibition Doctors, Dissection and Resurrection Men, which opens tomorrow and added: “There is actually a greater need for bodies now than ever before.”

On a mirror put up for visitors to write their comments at the end, the director, who took over as director in May, has written: “I now realise that my body is a valuable resource that I’ll be leaving for science.” She joked there was no pressure for visitors to do the same.

The exhibition lifts the lid on the lid on the “macabre story around the scientific endeavours that were embarked upon in the search for knowledge and anatomy” starting in the 19th century, she said.

It displays skeletons found at the largest burial site for dissected bodies found in the UK. The discovery was made in 2006, with 262 burials unearthed during excavation works related to the redevelopment of The Royal London Hospital.

Julia Davidson, one of the exhibition’s curators, said: “The archaeological finds are unique” adding: “As far as I’m aware there’s never been an exhibition like this.”

The exhibition shows the story of the “heroic age of surgery” in the early 19th century, as the need for bodies to train students in anatomy grew. It shows the skeletons of dissected bodies, anatomical drawings, 18th century amputation tools, coffins and artwork.

As well as a showing the surgeons’ practices, including the method for amputation at a time when no anaesthetic was available, it studies the shadowy trade that grew up around it of bodysnatching. Ms Davidson called it “truly a black market”.

The so-called “resurrection men” took bodies from graveyards and sold them to surgeons who would practise on them and train up students. The earliest mention of them is traced back to the early 18th century.

The rise of private anatomy schools in the early 1800s saw the demand for bodies increase to about 500 a year. The traditional method of using executed murders yielded about 20 a year and doctors turned to more shady avenues to procure specimens.

The demand sparked an increase in numbers of resurrection men and turf wars broke out between rival gangs. The authorities tried to counteract them with methods including putting man traps in the graveyards.

The infamous Burke and Hare, who murdered people for their bodies in Edinburgh, sparked panic across the country and gave rise to the term “burkers”.

A sensational case in London saw John Bishop, Thomas Williams and James May convicted of killing a boy to sell for dissection. The “burkophobia” prompted the 1832 Anatomy Act, the legacy of which lasted until 2004.

Ms Davidson said: “I hope visitors feel conflicted about the rights and wrongs of the whole thing.” She pointed to the conflict between bodies being stolen but added: “I wouldn’t have wanted to be on an amputation table without anaesthetic and a surgeon who had not practised on a body.”

Among the highlights are a digitised version of the diary of a resurrection man called Joshua Naples, which chronicles his trade and a recreation of the debate that culminated in the Anatomy act.

The exhibition “leaves you in no doubt that when it comes to going under the surgeon’s knife we are better off today,” Ms Ament said.

She added: “It’s a very reflective exhibition, it is not sensationalist. People may have strong reactions, but museum should try and elicit strong reactions from their visitors.”

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Feeling all at sea: Barbara's 18-year-old son came under the influence of a Canadian libertarian preacher – and she had to fight to win him back
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Living the high life: Anne Robinson enjoys some skip-surfed soup
TV review
Arts and Entertainment

Great British Bake Off
Arts and Entertainment
Doctor Who and Missy in the Doctor Who series 8 finale

TV
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
Chvrches lead singer Lauren Mayberry in the band's new video 'Leave a Trace'

music
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Home on the raunch: George Bisset (Aneurin Barnard), Lady Seymour Worsley (Natalie Dormer) and Richard Worsley (Shaun Evans)

TV review
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Strictly Come Dancing was watched by 6.9m viewers

Strictly
Arts and Entertainment
NWA biopic Straight Outta Compton

film
Arts and Entertainment
Natalie Dormer as Margaery Tyrell and Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister in Game of Thrones

Game of Thrones
Arts and Entertainment
New book 'The Rabbit Who Wants To Fall Asleep' by Carl-Johan Forssen Ehrlin

books
Arts and Entertainment
Calvi is not afraid of exploring the deep stuff: loneliness, anxiety, identity, reinvention
music
Arts and Entertainment
Edinburgh solo performers Neil James and Jessica Sherr
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
If a deal to buy tBeats, founded by hip-hop star Dr Dre (pictured) and music producer Jimmy Iovine went through, it would be Apple’s biggest ever acquisition

album review
Arts and Entertainment
Paloma Faith is joining The Voice as a new coach

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Dowton Abbey has been pulling in 'telly tourists', who are visiting Highclere House in Berkshire

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Patriot games: Vic Reeves featured in ‘Very British Problems’
TV review
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

    How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

    Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
    Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

    'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

    In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
    Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

    The Arab Spring reversed

    Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
    King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

    Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

    Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
    Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

    Who is Oliver Bonas?

    It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
    Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

    Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

    However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
    60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

    60 years of Scalextric

    Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones
    Theme parks continue to draw in thrill-seekers despite the risks - so why are we so addicted?

    Why are we addicted to theme parks?

    Now that Banksy has unveiled his own dystopian version, Christopher Beanland considers the ups and downs of our endless quest for amusement
    Tourism in Iran: The country will soon be opening up again after years of isolation

    Iran is opening up again to tourists

    After years of isolation, Iran is reopening its embassies abroad. Soon, there'll be the chance for the adventurous to holiday there
    10 best PS4 games

    10 best PS4 games

    Can’t wait for the new round of blockbusters due out this autumn? We played through last year’s offering
    Transfer window: Ten things we learnt

    Ten things we learnt from the transfer window

    Record-breaking spending shows FFP restraint no longer applies
    Migrant crisis: UN official Philippe Douste-Blazy reveals the harrowing sights he encountered among refugees arriving on Lampedusa

    ‘Can we really just turn away?’

    Dead bodies, men drowning, women miscarrying – a senior UN figure on the horrors he has witnessed among migrants arriving on Lampedusa, and urges politicians not to underestimate our caring nature
    Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger as Isis ravages centuries of history

    Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger...

    ... and not just because of Isis vandalism
    Girl on a Plane: An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack

    Girl on a Plane

    An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack
    Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

    Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

    The author of 'The Day of the Jackal' has revealed he spied for MI6 while a foreign correspondent