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.”

Arts and Entertainment
Caroline Flack became the tenth winner of Strictly Come Dancing
tvReview: 'Absolutely phenomenal' Xtra Factor presenter wins Strictly Come Dancing final
Arts and Entertainment
J Jefferson Farjeon at home in 1953
booksBooksellers say readers are turning away from modern thrillers and back to golden age of crime writing
Arts and Entertainment
Nick Hewer is to leave The Apprentice after 10 years

TV review Nick Hewer, the man whose eyebrows speak a thousand words, is set to leave The Apprentice

Arts and Entertainment
Female fans want more explicit male sex in Game of Thrones, George R R Martin says

film George RR Martin owns a cinema in Santa Fe

Arts and Entertainment
Clued up: John Lynch and Gillian Anderson in ‘The Fall’

TV review

PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Rhys says: 'I'm not playing it for laughs, but I have learnt that if you fall over on stage, people can enjoy that as much as an amazing guitar solo'
musicGruff Rhys on his rock odyssey, and the trouble with independence
Arts and Entertainment
Krysia and Daniel (Hand out press photograph provided by Sally Richardson)
How do today's composers answer the challenge of the classical giant?
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
News
Shenaz Treasurywala
film
News
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Watkins as Christopher Jefferies
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Star Wars Director JJ Abrams: key character's names have been revealed
film
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell Williams won two BBC Music Awards for Best Song and International Artist
music
Arts and Entertainment
Mark, Katie and Sanjay in The Apprentice boardroom
TV
Arts and Entertainment

Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites

Arts and Entertainment
Frances O'Connor and James Nesbitt in 'The Missing'

TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations

Arts and Entertainment
Joey Essex will be hitting the slopes for series two of The Jump

TV

Who is taking the plunge?
Arts and Entertainment
Katy Perry as an Ancient Egyptian princess in her latest music video for 'Dark Horse'

music
Arts and Entertainment
Dame Judi Dench, as M in Skyfall

film
Arts and Entertainment
Morrissey, 1988

TV
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

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

    Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

    Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

    Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
    Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

    Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

    Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
    Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

    Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

    Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
    Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

    Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

    Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
    Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

    Autism-friendly theatre

    Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
    The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

    The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

    Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
    From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

    Panto dames: before and after

    From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
    Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

    Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

    Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
    Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

    Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

    Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
    The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

    The man who hunts giants

    A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
    The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

    The 12 ways of Christmas

    We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
    Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

    The male exhibits strange behaviour

    A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
    Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

    Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

    Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
    From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

    From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

    The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
    A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

    A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

    The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'