Would you be prepared to try amputating a patients leg in under a minute with no anaesthetic while four medical students held them down? Back in the 1800's this was reality for surgeons treating cases of broken limbs.
Following the excavation of a burial ground at the Royal London Hospital in 2006 which revealed over 260 burials, the Museum of London has created the Doctors, Dissection and Resurrection Men exhibition - a fascinating look into the trade of providing dead bodies to the medical profession for anatomical purposes. The mix of bones found, dates back to a period when hospitals and private anatomy schools were desperately in need of corpses for their surgeons and students to practise on. It was a time when there was a great thirst for knowledge as awareness of the complexities of the human body were only just being realised. Surgeons recognised that their students needed at least three dead bodies to dissect before they were considered capable to work on the living. With this in mind, along with the fact that one fresh adult corpse was worth a whole months wages, it is no wonder the dead body trade was booming in the early 19th century.
The exhibition explores the stories of some of the most prominent surgeons and their families at the time such as Sir Astley Cooper who counted the King as one of his patients and the poignant account of Anne Millward who worked tirelessly to try and secure the release of her husband after he was arrested for digging up corpses. These tales are displayed alongside those of the infamous resurrection men themselves such as Bishop, Williams and May who would go to horrific lengths to secure corpses that they could sell.
Not for the faint hearted, the display features gruesome artefacts such as pieces of human tattooed skin, brain specimens, detailed wax anatomy models, preserved skeletons of children and a wide variety of the rudimentary instruments used for carrying out operations in the early 19th century.
The exhibition will leave you debating the Anatomy Act of 1832, whereby unclaimed corpses could be freely used by practitioners while also leaving you considering if our modern day system of donor cards is the best scheme that could be used. Perhaps the most thought provoking question the exhibition will leave you pondering is who is it that really owns your body?
Doctors, Dissection and Resurrection Men is on until April 14 next year and tickets for the exhibition can be purchased at the Museum of London or pre booked online. Tickets cost £9 with concessions available. The museum is open daily from 10am to 6pm and although well hidden it is worth getting off at St Paul's to find.