The Italian Boy: A Tale of Murder and Body Snatching in 1830s London

The Italian boy
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Soon the new London police force was sleuthing its way to the bottom of a case that caused widespread alarm and a media circus in a city notorious for its numbers of missing persons. Wise energetically explicates every twist of the evidence with fascinating detours into the wider social context of newly vulnerable urban family life, punitive poor laws and fragmented philanthropy.

The Italian Boy a Tale of Murder and Body Snatching in 1830s London

Biographies of the trio of body snatchers demystify the Victorian criminal. Wise's deft prose contributes vastly to our understanding of pre-Victorian London's everyday street life, districts, trades, policing, prisons and press. Meanwhile, she skillfully manages the narrative, keeping her story gripping without sensationalizing it. Generously illustrated, this is a macabre yet historically serious work, invaluable to anyone interested in the truth of London's gory past.

The Italian Boy: A Tale of Murder and Body Snatching in s London by Sarah Wise

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Written in English. Places England , London , London England. Times 19th century. Edition Notes Includes bibliographical references p.

Classifications Dewey Decimal Class G6 L The Physical Object Pagination xvii, p. Download for print-disabled. But truth is grislier than fiction, especially if you travel back to the early 19th century, to the grand guignol realities of London six years before Queen Victoria came to the throne.

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Against a backdrop of Tudor slums, cesspits and public hangings, Sarah Wise's The Italian Boy reopens the grotesque underworld of "resurrectionists" - professional grave-robbers. Staying in the ground, in one piece, was quite a challenge for the dead, since surgeons needed a constant supply of cadavers for students to dissect, and there just weren't enough criminals being executed.

A Tale of Murder and Body Snatching in 1830s London

A freshly exhumed corpse could fetch as much as 20 guineas, considerably more than a factory worker's yearly wage. Wise's book examines a case that captured the imagination of s London as surely as it recaptures ours - the murder of a street urchin by a gang of body-snatchers who had decided that digging up graves was too strenuous and that hanging around wakes, funerals and deathbeds was too bothersome.

So, in semi-rural Bethnal Green, they started what might be called a cottage industry, luring the homeless off the streets of the metropolis and converting them into anatomical specimens.

The luckless teenager of the book's title was their final catch; they were arrested when they tried to sell his still-bleeding body to King's College, and their fate was sealed by the boy's autopsy. A sensational trial followed, which Wise reconstitutes, Frankenstein-like, from sewn-together Old Bailey transcripts, newspaper reports and other contemporary sources.

The Italian Boy: Murder and Grave-Robbery in 1830s London

She has a sharp eye and a cool head for the myriad ways in which the court, the surgeons, the police and the pre-Victorian media were bamboozled by their own smug incompetence. But her primary aim is to provide a window into the lives of the hopelessly poor. The bodysnatching case of Burke and Hare in Edinburgh was a tidier, more bourgeois drama, suitable for theatre adaptation, whereas this long-forgotten story is almost ungraspably mucky, full of the casual brutality, alcoholic logic and harsh poignancy of underclass existence.

Sarah Wise

When his body was sold to a London medical college, the suppliers were arrested for murder. These experiences gave John Warren the experience he needed to begin his lectures on anatomy in Show More. Customers who bought this item also bought. She also expounds, in a footnote, a flimsy argument that an anonymous bit of journalism might possibly have been written by Dickens. Add to Basket. The case became known as 'The Italian Boy' and caused a furore which led directly to the passing of controversial legislation which marked the beginning of the end of body snatching in Britain.

Wise's bodysnatchers showed an entrepreneurial spirit of which Norman Tebbit would be proud. Once they had their "Thing", they would cart it back and forth across London in search of the highest bidder, haggling with hospital porters, taxi drivers and dentists to whom a nice set of ripped-out teeth could be sold separately.