Dying for Victorian Medicine: English Anatomy and its Trade by Elizabeth T. Hurren (auth.)

By Elizabeth T. Hurren (auth.)

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Additional info for Dying for Victorian Medicine: English Anatomy and its Trade in the Dead Poor, c. 1834–1929

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Body supply became more widely accepted at a time when central government pushed Poor Law Unions to more profitably manage their resources at the start of what became known as ‘the crusade against outdoor relief’ around 1872–1873. Historians of medicine and Chalk on the Coffin 37 poverty have tended to be dismissive about this changing Poor Law landscape. Its general neglect has meant that history books have yet to document the complex financial reality of pauperism statistics and official anatomy returns sent to central government.

Welfare could be caring but it was also a profit-and-loss analysis – the capacity of the rate-base versus what could be clawed back from expenditure. These financial constraints and incentives were hidden, including those of the Anatomy Act. Records of the anatomy trade (corpses and body parts) are still documented in Poor Law accounts in ways that historians of medicine and poverty have so far not appreciated. Re-reading the Anatomy Act also means scrutinising the financial details of the Poor Law accounting system.

97 In other words, if anyone brought a case of complaint they had just six months to prove foul play, bring the action to court, and secure a guilty verdict. The problem was that most body supply scandals did not come to light until after the six-month deadline. 98 This meant that it was very unlikely that relatives would discover in time that something had gone awry, especially when a false funeral had been staged as in Rex versus Feist. Few pauper complaints reached court compared to the number of bodies dissected.

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