The Italian Boy: Murder and Grave-Robbery in 1830s London by Sarah Wise - review by Christopher Ondaatje

Christopher Ondaatje

The Time of the Bodysnatchers

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


Jonathan Cape 347pp £17.99 order from our bookshop

DURING THE EARLY 1830s there were some extraordinarily gruesome sides to life in London - a city whose population had, since the turn of the century, grown by one-third to over one and a half million people, making it one of the largest and most &verse anywhere. William IV had succeeded his brother George IV to the throne in 1830 and everywhere in a dissatisfied England that was sick of political oppression and economic decline there was a call for change. In this unsettled age one of the more repugnant practices, which was becoming increasingly commonplace, was that of bodysnatching or 'resurrection'. It was a profitable trade and 'one of the most covert underworld activities of the day', involving the sale of human bodies to London's hospitals, medical colleges, and other private anatomy schools.

Resurrection was a speculative and seasonal business because the hospitals only held courses between October and April. There were in 1831 roughly 800 medical students in London, over half of whom dissected cadavers as part of their training. As the author of this new book on the subject says, 'The

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