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Body snatchers

print showing four men at the entrance of King's College London, one with a apparent coffin on his headBody snatchers Bishop, Williams, May and Shields at the entrance to King's, 1832 The opening months of the College bore witness to a particularly grisly and gruesome series of events.

In 1831, the body of an Italian street urchin, Carlo Ferrari, was presented for dissection to the King's anatomy department by John Bishop and his brother-in-law, Thomas Williams.

The accomplices, who were joined by a friend, James May, had tried unsuccessfully to sell the corpse to Guy's Hospital before approaching William Hill, the King's College dissecting room porter, and offering twelve guineas for the boy.

Suspicions were aroused by the freshness of the body and some external abrasions and the culprits arrested. A post-mortem showed that the spine had been damaged and there was no evidence the body had ever been interred.

The men were charged and soon after were found guilty of Ferrari's murder. May was transported for life and Bishop and Williams executed at Newgate before a crowd of 30,000 in December 1831.

Fittingly, Bishop's body was then returned to King's for public display and dissection. The case, along with the notorious example of Burke and Hare in Edinburgh the previous year, expedited the passing of the Anatomy Act of 1831 that regulated the provision of bodies for medical examination and instruction.

For further information on this case see The Italian Boy’s murder discovered, 1831 which is part of the Dickens, Scrooge and the Victorian poor exhibition by Dr Ruth Richardson created for the Special Collections library here at King's.

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