Saturday, 22 October 2016

The legend of Long Bill Jenkins - William Daniel Jenkins (1767-1798), Nunhead Cemetery

William Jenkins' burial in the bank as recorded in the burial register of St Mary Lothbury.

On the 24th inst. died, at Edinburgh, in the 31st year of his age, Mr. William Jenkins, one of the Tellers in the Bank. His corpse measured seven feet three inches.
Staffordshire Advertiser - Saturday 07 April 1798

Mr. Jenkins the Bank Clerk, remarkable for his height, died last week of a decline, the age of 31.  He was buried very early on Sunday morning, by permission of the Governors of the Bank, in the ground inside of that Building, which formerly was the burial-ground of St. Christopher's church. The outer coffin measured more than 8 feet length. Upwards of 200 guineas had been offered for his corpse by the surgeons.
Hereford Journal - Wednesday 11 April 1798

William Daniel Jenkin’s is a legend at the Bank of England. We know very little of his life except that he was tall, worked at the bank, apparently died in Edinburgh and was frightened enough of falling into the hands of the anatomists after his death to ask for special permission to be buried in the Garden Court (formerly the churchyard of St Christopher-le-Stocks) at the bank, where he thought his corpse would rest in relative safety.  Although he was tall for an era when the average male was about 5 foot six, William was no giant. Newspaper stories of him being 7 foot 3 and his coffin being 8 feet long are typical press hyperbole; his true height was probably about 6 foot 7. Comparisons were inevitably made between William and that other elevated individual who was so terrified of falling into the hands of the surgeons that he asked to be buried at sea, Charles Byrne, the Irish Giant. William could never have lit his pipe at the street lamps on the North Bridge in Edinburgh without even standing on tiptoe, as the Irish Giant did, but he must have spent his life equally inconvenienced by low doors and ceilings, small chairs and short beds.  Their difference in stature can be gauged from the price offered for their skeletons by the surgeons, a mere 200 guineas for the bank teller in 1798 whilst John Hunter has paid a £500 bribe to secure the corpse of the Irish Giant in 1783. William’s corpse rested in its lead coffin in Garden Court until the 1930’s when he was unearthed during building works.

William Jenkin's coffin in situ, uncovered during building works at the bank
A GIANT'S COFFIN. It Is suggested by a correspondent of "The Times" that the remarkably large lead coffin found 40 feet below the surface during the recent rebuilding of the Bank of England may that of the giant William Jenkins, who recorded have been 7ft. height. He was clerk in the Bank of England. It was the era when surgeons paid high prices for stolen corpses and the relatives, fearing the attentions the body-snatchers, obtained the directors' permission to bury Jenkins In the disused churchyard of St. Christopher-le-Stock, which then served as the Garden Court of the Bank.
Yorkshire Evening Post - Thursday 10 August 1933

A 1923 Act of Parliament provided that any human remains removed from the former churchyard of St Christopher-le-Stocks should be reburied at Nunhead Cemetery.  The initial plan was to place the outsize lead coffin in the vaults but when it proved to be too large it was removed to the eastern catacombs. The fate that William tried so hard to avoid finally came to pass in the 1970’s when thieves stole the coffin from the abandoned cemetery for its scrap value, and scattered his remains on the floor of the catacombs from where they were presumably cleared up and disposed of, quite where no one knows. Before his removal from Garden Court William’s ghost was said to haunt the Bank of England where he would startle the armed guards at night by rattling their rifles.  Rumour has it that his ghost has also been seen at Nunhead fleeing from the catacombs in the form of a tall (of course) man dressed in black carrying an open ledger; no less a luminary than the chair of the Friends of Nunhead Cemetery, Ron Woollacott,  tentatively identified the ghost as being that of William Jenkins.   

Saturday, 15 October 2016

Owling in Barking; Captain John Bennett (1670-1716), St Margaret's Churchyard, Barking

Captain John Bennett's tomb in Barking churchyard
‘HERE LYETH INTERR’D YE BODY OF CAP. JOHN BENNETT COMMANDER OF HIS MAJESTY SHIP LENOX & WHO DIED THE 30TH OF JANUARY 1716 AGED 46 YEAR’, says the still legible inscription carved into the black limestone slab that tops the Captain’s impressive chest tomb in Barking Churchyard.  The chest is made from limestone and has suffered from the ravages of acid rain but the acanthus leaf decoration, the family crest and the carving of the Captain’s ultimate command, the Lennox, are weathered but still clearly visible. Inside the church there is an even more impressive memorial to the Captain, its size and quality rivalling any of the memorials for the wealthy landed gentry that line both sides of the nave.  Captain Bennett  was born in Poole, Dorset in 1670, his father, also John, was a Royal Navy captain but not one of any great distinction or wealth.  John Bennett the younger became a captain in 1695 at the age of 25 and sailed to Virginia, Hamburg, Archangel in Russia, Cape Town and the West Indies but seems not to have seen action or otherwise distinguished himself in the service.  Although the family were not by any means poor, Captain Bennett seems to have become an extremely wealthy man during his lifetime, far wealthier than his modest navy career would allow for.  In his will he left £500 for his funeral, tomb and memorial with strict instructions for his executor, London haberdasher Abraham Edlin, to have a vault excavated in the churchyard, a ‘grave with iron railes’ erected over it, and a memorial in the church to be commissioned from Thomas Stayner, a master mason who had recently moved from London to East Ham. £500 was a vast sum in 1716, worth at least £200,000 today.  His will contained unusual clauses requiring secrecy from his legatees;   "I give and bequeath unto the said Abraham Edlin all the furniture in the Room called my Chamber together with the Chest of Drawers and the Iron Chest with all that is therein contained upon this Condition that he do not disclose or make known the Contents thereof or any part thereof to any person and in case he do make the same known contrary to this my desire my will and meaning is that he forfeits this my devise to him and in that case I give the same unto my Cousin Mary Masters."

Michael Wand in his intriguing “Captain Bennett Investigated,” makes a convincing, if circumstantial, case for the source of the Captain’s wealth.  In 1682 a report was produced by Thomas Culliford, a customs official “who named and shamed the merchants of Poole who were not paying duty.” These merchants were clandestinely bringing foreign goods into the country, particularly brandy, without paying import duties, in other words they were professional smugglers. Culliford’s attempts to catch the smugglers either failed or resulted in the capture of low ranking employees. He was unable to arrest the ring leaders despite their identities being common knowledge.  He vented his frustration by naming the leading merchants engaging in ‘owling’ (smuggling wool out of England and luxury goods back in), in print. Wand points out that many of the names in Culliford’s report were linked to the legatees in Captain Bennett’s will; “none of the surnames he recorded in other Dorset ports appeared in Bennett's will, but many of his legatees seem to have been the next generation of the men fingered by Thomas Culliford thirty four years earlier: notably Lewin, Bennett, Stevens, Martin, Lewis, Weston.” The same names crop up in Barking Parish records and it seems that many Dorset owlers moved to Essex.  The county had its own tradition of smuggling and its major advantage over Dorset was its proximity to London.  Captain Bennett’s navy career may well been cover for the far more lucrative business of smuggling.

Friday, 7 October 2016

The parched ground shall become a pool and the thirsty land springs of water; Ernest Schwarz of the Kalahari (1873-1928), Willesden New Cemetery

“A most extraordinary story was told me by the late Professor Ernest Schwarz of the Rhodes University College. Many years ago, he said, he was engaged in survey work between the headwaters of the Orange and Zambezi Rivers. With him was a half-breed Cape Bushman guide and interpreter. Through this man’s efforts Schwarz managed to make friends with a wandering remnant of a tribe of Cape Bushmen in that region and pitched his camp near theirs.
One day he noticed the strange little people flocking to a dry hollow in the ground near their camp. Following them he saw they were gathering about the remains of a gemsbuck. At a given signal they all began to eat, pausing occasionally to dance madly around the hollow.  Presently the feasting stopped, but the dancing continued with unabated vigour, men and women occasionally dropping out exhausted. When they had rested and recovered they again joined the madly dancing horde.
After some time of this Schwarz noticed a strange figure in the midst of the little people. It was a man loaded down with enormous strings of ostrich shell beads. He was given food and joined in the dance. Everyone treated him with the utmost respect. The festivities continued until sunset, when a sinister and expectant hush fell over the weird assembly of little figures who had stopped their dance. In the darkness two figures crept up behind the stranger, threw a thong of softened animal hide over his neck, braced their knees in the small of his back and strangled him! Schwarz had just witnessed a Bushman’s execution.”
F.W. Fitzsimons “Century Old Man is only Survivor of Stone Age Race.” Popular Science August 1931

Ernest Hubert Lewis Schwarz was born in Lewisham on February 27 1873 the youngest of 12 children. His, father Frederick Maximilian Phillip Hubert Schwarz, was 60 at the time of his birth, his mother Johanna, 34. The couple were both from Germany, Frederick from Dusseldorf, Johanna from Schleswig-Holstein, but they married in London, at St Giles, in 1853 when he was an established South America merchant of 40 and she just a girl of 15. No doubt worn out by childbirth, she had her 12 children in just 18 years, Johanna died in April 1874 when Ernest would have barely been weaned. The motherless family were living on College Road in Dulwich at the time of the 1881 census and had moved to 80 Philbeach Gardens in what then known as Brompton but is now Earls Court by 1891. Ernest studied at the Royal College of Science in London and the School of Mines in Cambourne, Cornwall but despite being an excellent student he failed to gain a degree. In 1895, at the age of 22, Ernest moved to South Africa where he first worked as an editor on a short lived journal The Scientific African (it folded after just 5 issues)  before being appointed as a field geologist to the Geological Commission of the Cape of Good Hope, a post he kept for most of the following decade.  In 1899 his father died at the age of 86 leaving an estate of £18712 8s 6d to be shared amongst his brood. On 30 April 1904 in St George Anglican Cathedral, Cape Town Ernest married Daisy Murray Bowne Halloran and the following year he became the first professor of geology at Rhodes University College, Grahamstown, and simultaneously as keeper of geology and mineralogy at the Albany Museum.

The Bushmen of the Kalahari; Schwarz witnessed a bushman execution during his travels in the region

According to the S2A3 “Schwarz was a tall, gentle and introspective man who found it difficult to accept disappointments. He was always full of ideas and explanatory hypotheses, and though these were not always fully worked out his suggestions were usually of value. He was inclined to draw quick conclusions, and his interests were wide, rather than intensive.”  Ernest liked to engage in speculation untrammelled by the harsh restriction of facts. In his last published book ‘The Kalahari and its Native Races’, published in 1929 shortly after his death, he suggests that Hottentot modulations of speech are derived from Chinese and eventually even convinces himself that the race itself is Asiatic in origin. And he felt that the Makalaka people were descendants of Malays who had sailed across the Indian Ocean. As his gravestone shows he was (and remains) most well known for his proposed Kalahari irrigation scheme first proposed in a newspaper in 1918, then in a scientific  paper ‘The dessication of Africa: The cause and the remedy’ and finally in a full length book ‘The Kalahari or Thirstland Redemption’ published in 1920. Schwarz said that large permanent lakes that had existed at Etosha Pan, the Makgadikgadi Pans and Lake Ngami and which had dried up  during the last few centuries. The loss of these lakes, he claimed, decreased rainfall over the Kalahari basin from about 1860 onwards. He was sure that restoring the lakes by damning  the Kunene River and  Chobe Rivers would increase rainfall by up to 250 mm a year and turn the desert into a green savannah.  The proposal aroused such popular support that the South African government launched a scientific expedition in 1925 to survey the Kalahari and to report on the possibility of practically implementing the scheme.  The official report alleged that Schwarz had many of his key facts wrong and that there was little or no chance of the scheme working. Schwarz continued to argue that he was right and after his death his widow continued to publish articles on the now discredited scheme. In 1927 he  visited Senegal on six month's leave to study the upper drainage system of the Niger River. He was not able to complete his survey and  so returned the following year, dying in the old colonial town of St Louis of a heart attack before he begin his work again. On his table was a letter to the editor of the Geographical Journal which outlined a solution to the problem of the route followed by Hanno the Carthaginian along the Senegal coast in his famous 5th century BC African expedition.  Schwarz’s body was returned to England for burial and Willesden chosen by his widow to be his final resting place. Probate lists is estate as being worth £1162 12s 8d, the sole beneficiary being his Daisy Murray Bowne Schwarz, widow, of 4 Burgess Park Mansions, West Hampstead.

Saturday, 1 October 2016

London's Dead: A guided tour of the capital's dead - Ed Glinert (Harper Collins 2008, out of print)

The thing about social media is that when you are talking you can never be sure who is listening.  A few years ago I wrote about Elias Ashmole on a photo I’d posted on Flickr of the Tradescant’s tomb in St Mary’s Churchyard, Lambeth:

In “London’s Dead” author Ed Glinert claims that there is a tradition that Elias Ashmole offered himself up for execution in place of Charles I “as those that ordered Charles’s execution were all Freemasons and no Mason could execute his Grand Master, Charles I, the two men swapped over and Ashmole allowed himself to be executed while Charles I lived out the rest of his days as Ashmole.” As I can’t find any trace of this rather outlandish theory on the web I can’t help wondering if Glinert isn’t pulling our leg here.

I was taken to task by Ed Glinert himself (who presumably had been googling himself):
Ed Glinert here. Of course there's nothing about Elias Ashmole swapping with Charles I on the Internet! This is a Masonic legend and the Masons, being a secret society, don't spread their secrets over the Web. I'm not saying it's true, just that it’s a well-known legend within Masonic circles. The Web is not the be-all and end-all of history.

That was me told. In actual fact the hypothesis, legend or whatever it is that Charles I was spared execution by switching places with Ashmole doesn’t seem to have been a masonic secret at all, or not one that they were keen to keep to themselves;  The Worshipful Brother Vice-Admiral Bertram Mordaunt Chambers CBE went public with the story in January 1929 with an article in the Daily Express headlined ‘Was Charles I Beheaded’.

Abney Park Cemetery by Marc Atkins
‘London’s Dead: a tour of the capital’s dead’ was originally published by Harper Collins in 2008 but never seems to have been reprinted or put out as a paperback or. It is a compendium of material relating to death in London; stories of public executions, plagues, bizarre deaths, terrorist attacks, accounts of graveyards and cemeteries, myths and legends, the deaths of famous people and much more. Because it is supposedly a tour Glinert’s material is arranged geographically rather than chronologically or thematically which makes for a rather disjointed read.  The print is large and well spaced which means that there are rather fewer words than you would expect in a book of 320 pages and it never does more than skim he surface of its subject. In fact the whole thing has a rather perfunctory feel to it, as though the author has no real enthusiasm for the project. Or perhaps it was just rushed.  ‘London’s Dead’ isn’t bad; the subject is interesting and Glinert couldn’t write a truly dull book even if he tried. But this should have been a great book, not only is Ed Glinert a better writer than he shows himself here (‘East End Chronicles’ or ‘The London Compendium’) but the photographs in it were taken by the great Marc Atkins. 

The Isaac Watts Memorial at Abney Park Cemetery by Marc Atkins
Atkin’s was an inspired choice as photographer – his wonderful photos of London taken wandering the streets with Iain Sinclair on the journeys that went into ‘Lights Out for the Territory’ were later published in the superb ‘Liquid City’ (just republished by Reaktion Press – buy it).  Atkin’s photos, taken in Bunhill Fields, Nunhead, Abney Park, Brompton, Mortlake and Kensal Green, are little  masterpieces with muted, autumnal colours and striking compositions that are both true to the spirit of the locations they were taken in but somehow more austerely beautiful.  What a huge disappointment that these wonderful pictures only appear in the book as small, smudged, dark, monochrome illustrations punctuating the text. What a wasted opportunity! It’s lucky that you can see the originals on Marc Atkin’s website, check out the whole set there. 

Ninhead Cemetery by Marc Atkins

Monday, 26 September 2016

Wild Scenes at Willesden New Cemetery

A New Cemetery for Willesden  Dr Hoffmann, from the Home-office, attended at the Willesden Vestry-hall yesterday for the purpose of hearing objections to an application made by the Willesden Burial Board 'for permission to purchase upwards of 20 acres of ground near the Jews' Cemetery, for the parish of Willesden. Most of the members of the Burial Board were present besides members of the Local Board. Mr Tilley, solicitor, in making the application, quoted figures to show the necessity for a new burial ground, the population of the parish having nearly doubled itself since 1881 when it was 27,000. There being no opposition Dr. Hoffmann said he would recommend the granting of the application.
Morning Post - Tuesday 14 August 1888

The 26 acre Willesden New Cemetery opened in 1891 boasting a pair of ‘Pont Street Dutch’ chapels. At the stone laying ceremony so beloved of local worthies in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries members of the Burial Board witnessed a scroll bearing their names and a copy of the previous days newspaper placed into bottles and buried beneath the foundation stones of the chapels. They then retired to a marquee to drink a number of toasts proposed by Mr F.A. Wood, a local antiquary who was standing in for the absent vicar. Mr Wood was, he said, not sure how to propose the toasts as “’success to the cemetery’ would look like as though he wanted the cemetery filled as soon as possible.” The Burial Board spent £20,000 on setting up the cemetery including the cost of the land and of building the chapels (these were demolished in 1986). According to Hugh Meller in ‘London Cemeteries’ over 80,000 burials have taken place and “in an attempt to create room for further burials, graves now fill one of the main paths which resemble a marble traffic jam. As an alternative solution, towards the back of the cemetery earth has been piled up to provide space for yet more.” In this crammed space the council still insists on using mechanical diggers to excavate new graves, much to the outrage of cemetery users:

A grieving son has slammed Brent Council, claiming they have showed disregard for the dead by employing digger truck drivers who are desecrating graves in a cemetery. Maxwell Glengall has told the [Kilburn] Times that the trucks are continuously driven around and over graves in Willesden New Cemetery as they try to dig new spaces. But he says they are carelessly knocking off parts of headstones and even driving over graves, due to overcrowding…. Mr Glengall, whose mother has been buried in the cemetery since July 2012, added that he was also concerned at the dirt tracks being left by the diggers which have made much of the area inaccessible…..“I’m very worried that my mother’s grave is going to be badly treated and worry about those people who have gone to visit their loved ones and found damage to their graves. How must they feel? Is this how council cemeteries are run? I thought it was at least 100 years before a site was retired for re-use. How can it have gone so far downhill?”  A spokesman for Brent Council said they “sincerely regretted any upset” but that they were similar to all other councils in using diggers to excavate graves. He added that it was “a much safer option for staff” and saved time.” (Kilburn Times, March 2013)

Other notable events in the cemeteries history include the funeral of the Australian cricketer Albert Edward Trott in August 1914 who at the age of 41 shot himself at his lodgings in Denbigh Road, Harlesden. Trott is supposedly the only batsman to have hit a ball over the Lords Pavilion during a match. Like his older brother Harry, who captained Australia in the 1896 test tour, Albert suffered from mental illness. At his inquest his landlady, with whom he had lodged for two and a half years, testified that on the day of his death he had sent for a sleeping draught to a local chemist as he had not slept all night but the chemist refused to serve it. She had heard a noise from his room and when she went to investigate found him lying on his back with a bullet wound in his right temple and a revolver in his hand. On a scrap of paper he had written a last will and testament; ‘Drawers and wardrobe to Mrs - , photos and drawers for Mrs— Clark Street, Victoria, Australia.' The MCC paid for his funeral.

According the newspapers there were wild scenes at the funeral of Mrs Ada Petchey and her 2 year old daughter when a crowd of nearly 500 women turned up baying for the blood of Mr Petchey the deceased’s husband. The two women had died from gas poisoning at their lodgings and at the inquest it was revealed that Mr Petchey had left his wife and child without money after a quarrel and hadn’t returned home until he read of their deaths in the papers. An hour before the funeral crowds began to gather at the top of Tubbs Road in Willesden where the funeral cortege was due to start its journey to the cemetery. A crowd gathered around the mourning coach trying to get hold of Mr Petchey who had to be protected by the police and the undertaker’s men. A large crowd of women booed and hissed as the cortege got under way and at the cemetery Mr Petchey was barracked and verbally abused by a seething mass of incensed women who, unable to get at him because of a cordon of police officers, resorted to hurling clods of earth at him as he tried to get away.
Willesden was the burial place of Elsie Cameron in January 1925. Elsie had been murdered by her lover Norman Thorne at Crowborough in Surrey in what the newspapers dubbed the chicken run murder. Thorne was a Sunday school teacher from Kensal Green who met typist Elsie in 1917. When he lost his job as an engineer he used his savings to set up as a poultry farmer in Crowborough. He tried to break his romantic entanglement with the older Elsie several times but without success. When she claimed to be pregnant he snapped and apparently strangled her. His version of the story was that she had hung herself. He claimed that he had panicked and decided to get rid of her body by dismembering it with a hacksaw and burying it on the farm. Not surprisingly the jury did not believe him. Elsie was buried on Monday 26 January with large crowds gathering at the cemetery to see the funeral. Cemetery officials locked the gates to prevent access to the private funeral and so the curious stood twelve deep outside the Wesleyan Chapel and lined the road into the cemetery. Amongst the floral tributes were a wreath from Thorne’s parents and another which seemed to be from the murderer himself, “Till we meet again, Norman” being the message on the card. Elsie did not rest long in her rave, four weeks later in what one newspaper called a “weird scene” she was exhumed. The exhumation began shortly before midnight under the strictest secrecy, in a sharp wind on a bitterly cold and frosty night. It took several hours to dig out the freezing grave and the coffin was not opened until first light. The exhumation had been carried out at the request of Thorne’s legal representatives. As well as Scotland Yard and the accused’s pathologist, Sir Bernard Spilsbury, England’s most famous forensic pathologist was also present. He gave evidence for the crown at Thornes trial. The poultry famer was hanged at Wandsworth prison in April that year, still protesting his innocence.        

Saturday, 24 September 2016

The Georgie Girl who Died on Honeymoon; Georgina Robinson (died 1965) Willesden New Cemetery

I was unable to find out any more than was revealed in the epitaph (inscribed with a heart with G inscribed on one side and M on the other) about this rather sad memorial.  

Georgina “Georgie” Robinson, nee Owen
Killed in a road accident – France
4th September 1965
Returning from honeymoon
Two weeks before this day of sadness
We’d stood together in joy and gladness
Our life together was at the start
Too soon came true “Till death do us part”
Your Loving husband Maurice
A smile for all, a heart of gold
No one on earth her place could hold
Never selfish, always kind
These are the memories she left behind

Sadly missed – Mum and sister June

Sunday, 18 September 2016

"Let me have your wife's head and I will give you a pound." How a tooth extraction which went wrong led to a strange dispute between the surgeons of St. Thomas' Hospital and a sailor man.

Crude techniques could lead to serious complications in early 19th century dentistry 
Wednesday 3rd December 1817. Christopher Smith, wine merchant, former radical member of Parliament for St. Albans and the newly elected Lord Mayor of London took his seat as magistrate and judge in the Lord Mayor’s Court in Mansion House. The Lord Mayor had the powers of a magistrate but as few of them had any legal training or background the average Mayor, as a commentator in the Monthly Repository put it, had to “pretend to be a judge, by being the mouthpiece of certain dicta spoken in his ear as he sits, by a salaried lawyer, called a town clerk or city solicitor.” The writer went on to decry the farce by which the Lord Mayor’s were “as gilded speaking trumpets for the use of that legal oracle Mr. Hobler.” The formidable James Hobler, fluent in French, Spanish, German and Latin, noted for his wit and intellect, a "fine, tall, upright, powdered-headed gentleman of the old school, always neatly, though somewhat eccentrically dressed, in a closely buttoned-up black coat, drab breeches and gaiters” had been legal clerk to the Mayor for more years than anyone could remember and would remain in office until his death in 1843.   Successive Lord Mayors were ephemeral annuals briefly flowering in the presence of that hardy annual Mr Hobler. Boz adroitly captured the atmosphere of mutual admiration that flourished between the Mayors and their clerk; "the Lord Mayor threw himself back in his chair, in a state of frantic delight at his own joke; every vein in Mr. Hobler's countenance was swollen with laughter partly at the Lord Mayor's facetiousness, but more at his own; the constables and police officers were (as in duty bound) in ecstasies at Mr. Hobler and the Lord Mayor combined; and the very paupers, glancing respectfully at the beadle's countenance, tried to smile, as even he relaxed." Whether Dickens was exaggerating can be judged from the scene that unfolded in the Mansion House on that Wednesday morning in December 1817.

Mr Hobler liked to be prepared and it was his habit to run through the list of applicants and litigants waiting to see the Mayor and carry out a preliminary interview before allowing them into the courtroom.  If Mr Hobler’s extensive experience led him to believe that there was not much in the way of wayward behaviour that he had not witnessed he was to be startled out of his complacency that morning.  A sailor, “a decent looking young man” according to more than one newspaper, presented himself in some agitation wishing to ask the Mayor to intervene with the surgeons of St Thomas Hospital. When Mr Hobler learnt the particulars of the case he could scarcely believe his ears. Once the initial astonishment had worn off Mr Hobler no doubt rubbed his hands together gleefully at the reaction the case would provoke in the new Lord Mayor. The sailor was ushered into the court and told to explain to his Lordship what assistance he required. 
“I would humbly request your Lordship to compel some hard hearted fellows in the Borough to surrender my mother’s head,” said the sailor.
“Your mother's head! For the love of God, is it separated from the body?” barked Sir Christopher.

Portrait of Mr Hobler
“Yes, my Lord, they cut away the head, and told me I might have the body if I pleased. Accordingly I took the body, but I can’t bear to think of leaving the head behind, and I hope your Lordship will see it delivered to me, “said the sailor, quite calmly.
“This is the most strange thing I ever heard of,” Sir Christopher muttered, almost to himself before turning to Mr Hobler and adding “For God’s sake, is the man serious in saying that his mother has lost her head ?”   
“The case is not without foundation my Lord” Mr Hobler said archly before explaining that the sailor’s mother had died some days before in St. Thomas’ Hospital.
“Ahhhh,” said the Mayor, the penny finally dropping, “then, it is of the surgeons of St. Thomas' you complain?”
“Yes, my Lord, of the butchers there. They are willing to let me do what I please with the body, but are determined to keep the head for themselves as a curiosity, for poor mother died of a toothache.”
“Of toothache?” said Sir Christopher, sensing a looming opportunity to exercise his wit and make Mr Hobler laugh, “This is still more extraordinary. I have certainly heard that the most effectual way of curing the toothache is by cutting off the head, but I never before heard that such a complaint would cause death.”  Mr. Hobler, displaying not the slightest sign of amusement and addressing the Mayor as though he were a half wit, began to laboriously explain to the explain the circumstances of the case.
“My Lord,” he said, “the young man means that his mother died in consequence of bungling attempts to extract a tooth, her gums were so lacerated by the operation that gangrene took hold and death soon followed. She was taken to St. Thomas’ Hospital, where the surgeons, no doubt finding that the case presented great novelty, asked for and obtained leave to examine the head.”

“I never had a notion of leaving any part of my mother in their hands!” interjected the sailor. He told Sir Christopher that he had had his mother’s body at home two days and it would stay there until the surgeons yielded up the missing head and he could bury her complete.    
“They certainly are not justified in detaining the head, and should have restored it to you after it had served their professional purposes,” Sir Christopher remarked.
“I suspect that the professional purposes of the surgeons will not be answered until the head is in pickle,” observed Mr Hobler.
“This is indeed a very indefensible practice; besides it will terrify the relatives of patients who die in the hospital, by giving them reason to suppose that when they are following the deceased to their graves they are following bodies without heads, or heads without bodies.” A medical man who happened to be present asked for leave to speak and when this was granted argued that in this situation the interests of science were paramount adding “for my part, if I was going off with a disorder little known to practitioners, I would not care into how many pieces I was cut for the benefit of science.”
“And yet,” said Mr Hobler to Sir Christopher “although it is the common talk of physicians, I never knew one of the profession who had any inclination to have his bones dangling in an anatomy-room, or his head in a bottle.”
“There may be cases of the kind which are concealed in consideration of the prejudices of the weaker sex,” said the physician mysteriously.
“l don't know how we can prosecute resurrection men for stealing dead bodies, if such practices are allowed. Something of this kind is more distressing to the feelings than a church-yard robbery!” said Sir Christopher, “Our habits are such that cannot endure the burial of a body piecemeal. Even in the field of battle we should endeavour to collect the mangled limbs of a friend before we could think of covering an atom of him with earth. At home, then, where the rites of sepulture are attended to scrupulously, it is barbarous to mangle a body and torture the feelings of a son by keeping the head of his mother for exhibition.”

The physician then began to argue the particulars of the case, making it clear in the process that he knew far more about it then anyone had hitherto suspected. He told that court that as a consequence of the gangrene the head had swollen to a “most enormous magnitude and was actually too large to be placed in the coffin with the body.”  He suggested that “the manner in which it might have been prudent to act, would have been to substitute the head of another body, which would be just as useful, at the same time that the imposition would he very excusable, and no detection could take place.” What the hospital would have done with the other headless body, he did not say. The Lord Mayor fulminated against this rather alarming proposal which had been put forward in the name of prudence. 
“The surgeons are highly reprehensible in detaining the head,” he said, “it is notorious that those disturbers of the dead called resurrection-men, who are in many cases robbers of the living, are in the habit of serving the hospital with subjects, and it would now appear as if the surgeons intended to vie with them in their trade against which the public has so great a horror.”
After a final plea from the sailor, who said that “I will go to the hospital, and stay there until my demand is agreed to, whatever reception I shall meet with, even if they were to take it into their heads to cut off my own,” the Lord Mayor ordered Cartwright the marshal to go with the sailor to St Thomas’ and demand the return of the head. i nan, attend the seaman to St. Thomas’s, and inquire the cause of the conduct complained of. An hour later Cartwright returned alone to report what had happened.  The surgeons had explained that the sailor’s father had sold the head to them for a pound. He said the poor son acknowledged he had been present when the bargain was made, but he abhorred the proposal of disposing of the head at any price. In order to satisfy the Lord Mayor that proper arrangement had been made about the head, the principal surgeon sent word that he would wait upon his Lordship the following morning. And there, as far as know, the matter ended.  

(This post is based extensively on an account entitled ‘Strange Case’ which appeared in many British newspapers during December 1817)

I originally thought this was a depiction of a dissection given that the lady on the table seems to be under little restraint for an operation being carried out before the introduction of anesthesia. The rather crude removal of the leg seems inappropriate for a dissection and entirely in keeping with the butchery of surgery. And then I noticed one of the medical gentleman holding the ladies hand, presumably to comfort her, which implies, despite her rather relaxed attitude to having her leg hacked off, that she is still alive.