Diary of a Resurrectionist; Thursday 28th November 1811

Thursday 28th
At night went out and got 3, Jack & me Hospital Crib, Benj’n , Danl & Bill to Harpers, Jack & me 1 Big Gates, sold 1 Taunton Do. St Thomas’s.

4 bodies resurrected (3 at the Hospital Crib, 1 at Big Gates)
1 sold to Taunton, Demonstrator (of anatomy) at St Thomas’ Hospital

Hospital Crib; Crib is slang for a burial ground and likely refers to one of 3 burial grounds associated with St Thomas’ and Guy’s Hospital, most likely the one at Snows Fields (which is now Guy’s Park).

Harpers probably refers to the burial ground contiguous to Harper’s Chapel on the London Road. In 1818, 7 years later, the burial ground was at least partially exhumed by grieving and angry relatives who believed that it had been the target of resurrectionist attention; four coffins were found to “contain nothing but stone and dirt”. At the enquiry held shortly after, Dr Harper himself complained that the burial ground in question was a source of trouble for him, and claimed it was owned by a Mr Crawford, and went onto describe the horror of the overcrowding in the grounds and the vault…

Big Gates is a burial ground, but this private nickname makes it unidentifiable.

The Resurectionists mentioned are;

Mr Joseph Naples, the diary’s author, the son of a respectable stationer, from Deptford, an ex sailor, around 35 at the time the diary is written. Bransby Blake Cooper (the best source for biographical anecdotes of the Borough gang and the nephew of the great surgeon Sir Astley Cooper) says of Naples, “a civil and well conducted man, slight in person with a pleasing expression of countenance and of respectful manners…”

Jack; Jack Harnett. Little is known of Jack Harnett’s background, but at the time of the diary, he was Ben Crouch’s firm ‘friend’ and second. He was to later turn to selling teeth; when he died, he is said to have left his family a fortune of some 6000 pounds. Bransby describes him as “a rather stout, red haired, ill-looking fellow, uncouth in his manner of speaking…”

Ben’jn; Ben Crouch. An ex-prize fighter/bare knuckle boxer and the son of a Guy’s Hospital Carpenter, Crouch was the leader of the ‘Borough Gang’ and one of London’s most notorious Resurrectionists. Bransby says of him, “He was a tall, powerful, athletic man with course features, marked with the small pox…he was always rude and offensive in his manners, exceedingly artful, very rarely drunk but when so, most abusive and domineering…”

Dan’l; Daniel. Uncertain to whom this refers exactly. Often taken to be Butler, yet they appear as seperate people, but in company with one another, in some of the entries.

Butler. The son of an articulator of bones who had been a porter around the dissection rooms of St Thomas’ and the fringes of the household of Sir Astley for over a decade by the time the diary was written. He was described by Bransby as a “short, stout, good tempered man, with a laughing eye and Sancho Panza sort of expression”

Bill; Bill Harnett. Uncle of Jack Harnett, with an equally obscure background. Another boxer, Bill was part of the gang, but had some animosity with Crouch, and he often worked independantly, choosing Naples as his companion. Bransby says he was “slim but muscular, with a pleasing expression of countenance, and in his intonation and manner of speaking very much resembled an Irishman, which however I believe he was not…” Another source points out that bill’s looks had been rather spoilt by the loss of several teeth to the boxing.

The buyer mentioned is John Taunton, a demonstrator of anatomy at the United Borough Schools of Guys and St Thomas’s and a private teacher of anatomy (from his house near Hatton Garden). His position as a surgeon to the city dispensary brought him into contact with many poor sufferers of hernia and he was the founder of the charitable City of London Truss Society which aimed to provide free trusses and surgical advice to the poor (a truss is a pad and set of straps designed to support a hernia). He also made time to visit the sick poor in their homes.

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About theresurrectionists

My name is Kirsty Chilton. I am a Medical Historian working in London and relentlessly searching for the body snatchers of 18th and 19th century London. Currently, the content of this blog is a personal project to repost and comment on the diary of 19th century Resurrectionist Joseph Naples 200 years from the time it was written.
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