"A Certain Portion of the Whole." Inspectors, Guardians and Anatomists in East Anglia : 1832-1908

Knowles, Susan Anne (2010). "A Certain Portion of the Whole." Inspectors, Guardians and Anatomists in East Anglia : 1832-1908. PhD thesis The Open University.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.21954/ou.ro.0000d3c2


This thesis reassesses the workings of the Anatomy Act (1832) in East Anglia throughout the nineteenth century. Underpinning the practice of medical education was the need to acquire human corpses to permit the essential study of anatomy. Over the course of the century the source of anatomical material moved from bodies taken from their graves by bodysnatchers to unclaimed pauper corpses from workhouses and hospitals to the increasing use of the cadavers of lunatics from the vast Victorian asylums. The accepted view of the Anatomy Act is that it stopped bodysnatching but failed to ensure a plentiful supply of cadavers. Whilst recent research has largely focused on specific changes in Poor Law legislation or the impact of the reorganisation of medical curricula on the supply of corpses, this study widens the debate by identifying seven groups; bodysnatchers, teachers of anatomy, medical students, inspectors of anatomy, paupers, guardians and those who elected them to office and examines their respective parts in attempting to solve the perennial problem of the shortage of corpses for dissection. The shifting locus of power between the groups is examined with reference to external changes which were brought to bear on their relationships. Cambridge Medical School is used as a case study to highlight the difficulties provincial schools experienced in obtaining dissection material and to indicate how, in this particular case, they were solved by the actions of determined individuals resulting in Cambridge becoming one of the most successful medical schools in the country by the end of the nineteenth century. This research contributes to the small, but growing, number of regional studies which are necessary to enable us to gain an overview of the effect of the Anatomy Act on the study of medicine across Britain in the nineteenth century.

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