Yeah, body-snatching did happen back in Britain in the days before Alf’s great grandfather settled in New Zealand.
The Daily Mail (here) recalls how the illegal snatching of corpses – a common practice 200 years ago – had a greater influence on medical science than advances made during World War One.
At least, that’s what a bunch of Cambridge scientists were claiming a few months ago.
Body snatching gave medical students a vital insight into how organs of the body work and how a person is affected by disease and illness.
It also allowed doctors to dramatically improve amputation techniques.
Body snatchers would prowl the nation’s burial grounds looking for bodies, due to the shortage of cadavers available for medical students.
The latest research is published in a new book by experts who excavated human remains from the 1600s to the 1800s to analyse the influence of body snatching.
Alf hasn’t rushed to buy a copy of this book.
But it apparently includes archaeological evidence for what happened to the corpses, from autopsy to reburial, for the first time.
The findings show how medics would have prised open the skulls and chests of their black market corpses to learn how to operate and amputate.
Dr Piers Mitchell, from the University of Cambridge’s Department of Archaeology and Anthropology, said: ‘Thanks to the discoveries of the early anatomists, we have come to move towards our modern knowledge of how organs work and what normal anatomy is all about.’
Body snatching became so prevalent that it was not unusual for relatives and friends of the recently deceased to watch over the body until burial, then continue keeping watch over the grave after burial.
Body snatching in this country has had a less noble purpose, if dismembering bodies in the cause of medical science can be regarded as noble.
Here it’s a cultural matter.
And once the body has been snatched, a bereaved wife or husband will have a helluva job fighting to get it back.
An example can be found here.
James Takamore died in 2007, but before his body could be buried in Christchurch, where he had lived with his partner and children for 20 years, relatives took it back to the urupa at Kutarere Marae, near Opotiki.
His family resisted attempts by his partner, Denise Clarke, to have the body returned to Christchurch. His sister, Josephine, maintained through a series of court appeals that Tuhoe custom had the final say in where her brother should be buried.
Clarke was supported by decisions in the High Court and the Court of Appeal. In December, the Supreme Court ruled that neither Clarke nor Takamore had the absolute right to decide where the body was buried. The court ruled that while both sides’ views should be regarded, Clarke’s view was more influential in the final decision.
Chief Justice Dame Sian Elias said although the cultural claims were powerful, Takamore’s own preferences and life choices should also be taken into account.
Clarke said he wanted to be buried in Christchurch.
The court decision confirmed she was the executor of his will and had the right to decide where he would be buried. It ordered an exhumation.
Too damned right.
Now, at long last, she will get her husband back some time soon.
But a bit of Maori ceremonial stuff must be part of the process.
Any exhumations, or disinterment, from an urupa or cemetery must be licensed by the Ministry of Health under the Burial and Cremation Act 1964. Clarke’s lawyer, Gary Knight, said that he believed the exhumation was likely to be “within weeks, not months”.
Both sides had independently approached a Tuhoe elder for guidance on protocols surrounding the exhumation, he said.
Clarke told Stuff she would be “very relieved when it is all over . . . It’s been a very long five years”.
Bloody outrageous is Alf’s view of it.
But this fails to account for the fact the body in this case was snatched by special people and in this country they are accorded special privileges – such as immunity from laws that would see the rest of us banged up in jail.