Funerals aren’t what they used to be. Twenty-first century funerals have sealed coffins, pop songs – Frank Sinatra’s ‘My Way’ and Queen’s ‘Don’t Stop Me Now’ are two of the most popular – and a ‘celebration of life’. You might be instructed to wear colourful clothes instead of black. One of the strangest ‘celebrations of life’ I’ve ever been to was a fancy-dress wake in an incredibly classy beach house. Drunk Mexican wrestlers and Che Guevaras were clutching each other and crying on the cream leather sofas.
Have you ever gone to hospital for an operation and wondered whether your surgeon had any kind of training? Ever wondered whether your baby’s food is poisonous? Ever wondered whether coroners actually know anything about the causes of the causes of death, or whether they just make something up? No?? Say thank you to Thomas Wakley – boxer, surgeon, editor, coroner, MP, and one of the nineteenth century’s greatest heroes!! Continue reading
With criteria like these, it looks the Victorians thought everyone was mad! But who decided if a person was mad or not? And just how did you end up in a Victorian asylum? Continue reading
In honour of International Women’s Day, let’s celebrate one of the most inspirational women of the nineteenth century – Elizabeth Garrett Anderson.
Ah, February 14!! A day long associated with flowers and hearts – beautiful dissected hearts, pickled in jars!! Because, of course, today is the 286th birthday of John Hunter, the godfather of modern surgery. Continue reading
On Tuesday 4th February I showed off at Museum Showoff. It was a great night. I particularly enjoyed discovering that the corpse of the mighty philosopher Jeremy Bentham has starred in a horror film, menacing some astro-physicists who were the only people to survive a zombie apocalypse. The show’s finale was a mind-blowing talk about maggots from the Natural History Museum’s curator of flies. Did you know that chocolate is legally allowed to contain up to 5% maggots? Me neither. I feel slightly less enthusiastic about chocolate now.
In the early nineteenth century many people genuinely believed that personality and aptitudes – from criminal tendencies to tendency towards religion – were mapped out on the contours of the skull. Continue reading
Mesmerism spread to Britain in the 1780s. The establishment were sceptical. They saw mesmerism as unscientific, and worse, un-English. The Frogs and the Krauts might go in for such effeminate mumbo-jumbo, but John Bull was not going to fall for such nonsense. Despite this, the political classes got quite hysterical about it during the revolutionary wars. They worried that the French were using ‘magnetic spies’ to pry into the minds of British.
‘There is only one illness,’ pronounced Franz Anton Mesmer, ‘and only one cure.’ This cure was animal magnetism, a practice that united eighteenth century society in debate. From royalty to peasants, politicians to revolutionaries, scientists to Freemasons: everyone had an opinion on magnetism. Continue reading