A nightwatchman disturbs a body-snatcher who has dropped the stolen corpse he had been carrying in a hamper, while the anatomist runs away. Etching with engraving by W. Austin, 1773.

  • Austin, William, 1720-1820.
Date:
May 1773
Reference:
25668i
Part of:
Nature display'd both serious & comic in 12 designs dedicated to S. Foot Esq.r
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Description

A nightwatchman, carrying a large lantern, has seized the body-snatcher by the shoulder and sounds a rattle in his raised right hand. A female corpse in its burial shroud falls out of the hamper in which it had been carried before being dropped. The body-snatcher tries to pass on the blame by pointing to the fleeing anatomist, who runs away to the right with a skull in the crook of his arm

The rise of private anatomy schools in eighteenth-century London saw an increase in the demand for cadavers for dissection and this in turn led to the employment of "Resurrectionists", body-snatchers who would steal corpses for use in the new schools. One of these schools was run by William Hunter (1718-1783) and he is referred to in this print by the dropped piece of paper inscribed "Hunter's lectu". M.D. George in the British Museum catalogue (loc. cit.) describes the running man as "a lean man in a doctor's tie-wig" and identifies him as William Hunter himself. For other satires on William Hunter and his anatomy school and museum, see the Wellcome Library catalogue, nos 25405i and 25435i

Publication/Creation

London : William Austin, May 1773.

Physical description

1 print : etching, with engraving ; platemark 29.1 x 39.8 cm.

Lettering

The anatomist overtaken by the watch in carrying off Miss W--ts in a hamper On the sheet of paper that has fallen to the ground is the lettering: Hunters lectu<res>

References note

British Museum catalogue of political and personal satires, vol. V, London 1935, no. 5119 (entry by M. D. George)
D. F. P., "The anatomist overtaken by the watch carrying off Miss W--ts in a hamper. New Haven, Yale Medical Library, Clements C. Fry Collection," Journal of the History of Medicine, xxi, 1966, p. 295
C. H. Brock, ed. William Hunter 1718-1783. A memoir by Samuel Foart Simmons and John Hunter, East Kilbride 1983, pl. xii

Reference

Wellcome Collection 25668i

Reproduction note

As Dr Helen Brock points out in a letter to the Wellcome Institute, 22 March 1997, the figure of the corpse in the hamper also appears in a drawing of a dissection attributed to Rowlandson in the Henry E. Huntington Library, San Marino, California, reproduced in Rowlandson watercolours and drawings, 1972, by John Hayes, fig. 1, where dated about 1775-1780

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