Index cards of pathological investigations conducted by Spilsbury

Part of:
Spilsbury, Sir Bernard (1877-1947), Forensic Pathologist
  • Archives and manuscripts

About this work


These index cards contain the details of nearly 7000 pathological investigations performed by Sir Bernard Spilsbury (a large number of cases run to two or more cards). They represent an unknown proportion of the vast number of autopsies and other investigations performed by Spilsbury during the course of his career. They do not include many of his most famous cases as witness for the Crown in cases of murder or manslaughter (but see below on material held in the Galleries of Justice, Nottingham). They were probably abstracted from his 'little black books', selected by Spilsbury with a view to writing a textbook on forensic pathology (uncompleted at the time of his death). They cover the period 1905-1946, with some gaps - in particular there are no cards for the years 1939-1940, and the coverage for the 1940s, particularly 1944 onwards, is very sporadic, with very few cards indeed for 1945 or 1946.

Although the cards include a significant number of cases in which death was the result of a criminal action - in particular, Spilsbury reported on numerous cases of illegal abortion and suspicious infant deaths and in many cases he saw suicide was at least a possibility - the vast majority deal with sudden or unexpected deaths through natural causes or accidents. He also performed a number of autopsies on victims of judicial execution.

Spilsbury investigated many examples of death through medical accident (in particular, anaesthetic accidents), domestic, occupational or street accident. Even in some cases where death was clearly due to interpersonal violence the perpetrator was unknown.

He observed perhaps the earliest identifiable cases of TNT poisoning among munition workers during the First World War, as well as conducting autopsies on victims of Zeppelin air-raids. A few cases from the Second World War allude to death causing by air-raids and accidents due to the blackout. A number of the cases of gunshot wounds involved weapons acquired during two World Wars. Several cases during the interwar period mention previous war injuries, gassing, or shellshock of the victims.

Each card includes the name of the deceased (if known), their age (at least approximately), the date, the place (area or hospital) and the cause of death (in many cases these appear to be in a different hand than the more detailed notes). There is then a handwritten account of the findings under various subheadings, sometimes with sketches of wounds, and usually employing various abbreviations. Background information was included when known and relevant. Most cases fit on to one card (written on both sides) but a significant number extend to two or more. If the findings were subsequently invoked in a legal case the case and verdict are normally given.



Physical description

25 boxes of index cards

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