The Italian Boy: Murder and Grave-robbery in 1830s London

Front Cover
Jonathan Cape, May 5, 2005 - Body snatching - 347 pages
8 Reviews
Towards the end of 1831, the authorities unearthed a series of crimes at Number 3, Nova Scotia Gardens in East London that appeared to echo the notorious Burke and Hare killings in Edinburgh three years earlier. After a long investigation, it became known that a group of body snatchers - two men in particular, John Bishop and Thomas Williams, called the 'London Burkers' - were supplying the anatomy schools with fresh 'examples' for dissection.

The case became known as 'The Italian Boy' and caused a furore which led directly to the passing of controversial legislation which marked the beginning of the end of body snatching in Britain. The case revealed something else as well: some extremely unpleasant aspects of life in London, a city that had increased in size by one-third to over one-and-a-half million inhabitants between 1801 and 1831, and which was continuing to expand at a phenomenal and unprecedented rate. In The Italian Boy, Sarah Wise not only investigates the case of the London Burkers but also, by making use of an incredibly rich archival store, the lives of ordinary lower-class Londoners.

She shows how the case challenged their notions of community and criminality, and how it made many feel that at the heart of their great city lay unknown, unknowable mysteries. Here is a window on the lives of the poor - a window which is opaque in places, shattered in others - but which provides an unprecedented view of low-life London in the 1830s.


From the Hardcover edition.

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Review: The Italian Boy: A Tale of Murder and Body Snatching in 1830s London

User Review  - Goodreads

Fascinating look at the "resurrection trade" in 18th century London. Well researched and written. I good read for those interested in English social history. Read full review

Review: The Italian Boy: A Tale of Murder and Body Snatching in 1830s London

User Review  - Goodreads

I was impressed with the research and the details in this book. The story in truth is highly disturbing but only because it really happened. The author does a great job with this book. Read full review

About the author (2005)

Sarah Wise has an MA in Victorian Studies from Birkbeck College. She teaches 19th-century social history and literature at the Bishopsgate Institute. Her interests are London/urban history, working-class history, medical history, psychogeography, 19th-century literature and reportage.

Her website is www.sarahwise.co.uk

Her most recent book, Inconvenient People: Lunacy, Liberty and the Mad-Doctors in Victorian England (Bodley Head), was shortlisted for the Wellcome Book Prize 2014.

Her 2004 debut, The Italian Boy: Murder and Grave Robbery in 1830s London (Jonathan Cape), was shortlisted for the 2005 Samuel Johnson Prize for Non-Fiction. Her follow-up The Blackest Streets: The Life and Death of a Victorian Slum was published in 2008 and was shortlisted for the Royal Society of Literature's Ondaatje Prize.

Sarah was a major contributor to Iain Sinclair's compendium London, City of Disappearances (2006). She has contributed to the TLS, History Today, BBC History magazine, the Literary Review, the FT and the Daily Telegraph. She discussed bodysnatching for BBC2's History Cold Case series; provided background material for BBC1's Secret History of Our Streets; and spoke about Broadmoor Hospital on Channel 5's programme on that institution.She has been a guest on Radio 4's All in the Mind, Radio 3's Night Waves and the Guardian's Books Podcast about 19th-century mental health.

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