- By SarahWise

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

  • Title: The Italian Boy: Murder and Grave-Robbery in 1830s London
  • Author: SarahWise
  • ISBN: 9781844133307
  • Page: 497
  • Format: Paperback
  • The Italian Boy Murder and Grave Robbery in s London Towards the end of the authorities unearthed a series of crimes at Number Nova Scotia Gardens in East London that appeared to echo the notorious Burke and Hare killings in Edinburgh three yea

    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, three bodysnatchers were put on trial for supplying the anatomy schools of London with suspiciously fresh bodies for dissection.They laTowards 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, three bodysnatchers were put on trial for supplying the anatomy schools of London with suspiciously fresh bodies for dissection.They later became known as The London Burkers, and their story was dubbed The Italian Boy case The furore which led directly to the passing of controversial legislation which marked the beginning of the end of body snatching in Britain.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 Here is a window on the lives of the poor a window that is opaque in places, shattered in others but which provides an unprecedented view of low life London in the 1830s.

    1 thought on “The Italian Boy: Murder and Grave-Robbery in 1830s London

    1. A fascinating tale from the brutal Victorian age. We may think of steampunk and coming out balls, but for the average person it was dirty and brutal. A day before sewers, health and safety regulations, and food preservation. It was at the very cusp of what we would call a police force, and it was still going through its growing pains. There were no appeals courts and children were sent out to help earn a living for their familyE ITALIAN BOY is set at this time and tells the tale of two London "b [...]

    2. Fascinating history of one of the famous murder cases in 1830's London which lead to changes in the laws with regard to "body snatching". In the era of Charles Dicken's, London was teaming with poverty, with real life child slavery gangs run by "Fagin" type characters. Under the new Vagrancy Act, poverty was literally a crime. Constables were often in the pay of the wealthy who didn't want to be confronted with small children and impoverished people begging on the street. The workhouses and Mars [...]

    3. Unfortunately, what this book most reminded me of was Jon Krakauer's Under the Banner of Heaven: A Story of Violent Faith, which I gave one star because it was 20% about what it claimed to be about and 80% about everything else. This book has a similar ratio -- 20% murder mystery, 80% 1830s London bla bla bla.Look, I understand that when you write a book like this, you need to give some historical background to get a sense of the zeitgeist in which the event happened. But there comes a point whe [...]

    4. I think the title of this book is somewhat misleading. At the very least, it should be renamed something along the lines of, 'The Italian Boy: A Tale of Murder and Body Snatching, the study of Anatomy and the Acquisition of Bodies by Surgeons, the Workings of the Justice System, the Living Conditions of the Poor, and the Social Injustices in 1830s London, and much, much more."Author Sarah Wise attempts to cover all these subjects. She does not limit herself to the murder. Rather she attempts to [...]

    5. If you are interested in crime and lowlife, you will find this saga of a group of London grave robbers compelling for the most part. Apparently, the case of "The Italian Boy" murder case was quite a cause celebre in London of the 1830s. It touched on a primal fear people had of ending up in a medical school dissecting class. It was so famous, there were many contemporary pop culture references to it (like in the novel Middlemarch, written later, but set in 1832, which contained an obscure refere [...]

    6. Even in the criminal underground of 19th century London, grave-robbers were shunned and despised, but tolerated if they were buying the drinks. Apparently, many "resurrectionists" were heavy drinkers. But when grave-robbing turns to murder, even the tipplers couldn't turn a blind eye."The Italian Boy" by Sarah Wise covers a criminal case from the 1830's in which a team of body sellers were accused of killing a homeless waif and trying to sell his corpse to the various anatomists who were their r [...]

    7. An interesting book about 'burking' in London.Well written and interesting, but it did drag out a little. I think the author was attempting to get maximum millage our of minimum material.3.5 stars rounded up to 4 .

    8. This book is amazing. It sets out to do several things, and it does all of them elegantly and in meticulous detail, which is not a common combination.The central focus of the book is the trial of John Bishop, Thomas Williams (aka Thomas Head and a whole host of other names), and James May for "burking" a vagrant boy. "Burking," from William Burke, means to murder someone for the value of their corpse, specifically in order to sell them to an anatomy school for use in the teaching of dissection. [...]

    9. The beginning of this book establishes what an Italian boy beggar meant to the citizens of London at this time, which is good because it's not what one might expect. Impoverished Italian boys were seen as beautiful, cherubic innocents - almost a class apart from regular, English boy beggars. Which is one reason why this murder was so heavily covered by the press. The other reason is why the boy was murdered to begin with - to obtain his body for selling to medical schools.Following the lives and [...]

    10. This book is a sensational piece of history which acts as a window into the 1800s, and the often dismal lives of the London underclass. It's a perfect blend of details from the lives of the body-snatchers, and a broad overview of corpse-snatching in general. I highly recommend.(UPDATE: My good friend the Headsman wrote an excellent blog entry about this case, including an interview with The Italian Boy's author.)

    11. I enjoyed the depth and detail of this book, particularly with respect to the lives of the desparately poor. However; I was somewhat unsatisfied with the discussion of the motives of criminals as well as Wise's constant digression in the details of other murders, possible participants, speculative identities, the workings of the meatmarkets, wealthy doctors, the differences between public and private medical schools, etc. Because Wise cuts such a large swath through early nineteenth century Lond [...]

    12. Very informative. All about the resurrection men. And three who got caught. They were burkers (given a new name for resurrection men from one who got caught in Scotland). Very detail-oriented. Last night I was looking at some of the footnotes I hadn't bothered with while I was reading and they are very informative. For the most part, they are not the type where they are just giving a book citation but actually filling out the text with extra information that really didn't belong in a text. Just [...]

    13. A fascinating insight into the lives of the Victorian 'under-class', the courts, and the Medical Establishment of London in 1830-31, as the newly formed police investigate the crimes at Number 3, Nova Scotia Gardens in East London. The notorious Burke and Hare body snatching cases in Edinburgh had introduced new words into the English vocabulary, to Burke, burking and Burkers. The London body snatchers turned to burking (murder)in the search for fresh corpses for the anatomy departments of the L [...]

    14. A wonderfully atmospheric look at the body-snatching "resurrection" trade in early Victorian London with a sensational crime of the time at the center. Wise's fascinating narrative also offers a vivid look at poverty and the criminal underground in 1830s London, Victorian attitudes toward morality, the intricacies of the justice system, and great changes occurring in law enforcement, crime detection, and medicine at the time.

    15. This a very intense and hart breaking read. The abuses and injustices that occurred are so sad. Wise really pulls you into that moment in history and lays it out for the cold, hard truth that it was.Excellent piece of work.

    16. Good recreation of 1830's era London, but the main narrative of the boy's murder by so-called "resurrectionists" draggedd draggedd dragged.

    17. Dopo Vanity Fair, non riesco a "schiodarmi" dalla Londra di inizio '800! A dire il vero, dopo quel mattone (piacevolissimo, ma pur sempre un mattone!), non mi sarebbe dispiaciuto leggere qualcosa di leggero, breve e in italiano, ma non ho trovato nulla di "adatto" (pur avendo casa piena di libri! Ma se per un certo titolo non è arrivato il "momento giusto", non c'è nulla da fare), perciò, fedele al proposito di leggere anche qualche saggio, ho iniziato questo The Italian Boy, che venne fuori [...]

    18. Starving immigrants fleeing wars, abandoned children sold into servitude , or unwed women shunned by "respectable " people have become rootless and they flood into the dehumanizing city. The industrial revolution has reshuffled the old agrarian social structure. These unwanted unfortunates are shuttled from parish to parish. Their value is only increased in death when the carcass is sold to anatomy students. Sometimes those deaths are accelerated by the resurrection men who supply those cadavers [...]

    19. This book could have been written in about 150 pages instead of 300+. The Chapter about Smithfield Meat Market, in the middle of the book, was completely unnecessary. The author tells you at the beginning about her difficulties with researching this book. That definitely shows through. This story was not without interest, but the author could have told it without so much meandering.

    20. This book seemed to be more about the history of London and less about a murder. So much of the book had little or nothing to do with the murder of the Italian Boy and I constantly wondered how it was going to tie in. I tried so very hard to enjoy this book but it was so diluted that at one point I forgot the purpose of the book and wondered why I purchased it to begin with.

    21. The body snatchers are wandering about London looking for someone to buy the body. Pages and pages and pages of this. Gave up through boredom.

    22. A large chunk of this book is context. Portions of it cover an unseen side of the era - the poor, the sensational news, burking. The murder itself serves as a vehicle to explore these topics.

    23. The Italian boy was one of a thousand of orphans living on the London streets in 1831, amongst the poor in company of con artist, beggars and prostitutes. The Italian boy's body was sold to a London medical college and the suppliers of the body were caught and arrested for murder. When this high profile court case took place it was unravelled there was a London trade in human corpses. These men hid behind the complete chaos of a growing city. Choosing their prey amongst low lives whose bodies wo [...]

    24. Don't get me wrong, I liked this book (I'm trying to combat grade inflation in my rating system)- it was the literary equivalent of Law & Order: 1830s London. I studied the history of science and medicine quite a bit in school, so that theme was of great interest to me. Same goes for the birth of crimonology and forensic science- though if you're going to read just one narrative non-fiction with that in mind then I'd go for The Killer of Little Shepherds: A True Crime Story and the Birth of [...]

    25. A very interest account of bodysnatching in 19th century London. It focuses on the case of - you guessed it - and Italian boy murdered by a gang of resurrectionists, a few years after the far more famous Burke and Hare case in Edinburgh, and provides a fairly comprehensive account of the various factors that led to to the trade, as well as the way it actually worked. The book also gives a fascinating insight into life for the urban poor in London at the time. Sadly the book is let down, it lost [...]

    26. This is a historical non-fiction/true crime book about a trial in 1830's London. After was found that a couple of professional bodysnatchers had decided there wasn't enough trade in already dead people, and had decided to speed things up, legislation that automatically donated the unclaimed bodies of poor people to teaching hospitals and anatomy schools was passed, putting graverobbers out of business. The book covers the investigation and trial of the case, and sums up the aftermath. I promise [...]

    27. There were times when I had to put this book down and take a breath. Body-snatchers, imagery of animals being slaughtered in unwholesome, foul conditions and the streets rank with filth and steam from rancid pools of muck. There was a lot of aspects of English culture that I hadn't been aware of or thought about - I knew that body snatching occurred then, but not how lucrative it was for the time, nor how horrible the body peddling trade was or how the resurrection gangs were feared. Many facts [...]

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