King's College London
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Stories of Strand-Aldwych

Dissection

In the days after the execution the bodies of Bishop and Williams were delivered to King’s for dissection.

Leading the dissection was Dr Thomas Watson, Professor of Forensic Medicine at King’s.

In his lecture to the students present Watson described what he hoped to achieve from the dissection of Bishop:

‘He desired to ascertain whether, under circumstances calculated to gorge the vessels of the head, those of the brain were or were not made really more full than usual. With this object he examined the brains of two men (Bishop and Williams) hanged.’

Watson went onto describe the condition of the two bodies:

‘When the scalp in these cases was divided, a great quantity of blood escaped; marking plainly enough the congestion of the vessels exterior to the cranium: but there was no congestion observable within. ‘The sinuses contained blood, but in no extraordinary quantity; the larger vessels on the surface and between the convolutions were but moderately filled; and the pia mater was, upon the whole, paler, and less vascular, than we often find it in ordinary cases.’ (…) I paid particular attention to the condition of the head of Bishop, the murderer of the Italian Boy. When the corpse was brought hither after the execution, the eyes were bloodshotten, and the lips and countenance turgid and livid. The inner surface of the scalp when it turned back, and the exposed surface of the skull, were very red and bloody; and in one part, on the right side of the head, there was some blood exhausted. But when the bone had been sawn through, and the skull-cap removed, the large veins of the brain did not appear unnaturally full.’[1]

During the dissection at King’s, Dr Watson remarked, upon the condition of Bishop’s body that, ‘there was a reason to believe that the sufferings of the individual (Bishop) were entirely at an end as soon as black blood reached the brain (a period generally marked by the occurrence of convulsions), although life was not yet extinct, as the circulation continued for some time longer.’[2]

 

[1] Sarah Wise, The Italian Boy, (London: Vintage Digital, 2012) pp. 322-323.

[2] London Medical Gazette, Volume IX 8 October 1831 – 31March 1832, (London, 1832), pp. 396-399.

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