The Italian boy : a tale of murder and body snatching in 1830s London /
Sarah Wise.
1st Owl Books ed.
New York : Henry Holt, 2005, c2004.
xvii, 375 p. : ill. ; 25 cm.
More Details
New York : Henry Holt, 2005, c2004.
general note
"A Metropolitan/Owl book."
catalogue key
Includes bibliographical references (p. 349-356) and index.
A Look Inside
This item was nominated for the following awards:
First Chapter
From The Italian Boy:

Urban poverty, so often a disgusting and harrowing sight to the respectable, could also be a source of wonder and intrigue. A beggar with a certain look, or air, or "act," could feed on city dwellers' craving for novelty and display. To London's grimmest streets, to a population with little access to books or periodicals, and no access to parks, zoos, galleries, or museums—Italian boys brought music, intriguing objects, and strange animals, plus, in many cases, their own beauty. The economies of the Italian states had been devastated by the Napoleonic Wars and throughout the 1820s there was large-scale migration, with many Italian artisans moving to northern European cities to pursue their trades. While later in the century Italian street children would be known for playing musical instruments and dancing, until the mid-1830s their principal source of income was exhibiting small animals as well as wax and plaster figures. The objects and creatures were rented out to the boys each morning by padroni who ran the trade. All in all, Italy was providing London with a better class of vagrant. The pathos an Italian boy evoked could earn his master six or seven shillings a day. Dead—and apparently murdered to supply the surgeons—his appeal only seemed to increase.

Excerpted from The Italian Boy: A Tale of Murder and Body Snatching in 1830s London by Sarah Wise
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Full Text Reviews
Appeared in Library Journal on 2004-07-01:
In her debut book, Wise, a journalist and historian of Victorian England, reconstructs the murder of one of the thousands of orphans on the streets of London in 1831. During that time of great change in this major city, a trade in human bodies existed; it was considered a "revolting but potentially lucrative" profession. A group of men called resurrectionists took bodies from graves and homes and sold them to medical colleges to be used in dissection. Anatomy teachers relied on authorities to ignore this illegal trafficking of corpses. It was soon revealed, however, that some resurrectionists would resort to killing paupers, receiving more pay for fresher bodies. Much of the book depicts the trial of three men accused of killing, or "burking," a poverty-stricken Italian boy living on the streets. The medical colleges, quietly complicit in the trade of bodies, responded to the murder by simply pushing for the passage of a bill making the bodies of deceased paupers legally available, thus ending the practice of burking. Victorian attitudes, morality, and the intricacies of the justice system are also covered in this unusual book. Recommended for larger public libraries with special collections in Victorian history.-Isabel Coates, CCRA-Toronto West Tax Office, Mississauga, Ont. (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
Appeared in Publishers Weekly on 2004-04-05:
British historian Wise's well-written first book explores the grisly underbelly of pre-Victorian London by examining the trial of three "body snatchers," John Bishop, James May and Thomas Williams, who were arrested in 1831 while attempting to sell the suspiciously fresh cadaver of a teenage boy to a medical college. Drawing on astonishingly detailed research, Wise places the crime in context by describing how a shadowy "resurrection" trade in exhumed bodies had grown up to meet the rising demand of the new science of anatomy. She explains how various Londoners, including several Italians, testified that a hat found at Bishop's home matched that of a recently vanished Italian boy peddler. Soon the new London police force was sleuthing its way to the bottom of a case that caused widespread alarm and a media circus in a city notorious for its numbers of missing persons. Wise energetically explicates every twist of the evidence with fascinating detours into the wider social context of newly vulnerable urban family life, punitive poor laws and fragmented philanthropy. Biographies of the trio of body snatchers demystify the Victorian criminal. Wise's deft prose contributes vastly to our understanding of pre-Victorian London's everyday street life, districts, trades, policing, prisons and press. Meanwhile, she skillfully manages the narrative, keeping her story gripping without sensationalizing it. Generously illustrated, this is a macabre yet historically serious work, invaluable to anyone interested in the truth of London's gory past. Agent, John Saddler, U.K. (June 1) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

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