The impenetrable stench of formaldehyde, a virgin white coat, and nicknaming your cadaver are all poignant memories from your first anatomy class. But in the early 19th century the situation was considerably different.
There was one major problem. There were hardly any bodies. Nowadays we rely on generous bequests from the public, but donating your physical remains used to be strictly taboo. Only those sent to the gallows were sufficiently paltry to reach the dissecting table. This was their punishment-hung, drawn, and cut up by medical students.
As today, student numbers and tuition fees were spiralling and many surgeons were neglecting teaching commitments to concentrate on lucrative operations. 1 Despite this, some students managed to find teachers who thrived on teaching anatomy.
One of these was Robert Baker, a newly qualified Leeds surgeon. Sensing that a healthy supply of cadavers was central to maintaining student numbers, temptation dealt him a