Sir Bernard Spilsbury case reports now available

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By | From the Collections

Archives and Manuscripts, Wellcome Library, are delighted to announce that the Sir Bernard Spilsbury material purchased at Sothebys earlier this year has now been catalogued and is available to researchers subject to the usual conditions of access to archival and manuscript material. The catalogue can be viewed via the online database: detailed descriptions can be found by clicking on the collection reference and the individual item numbers.

The collection consists of notes on index cards of 3658 pathological investigations performed by Sir Bernard Spilsbury, 1905-1933. They do NOT include many of his most famous cases as witness for the Crown in cases of murder or manslaughter (the cards relating to several of these are now held at the Galleries of Justice, Nottingham). They do, however, include a significant number of cases in which death was the result of a criminal action: besides several instances of murder and manslaughter, Spilsbury reported on numerous cases of illegal abortion and suspicious infant death, and investigated many cases of suicide (at that period a crime). However, the majority deal with sudden or unexpected deaths through natural causes or accidents. Spilsbury also performed a number of autopsies on the victims of judicial execution.

The collection is of much wider interest than merely forensic medicine. For example, Spilsbury examined a significant number of deaths from work accidents or occupational diseases, including the TNT poisoning of munitions workers during the First World War. There are instances of deaths from medical accidents, or hastened (in Spilsbury’s view) by the patient’s resort to alternative therapies.

These cards form a rich resource for the social, as well as the medical, historian. Queries should be addressed to

Lesley Hall

Lesley Hall

Lesley Hall, FRHistS, PhD, DipAA, has been an archivist at the Wellcome since 1979. She has published extensively on the history of sexuality and gender in Britain in the 19th and 20th centuries, given many talks and conference presentations, and featured on radio and television. Further details can be found at her website.

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