England

Cemetery riot sparked by allegations of bodies being sold

June 3, 1862
Sheffield, England
A riot erupts after accusations claiming the Wardsend Cemetery had been selling corpses to medical schools

The accusations were revealed to be false, though it was discovered those in care of the cemetery were reusing graves to save space. The accused were fined for the remains being disinterred as well as given a compensation for the damage the rioters caused.

An excerpt from The Times (London, England), June 9, 1862, describes the riot and its aftermath:

It will be remembered that on Tuesday night a large crowd of people, exasperated beyond all control by the horrible disclosures that had been made of the manner in which human remains were desecrated, broke into the sextons house and set it on fire, Mrs Howard narrowly escaping with her life.

Damage to the extent of £500 was done at the house and at the cemetery.

((Note: £500 in 1862 would be worth roughly £59,000 now, or a bit under US$79,000))

The mob searched for the sexton, but could not find him, fortunately for him.

As the news of the discoveries spread through the town the parents and relatives of many of the persons buried in the ground proceeded to the place, and numbers of them began excavating the graves in order to satisfy themselves that the remains had not been tampered with.

In several cases no trace of the coffins could be found, and this, of course, greatly increased the excitement.

The most revolting discovery of all, however, was made in an unused part of the cemetery grounds, where was found a large hole, roughly covered with earth and planks, and containing about twenty coffins, and a box in which were the remains of a man who had been dissected at the Sheffield Medical School.

It was found that underneath the coffins was a mass of human remains several feet in thickness, which were alleged to have been accumulated by the throwing of dissected bodies into the hole without coffins, and the emptying of bodies from coffins removed from graves in the cemetery.

A number of coffins, and twenty four coffin plates, removed from coffins which had been placed in the ground within the last three years, were found in the stable.

The examinations of the place which were made in the course of the week disclosed such a state of things, that the Bench were loudly called upon to interfere to punish the offenders and secure the future protection of the public.

Mr. Jackson, chief constable, said he had to apply to the magistrates to aid him in the investigation of the circumstances which had notoriously occurred at Wardsend burial ground and at the sexton’s house, he stated that on going to the cemetery he found in the side of the hill a large hole.

It had the appearance of having been arched, but there were boards driven in at the side to support it.

The hole had been covered with planks and earth, but this the people had removed.

He saw a square box containing what evidently were the remains of a man, as also a number of coffins, twenty inches broad and fifteen or eighteen inches deep.

By the directions of one of the magistrates he had the square box removed to the cemetery stable.

Having got another box made sufficiently large to hold the one taken from the hole, he had it and the body put into this new box and brought to the police office here.

It was a deal box, about three feet six inches long, twenty inches broad, and fifteen or eighteen inches deep.

The box did not appear to have been buried.

The body had evidently been dissected, the flesh having been removed from the bones.

Evidence was given to show that the body found in the box had been received from the Medical School in the ordinary way, and that an interment certificate had been given by the incumbent, although the remains had not been interred.

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