For ethical reasons, the skeleton of the “Irish giant” will no longer be displayed in the museum

For ethical reasons, the skeleton of the “Irish giant” will no longer be displayed in the museum

The skeleton of Charles Byrne, born in 1761 and suffering from gigantism, will remain at the Hunterian Museum in London to allow research and to maintain the integrity of the collection.

The 2.30m skeleton of Charles Byrne will no longer be on display at the museum. Nearly two and a half centuries after his death, the news is a small step in respecting the last wishes of the “Irish Giant”. Born in 1761 in the north of Ireland, Charles Byrne was suffering from gigantism, due to an undiagnosed benign tumor of the pituitary gland. His peculiarity became an attraction, and his livelihood: people paid two shillings to see what was reputed to be the tallest man in Georgian England.

His notoriety attracted the interest and covetousness of John Hunter, an eminent surgeon at St. George’s Hospital in London, who, the establishment recalls on its website, makes no secret of his intentions to get his hands on the body. by Charles Byrne for his collection. Horrified by this idea, the “Irish Giant” asks that at his death, his body be immersed in the sea. Charles Byrne has his savings stolen, sinks into alcohol and is found dead in his London apartment in 1783 at the age of 22, without descendants. A newspaper of the time described a “tribe of surgeons” surrounding his home like “harpooners” around a “huge whale”.

‘Not ethical’

Three years later, Charles Byrne’s skeleton appears, exhibited in John Hunter’s museum in London. His body was stolen and replaced with dead weights in the coffin as he reached the coastal town of Margate on his final seaward journey. Sources say Hunter paid £500 to friends of the “giant”.

Recognizing the “sensitivities” and “different points of view” around the exhibition of the skeleton and its conservation, the Hunterian museum of London recently announced that it would no longer be on public display when the establishment reopens, scheduled for March after five years of work. “John Hunter (1728-1793), other 18th and 19th century anatomists and surgeons acquired many specimens by means that would not be considered ethical today”noted the administrators of the Hunterian Collection.

They also announced the launch of a program dedicated to the issues “surrounding the display of human remains and the acquisition of specimens during British colonial expansion” in autumn. The removal of the skeleton from the museum is a “wonderful news”welcomed Thomas Muinzer, lecturer at the University ofAberdeen, who has been campaigning for years to ensure that Charles Byrne’s wishes are respected. But this is only one “partial success”he laments to AFP.

His last wishes: immersed in the sea

The skeleton will remain preserved to allow research and to maintain the integrity of the collection. Arguments that hardly convince Thomas Muinzer, considering that the skeleton has been widely studied, its complete DNA has been extracted from it, and patients with the same pathology still exist today. The lawyer had discovered the story of Charles Byrne in a moment of boredom, when he was a student at the University of Belfast. He then fell in love with this “forgotten famous person” and realized that the exposure of his skeleton persisted: a “injustice” which needs to be corrected.

In 2011, Thomas Muinzer had pleaded the cause of Charles Byrne by publishing with Len Doyal, professor emeritus in medical ethics at Queen Mary University of London, an article in the British Medical Journal, so that he is “concealed from the public eye” and “submerged at sea in accordance with his last wishes”. What led Charles Byrne to want to avoid being buried on the ground no longer applies today, he underlines. “We don’t have to worry anymore” of the “resurrectionists” of 18th century Englande and XIXe centuries and their traffic in corpses.

The British writer Hilary Mantelwho died last September and who wrote a fictional portrait of the “Irish Giant” had brought his voice to the mobilization, even believing that it was time to repatriate the remains of Charles Byrne to his native island.

Source link