Wednesday, 31 December 2014

31st December 1814: The dissection of Joanna Southcott

Dr. Richard Reece, though not a believer that Joanna Southcott was any kind of prophet, had medically attended upon her for several weeks prior to her death. He quickly published a pamphlet about his whole encounter very soon after her death, and extracts from it were published in many newspapers. This extract was published in the Manchester Mercury of 17th January 1815:

"The following day, a quarter of an hour before the time appointed, I arrived at Mrs. S.’s in order to prepare the body for the operation, but I was not permitted to touch it till the expiration of the hour, hanging as it were with a fond and eager hope to the last moment, in the cherished expectation of her rising again. At the appointed hour of two, the medical gentlemen were punctual in their attendance, viz. Dr. Adams, Dr. Sims; Messrs Taunton, Clarke, Want, Caton, Mathias, Cooke, and several others, whose names I not acquainted with. I then went with some of the disciples to the apartment where the body was lying, and I was surprised to find her exactly in the same situation as when she died, lying in bed, and covered with flannel, with her wearing apparel, rings, and every thing in the same unaltered state. The body was now in such a high degree of putrefaction, that we could not trust to the limbs to convey it, and it was accordingly moved to the table on a sheet. On every thing being in readiness, the attendance of the medical men was requested, who all placed themselves round the table, and behind them stood the disciples smoking tobacco; a proof that they did not consider the prophetess to possess the most savoury odour!

"The disappointment of her disciples on opening of the body, may be better conceived than described. It was strongly depicted in every countenance. Mr. Sharpe was the only one that held out to the rest the balm of consolation. Life, he observed, was involved in mystery. His mind had been so often turned to the investigation of the works of the Deity, to discover evidence for the existence of the soul, that, he was satisfied of the existence of a God and of a soul: that he was in hopes, by this woman, something would be revealed; but now he felt greatly disappointed, and all the he could say was, that he was in the same state with respect to his knowledge of God, as before he saw this woman. The two female attendants, Mrs. Townly and Mrs. Underwood, were inconsolable. They had all pictured to themselves many happy days, the enjoyment of heaven on earth. This sad event, this unexpected change, to suddenly coming upon them, was too much to bear. One of the disciples declared he should turn Unitarian. None condemned her as an impostor—one declared he would ever revere her memory, and once a month visit the spot where she was laid with pious and reverential awe!!!

The Morning Post of the 2nd January published (among others) a declaration by the medical men present about the outcome of the dissection:


We, the undersigned, present at the dissection of Mrs. JOANNA SOUTHCOTT, do certify, that no unnatural appearances were visible, and no part exhibiting any visible appearance of disease sufficient to have occasioned her death; that a number of gall stones were found in the gall bladder, and the intestines were unusually distended with flatus, and no appearance of her ever having been pregnant. The uterus was not distended, enlarged, or diseased, but on the contrary rather smaller than the usual size.

Dr. Reece.
Dr. Sims.
Dr. Adams.
Mr. Clarke.
Mr. Want.
Mr. Cooke.
Mr. Stanhope.
Mr. Caton.
Mr. Phillips.
Mr. Darling.
Mr. Foster.
Mr. Wetherall.
Mr. Santon.
Mr. Wagstaffe.
Mr. Wilkinson.

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