Tried for stealing dead bodies from St. Giles' Churchyard
The resurrection-men of London, like other combinations of workmen, struck for higher wages the other day, and refused to supply the Edinburgh and Glasgow schools of surgery with dead bodies, under an advance of two guineas for each subject. These sacrilegious ruffians assigned as reasons for such demand the increased difficulties and dangers attendant upon the robbery of a churchyard, even in alliance with the sexton of the parish, and the great scarcity of sound subjects after they have resurrectioned them, from the more corrupt manner in which men now die, as well as live.
A numerous gang of these grave robbers was not long ago apprehended at Deptford near London; and one circumstance will, perhaps, give the reader some idea of the habits of these singular thieves: having been at their usual pot-of-beer club, the men on duty for that night were rather late in going to work; so that before they had got their regular load, daylight broke in upon them, and the bustle of persons passing and repassing by the churchyard compelled them, from fear of detection, to hide themselves in the very tombs where they had, during the preceding night, been disturbing the peaceful ashes of the dead.
Thomas Light, alias John Jones, alias Thomas Knight, who was lately indicted at the Middlesex sessions, for stealing dead bodies for dissection, but did not appear for trial, in consequence of which a bench warrant was lately issued against him, was, on the 13th October, 1812, with his accomplice, one of his bail, named Patrick Harnell, charged by Watts, a horse-patrole, in having been the night before found in the act of stealing three dead bodies from St. Pancras or St. Giles's burying-ground, which are separated by a wall only, by the horse patrole of the Hamstead and Higbgate district.
Light attempted to escape, but was secured; and, from the frequency of such offences, strong indignation was excited. It was not clear from which burying ground the bodies were stolen; and, therefore, the magistrate ordered notice to be served on St. Giles's parish officers, to attend the final examination, on a future day, and remanded the prisoners. One of the dead bodies was that of a female, apparently of eighteen years of age -- a second, a boy of about twelve -- and the third, a new-born infant. The sack into which they were all crammed was taken to the Elephant and Castle public-house at Pancras, in the hope of their being owned and re-interred. It appeared on a second examination that the dead bodies had been paupers who had died in the poorhouse of St. Giles's, and had been buried in the burial ground belonging to the said parish; and from whence they had been taken. The prisoners denied having any knowledge of the transaction, farther than seeing two men with the sacks, who made their escape.
Light was at length brought to trial at the quarter sessions, in October, 1812, for this most unnatural kind of theft. Besides the suspicion upon him in the affair at Pancras, above-mentioned, it was proved, that one evening he was stopped in Great James-street, Bedford-square, on his road to an eminent surgeon's, with the dead body of a man; but the proof failed of his having stolen it out of a churchyard; and, though not a shadow of a doubt remained of his guilt, he for a while escaped the punishment of his crime.