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Inquest and Doctors' Reports Forum for discussion of the coroner's reports and inquest reports for the various victims of the Whitechapel Murders, including the observations and autopsy reports by the attending physicians

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Old July 28th, 2012, 02:39 AM   #21
Dave O
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Say Cris, thanks for transcribing that. Articles like this one, besides being interesting reading, are also helpful--I've always thought that if you wanted to learn how something is supposed to work, listen to a bunch of people arguing over what's wrong with it. A-Z mentions one for Macdonald that's like this, except the criticism there is that he didn't remove the body (he certainly wouldn't have encountered an objection if he'd had).

So it seems that unless there was a contagion or a postmortem order, and there must have been many cases where this wasn't the case, the validity of removing a body depended on whether or not the family objected. I think I can see why Baxter would get his dander up here. It's interesting that this article touches on this dwelling not being suitable for accommodating the jury's view, but then doesn't say how necessary the view was for the inquest to be legal. In this case, Baxter's probably got 13 or 14 men on his jury I bet, and perhaps the argument can be made that the state of the law at this time threatens to leave the validity of his inquest hinging on the desires of this family, and the only real way to counteract that is to order a postmortem that might have been unnecessary (if I'm understanding right). There would have been many cases where there was no postmortem, and many of those would be where the deceased died at home. Imagine if many families objected, that's a lot of conflict (and expense, if adding a guinea to your inquest is the cost of the way out of it).

But I'm sure it's true that the paperwork must have gotten sloppy, no surprise considering how many inquests they're doing, and how quickly. But sloppy's sloppy, yeah? Some of Macdonald's records look that way, and in his district, my impression is that the officers seem to have had some leeway, too.

As Baxter claims to have been doing, I think all coroners must have been doing this sort of thing routinely, claiming the same right. Macdonald certainly was moving bodies where there's no evidence in the record of a postmortem being ordered or of a contagious disease present.

Here's a request for one case in Hackney. They got this one on the 4th November 1888, and the inquest was held on the 6th, pretty typical. Here the officer suggests that they move this body, and nothing to do with law, because there's nothing in the testimony that the doctor has opened the body up. The reasons seem to be practical. The "advantage" described must have been convenience, to save time and money. Because also in Hackney, they already have another case scheduled at the Mermaid for the 6th. If they move this body to the mortuary in Mare St. that must have been nearby the Mermaid, which they did, they change the venue, and they're now able to hold two inquests at the place with only having to summon one jury, which can view both bodies at the mortuary. That's fewer men summoned from work for jury duty, and using the same venue, Macdonald can save a little on his expenses. Since he'd be reimbursed for those later, ultimately this was the ratepayers' money they're spending.

Perhaps it was common that the removal of bodies had nothing to do with determining cause of death or an infectious disease. But as you've shown, the coroner could have had a problem if the family objected. The problem seems to be the law only addresses specific scenarios that didn't encompass everything that was encountered in practice, as the end of your transcription seems to suggest.

Best,
Dave
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Old February 24th, 2015, 06:12 PM   #22
Cris Malone
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Hi Dave,
Thanks for the input and the request form from Macdonald - even if its been over two years ago. Like yourself, I find this stuff interesting. Too bad Baxter's papers have not been found or no longer exist. This may be because of a destruction schedule imposed in 1921 that stated Inquisitions and depositions dated after 1874 could be destroyed after 15 years I believe. At least someone saw fit to retain many of Macdonald's records, which you have gone to the expense to photocopy and share with us on many occasions.

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Originally Posted by Dave O View Post
...So it seems that unless there was a contagion or a postmortem order, and there must have been many cases where this wasn't the case, the validity of removing a body depended on whether or not the family objected. I think I can see why Baxter would get his dander up here. It's interesting that this article touches on this dwelling not being suitable for accommodating the jury's view, but then doesn't say how necessary the view was for the inquest to be legal...
The jury viewing the body was necessary for the inquest to be legal, going back to a time when examinations by a physician just didn't happen. The jury had to see the physical evidence themselves. Worrall's "Coroner's Guide" from the mid-eighteeth century went so far as to advise the jurors what to look for. It wasn't until the Coroner's Act of 1926 that the jury wasn't required to view the body (the coroner was still required to do so.)
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Old February 24th, 2015, 08:55 PM   #23
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Hi Cris,

Good to hear from you. Yes, it's fascinating how the records in London moved after the deaths of each coroner. The papers really do have their own stories, I feel, each with their own odd variables, and there's more work to be done there.

The only exception to the view that I've found prior to 1926 is if there was a contagious disease involved, and then the coroner might possibly have dispensed with it, although it technically invalidated the inquisition. But they apparently did it anyway. I don't know if there were any consequences, but it was apparently known about at the time.

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Dave
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Old February 24th, 2015, 10:19 PM   #24
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You're certainly correct on that. They didn't always know specifics about contagions, but they did know they were likely spread by contact. And jurors around bodies in close quarters raised concerns.

Even though there were many laws passed during the 19th century that affected coroners, there was still much ambiguity when it came to jurisdictions between the coroner, magistrates and the police, and even standards of notification - even who exactly was in charge regarding the medical aspects of death.

Better understanding of these aspects and the conflicts they sometimes initiated give us a better understanding of the processes and their outcomes during the Whitechapel murders.
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