The current display of Mary Bateman’s skeleton. Photo taken by the author.
The current display of Mary Bateman’s skeleton. Photo taken by the author.

My name is Marisol Solchaga and I am currently studying for an MA in Art Gallery and Museum Studies. As part of the programme it is possible to undertake a placement module in order to gain experience in the field. My work placement took place at the Thackray Museum in Leeds. It is the largest Medical Museum in the UK and its extensive galleries, temporary exhibitions, and educational material offer a unique facility for the exploration of the history of healthcare and medicine in an educational and entertaining environment suitable for visitors of all ages.

I worked with the Thackray Museum team as Interpretation Update Project Assistant, getting involved in the updating project for the Mary Bateman display. Mary Bateman (1768 – 20 March 1809) was an English criminal and alleged witch, known as the “Yorkshire Witch,” who was tried and executed for murder during the early 19th century.

She was ‘sentenced to be dissected,’ as a result of the Murder Act 1752 which stipulated that only the corpses of executed murderers could be used for dissection. Medical schools needed to acquire corpses for dissection for medical training.

The Mary Bateman skeleton, on loan from the University of Leeds, has been on display at the Thackray Museum since it was opened in 1997, and the display had not changed since then. Her skeleton is installed in the room dedicated to surgery, surgeons and dissection, and it was installed to link an exhibit to the history of anatomy. The Museum was interested in updating the display and considering the possibility of using 3D printing facilities to address some of the ethical issues involved in the use of the human remains in the display. The current display of Mary Bateman’s skeleton was not a viable option for the future as the display was incompatible with current best practice for the redisplay of human remains in museums.

I established the history and background of Mary Bateman and explored the current display, familiarizing myself with the issues surrounding the display, and providing options for the redisplay/removal/new display of the remains. Her skeleton is in an anatomical position in an old glass case, her legs are missing and her right hand positioned so as to suggest that she is waving.

As part of my project, I attended meetings with academic staff from the University of Leeds, and with curators from other museums with displays similar to that of Mary Bateman. We all agreed that it should not be standard practice to display anatomical remains in this way, and there was also the issue of the Museum’s having received a complaint from an individual stating he was a relative of hers, and was unhappy with the way her remains had been displayed.

The final decision was to remove Mary Bateman’s remains and have them stored at the University of Leeds. The removal will take place on the 22nd July 2015.

As part of my placement I was politely asked to try and obtain some funding to replace the Mary Bateman display with a 3D printed replica of her skeleton. I produced a report to try and obtain some funding. At the time of writing the blog, I am awaiting an answer. It would be very good if the outcome of my placement was that I had managed to obtain the funding necessary for the project at least to be started if not completed.

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