Part of the brain of a young man who shot himself is on display to ‘show the journey of a bullet’. There is also a postmortem table from a London mortuary. Index cards compiled by pathologist Sir Bernard Spilsbury, who performed more than 20,000 postmortems in his career, are among the less grisly sights in Room 2, The Morgue at the Wellcome Collection’s exhibition on the history, science and art of forensic medicine.
In Room 5, The Courtroom, we learn that the 1836 Medical Witnesses Act gave coroners the authority to compel qualified medical witnesses to testify at inquests and autopsies. It ‘wasn’t until the 18th and 19th centuries that criminal proceedings and coroners’ inquests began to develop a greater formality’.
Exhibition, Wellcome Collection
There are striking visual interpretations of courtrooms: an 1899 picture of a trial scene in a Roman court; sketches by Fleet Street photographer William Hartley of the Old Bailey trial of Dr Hawley Crippen who was convicted of murdering his wife; and a 2013 photograph of the Grand Hall in the Old Bailey.
Max Hill QC of Red Lion Chambers, London, discusses the importance of medical evidence in criminal trials, such as DNA and blood pattern analysis, especially in the Damilola Taylor case. DNA collection swabs, fingerprinting and photofit tools are all in Room 3, The Laboratory, while Room 4 is devoted to the search for missing people and reconstruction techniques.
The exhibition starts with Frances Glessner Lee’s miniature models of crime scenes, ‘Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death’. These were built to help investigators understand crime scenes.
Some of the most interesting exhibits concern the development of photography – including a plate camera (pictured), said to be the oldest possessed by the Met and used in 1888 to photograph the body of Mary Kelly, Jack the Ripper’s final victim. There is also an example of the work of photojournalist Weegee (1899-1968) who photographed violent crime in New York. One of the most striking images is of forensic entomologists searching for insect evidence (2010-2012).
A blown-up image of a fly is an appropriate motif for this exhibition, which leaves you recoiling at some of the objects while absorbing other studies of arcane forensic methods.
The exhibition runs until 21 June and is free.
Nicholas Goodman is a Gazette sub-editor