The Grave Robber

After a grave in the churchyard is found empty, the vicar and his surgeon son are both put on trial for body-snatching.

A historic trial dramatised from the Old Bailey archives explores the case of the grave robber from 1843. A grave is found disturbed and the bones have been dug up. In the ensuing trial a young surgeon and his father, a vicar, are accused of body-snatching – stealing a body from a grave. As the case continues, the father has an alibi, but the clues against his son mount up. We discover what really happened through witness testimony. The case is played out in the court room with dramatic flashbacks to illustrate the crime. The court reporter sets the scene and offers insight and context.

Teacher Notes

This case can be used to illustrate some of the strains on society produced as a result of the rapid expansion of the population during the Industrial Revolution and the simultaneous appetite for medical knowledge. This clip could become an object of study in itself as an historical interpretation. Pupils could consider the likely accuracy of the clip from what can be inferred by viewing it and further information that might be researched about this case or the period. For example they could consider how much of the original source material on which the video is based may have been included and how much might have been edited out or altered and why (the language may have been simplified for a school audience). They could consider what the makers of the clip had to consider when deciding how or whether to show the remains themselves. By comparing the layout, furniture and costumes used with original sources from the period, pupils could weigh up the authenticity of the depiction of events. They could be asked to write their own version of the trial which could be acted and compared with the clip. The layout, costumes and language depicted could be compared with that in other clips in this series as evidence of continuity and change in the conduct of trials over time. Teachers could use this clip as a starter activity to a Drama or History lesson. Pupils could use their drama skills and recreate a court scene regarding the court case. Pupils could write a report for the local newspaper about the grave robbery.

Curriculum Notes

These clips are relevant for teaching history at Key Stage 2 and Second level, particularly when studying the Victorians.