Sequel to Mrs Van Butchell

I put part of this story on a blog some time ago from a Chester newspaper, but this gives a fuller account of the story . It explains why the husband preserved his wife, but makes him seem even stranger but also either mercenery or sensible. This is from the selection of Notes and queries in Ringing Churchbells to ward off Thunderstorms:

“Mrs van Butchell was the wife of Martin van Butchell (1735-c1812), who achieved eminence first as a dentist and then as a maker of medical trusses. He was also eminently eccentric, refusing to rim his beard lest his vigour should be diminished, riding in Hyde Park on a white pony painted with purple spots, and carrying for self –defence a large white bone which, it was said, had been used as a weapon of war in Tahiti.

His notoriety increased following he death of his first wife in 1775. whether fro a reluctance to lose her company or – as was rumoured – because a clause in the marriage settlement stipulated that his control of her fortune endured only while she remained above ground, he commissioned the eminent anatomist William Hunter to preserve her. It proved a mile-stone in the history of embalming. The impressive results were achieved by introducing powdered nitre and camphor into her abdominal cavity and injecting her vascular system with oil of turpentine and camphorated spirit of wine – leading one wag to refer to ‘A wife that’s dead, yet full of spirits’. Glass eyes were added and the body was dressed in a fashionable lace gown and set upon a thin bed of plaster of Paris in a box topped by a removable glass lid. Thereafter van Butchell kept her in the parlour of his house in Mount Street, Berkeley Square, and observed regular visiting hours for friends and strangers alike.

This happy arrangement came to an end with the arrival of the 2nd Mrs van Butchell. Her predecessor was promptly donated to he museum of the Royal College of Surgeons in Lincoln’s Inn Fields, where she remained for some hundred and fifty years before being incinerated on the night of 10-11 May 1941 after a stray German bomb landed nearby.


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