The Anatomy of Robert Knox

Murder, Mad Science and Medical Regulation in Nineteenth-Century Edinburgh

By A.W. Bates

Robert Knox is remembered chiefly as the Edinburgh doctor who dissected corpses supplied by the murderers Burke and Hare. His contemporaries knew him as the most celebrated anatomist in Britain, the author of a controversial book on race, and a radical natural philosopher with revolutionary ideas. To a generation of medical students, he taught that species and races were produced by the operation of biological laws, independent of design or providence. Though he did not achieve the theoretical breakthrough he hoped for, his writings offered a challenging alternative to Darwinism that anticipated later theories of rapid evolution. This academic biography is the first to examine the influence of Knox's radical upbringing, his Parisian training and the ethnological studies in the Cape Colony, on the development of his 'higher' anatomy which traced the multifarious forms of the animal kingdom to an ideal body plan supposedly common to all. New evidence is presented that the subsequent decline in his career, often attributed to the murder for dissection scandal, was a consequence of his opposition to the 1832 Anatomy Act and his refusal to comply with state regulation of anatomy schools. His uncompromising position is shown to have inspired the portrayal of anatomy in fiction, where Knox appears more often than any other British doctor, as a savage and ungovernable science. The book will appeal to all those interested in the far-reaching influence of Knox's anatomy on 19th-century medicine, evolutionary theory, aesthetics, physical anthropology, and the representation of anatomical science in popular culture.


250 pages

Publication Date: 3/1/2010
Format: Cloth
ISBN: 9781845193812