Aldini carried out similar experiments, but took them to the next level once he obtained the corpses of freshly executed criminals.
A Murderer Waits
-The Newgate Calendar.
The corpse being experimented on belonged to a man named George Forster who was tried and found guilty of murdering his wife and child in 1802. The method by which he murdered his family was to drown them in the Paddington Canal in London.
The body of his child was found first and later, after the canal had been 'dragged', the body of his wife was discovered. Although Forster tried to put together an alibi, many witnesses poked holes in his story, seeing him at places linked to the crime. He was found guilty and sentenced to be hanged until he was dead.
While waiting in his cell in the time leading up to his execution, Forster had also attempted suicide by stabbing himself with a knife in the chest. This was not out of remorse, but rather to save himself from potential future harm.
Surely being hanged until one was dead would not necessitate having to save one self from further harm... Well unfortunately, back in those days, when knowledge of the human body was still quite crude, it was not entirely unknown for a person to be hanged, declared dead, only to later regain consciousness.
Having to be re-hanged would be a pretty nasty thing, but in the mid 1700's in England, a 'Murder Act' was passed that said hanged criminals could not be buried.
And what happened to a majority of these executed criminals corpses?
Step in Giovanni Aldini
Giovanni Aldini was an Italian physicist, whose main field of interest was, funnily enough, anatomy and the preservation of human life.
He was the nephew of Luigi Galvani who was quite famous for his studies in 'bioelectricity' (a field of study that looks at electromagnetic fields and how they interact with biological organisms). Galvani found that dead frogs legs could be made to twitch when touched by a spark. He coined the term 'animal electricity' in regards to the 'electric liquid that travelled to the muscles by the nerves' and as such, had the phenomenon where muscles could be made to respond to electricity named after him – galvanism.
Giovanni Aldini was an enthusiastic proponent of his uncles experiment with stimulating muscles with electricity, and when he received his first whole, fresh, executed criminals corpse, he set to work manipulating it.
Back in those days such experiments were not shut away in a lab, but rather were done with witnesses present. Quite a few of those who watched the experiment thought that Aldini was reviving the body, bringing it back to life. Aldini himself was convinced he might have revived the body, had the blood not been drained and the spinal cord severed.
However, some witnesses to this initial experiment on George Forster's body could not handle seeing such an unnatural practice carried out. The beadle of the Surgeons' Company, Mr Pass, actually died of fright!