Probing Deaths, Saving Lives

Birmingham’s Victorian Doctor-Coroner

by Angela Coulter
Released: 28th September, 2024
The first-ever biography of a pioneering nineteenth century doctor-coroner and his inquests, meticulously researched and written in a clear style for non-specialists. For all those interested in Victorian social history, the history of medicine and coronial history.

Full synopsis

From the political and social turmoil of early nineteenth century Britain, a young Welsh doctor emerged in Birmingham to play a leading role in the transformation of the town as physician, political activist, medical reformer, and the borough’s first and most distinctive coroner.

Fearless campaigner, socially aware, driven, and fiercely independent, John Birt Davies had unique access to the lives and deaths of ordinary citizens during this turbulent time. He looked after the health of all classes of people, from the families of Lunar Society celebrities to those of the poor and vulnerable living in slums and workhouses. And he played a major role in establishing Birmingham’s first medical school and its teaching hospital.

As coroner, Birt Davies was committed to ensuring that all, especially the humblest, received impartial justice, without fear or favour. During his long and at times turbulent career he presided over an astonishing thirty thousand inquests. Accounts of these give unparalleled insight into how his contemporaries dealt with sudden, unexplained and violent deaths, including suicides, murders and massive fatalities in arms factories, revealing a great deal about popular attitudes and beliefs in the Victorian era.

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