Department of History
University of California, Irvine
 Instructor:    Dr. Barbara J. Becker


Week 6.  Animation

Galvanic Experiments --
stories from the Times of London

January 22, 1803

The body of Forster, who was executed on Monday last for murder, was conveyed to a house not far distant, where it was subjected to the Galvanic Process, by Professor ALDINI [Italian electro-physiologist, Giovanni Aldini (1762-1834)], under the inspection of Mr. KEATE, Mr. CARPUE, and several other Professional Gentlemen.  M. ALDINI, who is the nephew of the discoverer of this most interesting science, shewed the eminent and superior powers of Galvanism [Italian physiologist and physicist, Luigi Galvani (1737-1798)] to be far beyond any other stimulant in nature.  On the first application of the process to the face, the jaw of the deceased criminal began to quiver, and the adjoining muscles were horribly contorted, and one eye was actually opened.  In the subsequent part of the process, the right hand was raised and clenched, and the legs and thighs were set in motion.  It appeared to the uninformed part of the by-standers as if the wretched man was on the eve of being restored to life.  This, however, was impossible, as several of his friends who were under the scaffold had violently pulled his legs, in order to put a more speedy termination to his sufferings. 

Plate IV. showing Giovanni Aldini's electrical experiments on executed criminals in Bologna, from his Essai theorique et experimental sur le galvanisme (1804).

The experiment, in fact, was of a better use and tendency.  Its object was to shew the excitability of the human frame, when this animal electricity is duly applied.  In cases of drowning or suffocation, it promises to be of the utmost use, by reviving the action of the lungs, and thereby rekindling the expiring spark of vitality.  In cases of apoplexy, or disorders of the head, it offers also most encouraging prospects for the benefit of mankind.  The Professor, we understand, has made use of Galvanism also in several cases of insanity, and with complete success.  It is the opinion of the first medical men, that this discovery, if rightly managed and duly prosecuted, cannot fail to be of great, and perhaps, as yet, unforeseen utility.

February 4, 1803

Resuscitation by means of the Galvanic Fluid.

The Parisians are at this moment, as well as ourselves, on the tip-toe of hope and expectation.  The experiments of the Sieur Robertson on dead bodies, to which he gives motion by the application of the Galvanic Fluid, has given him, by the repeated success of those experiments, the idea of restoring their former habits also, which he declares he has succeeded in.  To this is added the astonishing discovery of the reproduction of the heads and horns of snails.  This discovery was made by a Gentleman of the Antique Society of Naturalists at Paris, and communicated to the Society by letter.  In consequence, an exhibition has been made of the animals, whose parts have been reproduced, and the French now expect to be able to re-produce the mutilated limbs of their countrymen.  Should their efforts be successful, no doubt but the good effects of it will soon be realized in this country, where there are objects enough at present to make experiments on.  The letter to the Society of Naturalists is here faithfully translated, and may amuse our numerous readers: --

"Gentlemen -- On the 27th of May, 1802, at nine in the morning, the weather being serene; I cut off the entire head and horns of twenty snails, and of twelve of the naked kind, without shells, of a dark brown colour; at the expiration of fifteen days two of my snails shewed the rudiments of a new head, and began to feed; their antenea [sic], or horns, began to bud; they were in good health, but did not lengthen their necks when they eat:  half my naked or unshelled snails died, the remainder of the unshelled ones crawl about, and climb up a wall, they also lengthen their necks, but the head has appeared on one only.  I have great hopes of applying the experiment to some other animals with the same success.  I shall send you an account of any further success I may meet with.

"Note: -- I believe the vital principle to be in a certain joint of the neck, and that I had not severed the head in that particular spot in those which died, but shall try to ascertain it."

Since the above has been made public in Paris, thousands of young Anatomists are searching for the joint which contains the principle of life, and millions of unfortunate snails have been decapitated.  Another Naturalist and Anatomist has began to behead frogs, but the success of his experiments is not yet known.

February 15, 1803

Some curious Galvanic experiments were made on Friday last by Professor ALDINI, in Dr. PEARSON's Lecture Rooms.  They were instituted in the presence of his Excellency the Ambassador of France, General ANDREOSSI , Lord HERVEY, the Hon. Mr. UPTON, &c. 

Plate II. showing Giovanni Aldini's electrical experiments on oxen, from his Essai theorique et experimental sur le galvanisme (1804).

The head of an ox, recently decapitated, exhibited astonishing effects:  for the tongue being drawn out by a hook fixed into it, on applying the exciters, in spite of the strength of the assistant, the tongue was retracted, so as to detach itself, by tearing itself from the hook; at the same time a loud noise issued from the mouth by the absortion [sic] of air, attended by violent contortions of the whole head and eyes.

March 4, 1803

The French seem prodigiously struck with the powers of Mr. ROBSON of the Cavallary [sic], in obliging such opposite characters as Mr. DRUMMOND [English ambassador to Naples, Sir William Drummond (1770?-1828)] and Citizen ALQUIER [French ambassador to Naples, Charles-Jean-Marie, Baron Alquier (1752-1826)] to shake hands at Naples.  But we are assured that the prodigy was effected by a most ingenious experiment of Dr. GALVANI's.  Our Correspondent at Naples, writes us word, that the Galvanic Electricity was so happily applied to both Ministers at the same moment, that they arose by a simultaneous motion, stretched out their arms together by the next shock and, at the final vibration, shook each other by the hand violently during ten seconds.  Being applied to the organ of the tongue, the fluid had not so complete a success, producing only convulsive and imperfect articulation, so that their mutual compliments were not audible.  The failure of the experiment in this instance, is thought to reflect much honour upon the diplomatic character, as it is well known that Dr. ALDINI can make a dead ox loll out his tongue several times; and Dr. GALVANI considers that it is to be attributed to the habitual silence and discretion of great diplomatists that his art has so little power over them.

March 9, 1803

The Galvanic operation performed at Mr. ROBSON's Dinner at Naples, continues to cause a great sensation upon the Continent.  Our letters from Pavia, Rome, Milan, and Turin, speak with enthusiasm of the success of the experiment, and of the great political advantages which may reasonably be looked for from the advancement of this branch of the sciences.  It is certain that their Excellencies, Messrs. DRUMMOND and ALQUIER, were brought together by five moderate shocks, without the least sensible violence, without the smallest dispute for precedence, or violation of etiquette; and that, if their hands had been set, like Chinese heads, upon wires, they could not have shaken each other with more activity and perseverance.  Mr. ROBSON ingeniously observed, that it resembled the mechanism of Rosy-Key-Krysius's sepulchre; and all the company agreed that Sir STEPHEN COTTRELL [Knight Clerk of the Privy Council (1738-1818)] never executed a ceremony with half the precision.

It is with great satisfaction that we have heard that Doctor ALDINI is fully possessed of the arcana and mystery of this celebrated experiment.  We understand the Professor is confident that he shall be able to exhibit prodigies, equally surprizing and benefical [sic] in this Country.  Indeed it has often struck our fancy, that the power evinced by this Philosopher over the tongues of mute and defunct animals, might be much more honourably, as well as advantageously, exerted over the human organs; and we are delighted to find our prognostication so fully vindicated in the project with which the Doctor has favoured us, and of which we shall here insert a brief notice, of the information of the learned and philosophical reader.

Experiments the first and second are truly benevolent and useful.  By the process used upon the rival Ambassadors at Naples, Doctor A., will compel a fat Pluralist to put his head [hand?] in his pocket, and divide its contents with the starving family of his Curate.  He will also oblige several Clerks in office to take off their hats and return bows, like other people. -- N. B.  The professor can always produce a shew of hands for an Election Petition or Address.

His next grand attempt will be upon the same principle; and he engages to make BONAPARTE [Corsican-born First Consul of the French Republic, Napoleon Bonaparte (1769-1821)] shake hands, first with Sir SIDNEY SMITH [English Royal Navy admiral, Sir William Sidney Smith (1763-1840); he proved a hero during the Napoleonic wars] and Mr. WINDHAM [Engand's Secretary of War, William Windham (1750-1810)], and finally with PELTIER himself [French pamphleteer, Jean-Gabriel Peltier (1765-1825); on February 21, 1803, he was found guilty of libel for having suggested that Napoleon Bonapart be assassinated; England declared war on France on May 18, 1803].

The next effect of the fluid will be tried upon the tongue, and the Professor is confident that he can govern this organ in the material articulation of Aye and No, by his electricity, with more certainty and effect than any principle, promise, or other moral power.  Not only by this happy discovery will an enormous expence be saved to the country, but more system and consistency will be established in public debates, and the Galvanic Minority rendered popular and powerful.

In the Courts of Law, the Professor promises also a great saving of expence and anxiety to suitors; for, instead of hiring the verbosity and wrath of Counsel by the hour, and retaining them two terms before-hand, the Doctor undertakes, by a slight sudden shock, to set any Lawyer's tongue, in the whole Court, a-going, and, what is more extraordinary, to stop it at a moment, at the will of the client; who will thus have no more to do than to point out any face he may fall in love with in the whole bar, and the Doctor to set it a pleading.  By means of Galvanism the price of a motion, it is thought, must fall to half-a-crown.

The Professor will also engage to perform the whole mechanical parts of Government by Galvanism, at considerably less than one-fourth of the present expence.

By the experiment to be performed upon General BONAPARTE, it appears that the effect of the fluid is not diminished by distance; and the Doctor proposes to illustrate this part of the subject, by loosening the tongue of a politician more than a hundred miles off, and compelling him, by the irresistible volubility of the electrified organ, to enounce whether he belongs to his own party or any other.

We heartily wish success to the Doctor and his art, and have no doubt that its ramifications will shortly extend to still more useful and benevolent objects, to which we shall be happy, in due time, to draw the attention and gratitude of the country.

February 11, 1819


On the 4th November last, various galvanic experiments were made on the body of the murderer Clydesdale, by Dr. Ure of Glasgow [Scottish chemist and natural philosopher, Andrew Ure (1778-1857)], with a voltaic battery of 270 pairs of 4-inch plates.  The results were truly appalling.  On moving the rod from the hip to the heel, the knee being previously bent, the leg was thrown out with such violence as nearly to overturn one of the assistants, who in vain attempted to prevent its extension!  In the second experiment, the rod was applied to the phrenic nerve in the neck, when laborious breathing instantly commenced; the chest heaved and fell; the belly was protruded and collapsed, with the relaxing and retiring diaphragm; and it is thought, that but from the complete evacuation of the blood, pulsation might have occurred!  In the third experiment, the supra-orbital nerve was touched, when every muscle in the murderer's face "was thrown into fearful action."  The scene was hideous -- several of the spectators left the room, and one gentleman actually fainted from terror or sickness.  In the fourth experiment, the transmitting of the electral [sic] power from the spinal marrow to the ulnar nerve at the elbow, the fingers were instantly put in motion, and the agitation of the arm was so great, that the corpse seemed to point to the different spectators, some of whom thought it had come to life!  Dr. Ure appears to be of the opinion, that had not incisions been made in the blood-vessels of the neck, and the spinal marrow been lacerated, the criminal might have been restored to life! -- The Scotsman.

April 22, 1823



After hanging about an hour and a quarter, the body having been cut down and removed into the interior of the prison, it was, after dissection, during which much valuable time was lost, determined to subject it to the influence of the Galvanic power.  The countenance appeared almost natural, rather fuller than during life; this circumstance giving to the face a handsomer and more placid appearance than the criminal bore at the trial.  There was no hardness of dislocation excepting round the neck, from the pressure of the fatal cord.  There were present Dr. Pigot and Dr. Jones, of the Infirmary, with several other medical gentlemen of this city, and their pupils.  Some gentlemen not of the profession were also present.  A voltaic battery, consisting of nearly 150 pairs of plates, was hastily procured.  Mr. Witter and Mr. Leet did themselves great credit by the speed with which they got them into action at such a short notice, and under such disadvantageous circumstances.  Dr. Jones, under whose superintendence the experiments were conducted, proceeded to lay bare the different nerves on which it was intended to operate.  In the first experiment an attempt was made to restore the action of the respiratory function, according to the suggestion of Dr. Ure, the distinguished professor at Glasgow.  For this purpose Dr. Jones laid bare and brought into view the phrenic nerve, as it runs down under the muscles, about the middle part of the side of the neck.

Another incision was made at the under edge of the seventh rib, for the purpose of getting ingress to the diaphragm, the chief of the muscular powers by which the phenomena of the breathing process are effected:  the phrenic nerve abovementioned being the chief agent by which the necessary nervous influence is furnished to those powers.  One of the poles of the battery was placed in contact with the phrenic nerve, the other in contact with the diaphragm through the incision under the rib -- a slight but unequivocal respiratory movement followed.  This movement was several times repeated -- sufficient to prove the value of Dr. Ure's suggestion.  That it was not carried to a fuller extent is to be attributed to the absence of adequate conducting rods, and to the inconveniences resulting from want of previous arrangement.  In the subsequent experiments the muscles of the arm and leg performed their natural movements to an extent commensurate with the power of the battery, in a manner that excited the wonder of the uninstructed by-standers.  The muscles of the face were made to contract with much effect, particularly those of the eyes and mouth, giving rise to a variety of painful expressions.

An objection was made to the removal of a piece of bone in the back of the neck by which the spinal marrow would have been brought into view, and exposed to contact with one pole of the battery; or, in Dr. Jones's opinion, effects almost equal to those produced by Dr. Ure on the body of Clydesdale, at Glasgow, might have been expected.

September 28, 1838


Last week a little girl named Hannah Sheets fell headforemost into a butt of rain water which stood open in the back-yard of the house where her parents resided, in Castle-street, Golden-square.  It is not exactly known how long she lay there, for she was not immediately missed, and even then an anxious search of many minutes was made through the house and streets adjacent ere the water-butt was thought of.  When dragged out she was quite cold, and all the usual remedies were tried for a length of time by Mr. W. B. Parkes, surgeon, of Carnaby-street, without success.  Amongst the rest, attempts to inflate the lungs were unremittingly persevered in for a considerable time.  As a last resource, Mr. Parkes applied the stimulus of electricity.  He first passed shocks gently through the head and chest, along the course of the spine, gradually increasing their power, and persevering during the whole time (by means of other assistance) in the inflation of the lungs.  After these means had been employed conjointly for about 10 minutes, faint traces of respiration were observed, and in three-quarters of an hour he had the pleasure to behold his patient in a fair way of recovery.  The child is now in the enjoyment of perfect health.

July 6, 1841


John White, convicted of the murder of Messrs. Gwatkin [?] and Glenn, on board a flat boat on the Ohio river, was executed at Louisville, United States, on the 8th ult. [of last month], a little after 6 o'clock in the morning.  The rope not "playing' well occasioned the knot to slip up over the chin instead of being under the ear, so that his neck was not broken by the fall.  Previously to his execution he wrote a letter to his father, in which he stated that he was present when the unfortunate men were murdered; that he did not participate in the act, but was compelled to beg his own life from two men who murdered them.  He was cut down after hanging about 25 minutes, and his body given to the doctors for the purposes of experiment.  The Louisville City Gazette gives the annexed extraordinary circumstances attending an experiment with the galvanic battery: -- "The poles of a powerful galvanic pile, which had been prepared for the occasion, were immediately applied to him, and, to the unutterable joy of all present, with the most perfect success.  On the first application of the fluid to his body, which was yet warm and trembling, a universal tremor was seen to pass over his frame:  on a sudden he arose from the bench to a sitting posture, and with great eagerness and impatience raised his hand to his neck, trying to grasp the scarf in his fingers and tear it from his throat.  He first snatched at it with great rashness, as though the rope was yet around his neck, and then continued some moments picking at the seam with his fingers, as though it was something that adhered to his throat giving him great uneasiness.  But this symptom was soon forgotten, for almost the next moment he rose upon his feet, raised his arms level with his breast, and opening his bloodshot eyes, gave forth a most terrific screech, after which his chest worked as if in respiration in a very violent manner.  Every one at this minute was as mute as death, when one of the surgeons exclaimed that he was alive.  The excitement was too great to allow time for a reply to the remark; every eye was rivetted upon the agitated and shaking corpse.  The operator continued to let upon it a full quantum of the galvanic fluid, till the action upon its nerves became so powerful that it made a tremendous bound, leaping by a sort of imperfect plunge into a corner of the room, disengaging itself entirely from the wires which communicated the galvanism.  All immediately drew around the body.  For a moment after its fall it seemed perfectly motionless and dead; a surgeon approached, and, taking hold of his arm, announced that he thought he felt a slight though a single beat of the pulse.  The galvanic operator was just going to arrange his machine to give him another charge, when the surgeon exclaimed that he breathed.  At this moment he gave a long gasp, rising and gently waving his right hand; his sighs continued for two minutes, when they ceased entirely.  His whole frame seemed to be agitated, his chest heaved, and his legs trembled.  These effects were supposed to be caused by the powerful influence of the galvanic fluid upon the nerves:  none of these movements were yet supposed attributable to the action of life.  It was considered that the animating principle of nature had left his frame and could never be again restored.  In the very height of anxiety, the surgeon announced that he could feel feeble pulsations.  A piece of broken looking-glass was immediately held before his nostrils, which was instantly covered with a cloud.  The most intense anxiety was felt for some seconds, when the motion of his chest, as in the act of respiration, became visible.  He rolled his eyes wildly in their sockets, occasionally closing them, and giving most terrific scowls.  In about five minutes his breathing became tolerably frequent, probably he would give one breath where a healthy man would give four.  His breathing, however, rapidly increased.  The doctors began to speak to him, but he gave no indications that he heard a word. He looked upon the scene around him with the most death-like indifference.  A young medical student approached him, and, taking hold of his arm and shoulder, White rose upon his feet, took two steps thus supported, and seated himself in an arm-chair.  His muscles seemed to relax, and he appeared somewhat overcome with the exertion he had made.  A bottle of hartshorn was immediately applied to his nose, which revived him, but his  life seemed to be that of a man much intoxicated.  He seemed upon one occasion to try to give utterance to some feeling, but from an unknown cause, an impediment probably occasioned by the execution, he was unable to give utterance to a word.  His system was critically examined, and though he was pronounced by the doctors to be perfectly alive, yet he could live but a very few minutes, for congestion of the brain was rapidly taking place.  Every method was adopted to equalize the circulation to save the patient from the terrible consequence of so sad a catastrophe, but in vain.  The blood vessels of the head were enormously distended, and his eyes appeared to be balls of clotted blood.  His system was immediately thrown into direful spasms, and he died in a few minutes in the most excruciating agonies. -- American paper.

December 13, 1845


Some days ago a person residing at Ferrybridge, a potter by trade, came home intoxicated, and abused and ill-treated his wife, as he had done on many former occasions.  Being a nervous person, she could not endure this treatment, and resolved to leave him, and ran out in a state of nudity.  Not having returned at the expiration of a long time, the neighbours went in search of her.  After examining all probable houses and places where she was thought to be, without success, it was deemed proper to drag the canal, some thinking she might have jumped in there; but in the mean time one of the party found her behind a building, to all appearance dead from starvation.  She was carried into the house, and Mr. P. Atkinson, surgeon, was sent for, who used and administered every proper means to restore her, but of no avail, life appearing extinct.  After nearly three hours; exertions in chafing the body, applying warm flannels, &c., Mr. Atkinson sent for Mr. Charter (late of Kirbymoorside), schoolmaster, requesting him to bring his powerful galvanic Bachoffner's machine, which he had just constructed.  This was very soon put in readiness with one of Daniell's sustaining batteries, and taken to the patient's house, who still remained inanimate.  The machine was promptly applied, and in eight or ten seconds signs of life, were apparent.  After passing two shocks through the body, from the right to the left breast, the lungs began to heave, the heart and pulse to beat, and to the astonishment and gratification of a number of witnesses, she exclaimed, "What are you doing?  Where am I?"  Another slight shock was given, when she was enabled to sit upright; sickness followed, and animation was completely restored.  She is now fast recovering. -- York Courant.

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