Deathly days out: Forensics at the Wellcome Collection

Image: Wellcome Collection

Image: Wellcome Collection

How did the first crime scene investigators find clues? What can an autopsy tell us about a person’s last moments? If a body is stuffed into a suitcase, can maggots still get to it?

These questions and more are answered in a brilliantly morbid exhibition at the Wellcome Collection in London (billed as the destination of choice for the “incurably curious”). Forensics: the Anatomy of Crime takes you on a journey over five rooms from crime scene to morgue, to laboratory and courtroom, exploring the many unusual ways forensics experts uncover evidence.

Of course, we at Deathly Ponderings just had to go along! It was utterly fascinating, and provided a rare look at real forensic items and techniques as well as historic photographs and archive material of some of the Victorian era’s most grizzly murders.

Image: Wellcome Collection

Image: Wellcome Collection

Bizarrely, the first thing we saw was an oddly-adorable dolls’ house. On further inspection, it was a mini model of a crime scene, known as a “nutshell study”: a brutal diorama used to teach criminology students in the skills of observation and inference.

The personal highlight for me was the “morgue” room, with specimens of skulls and brains with bullet wounds, and an original marble dissection table from the 1920s. You can sit and gaze at this slab while listening to the squelchy hacking sounds of a recorded autopsy, which makes for quite an unsettling experience.

Videos throughout the exhibit examine some of the questions about the forensics process, including one from the ever-wonderful Carla Valentine of St Bart’s Pathology Museum.

Image: Wellcome Collection

Image: Wellcome Collection

As well as forensics, the exhibit looked at how people respond to death, with sculptures inspired by victims of genocide and the intriguing Japanese art of Kusōzu, delicate paintings showing the body of a young woman in various stages of decomposition.

I don’t want to give too much else away, because this is an exhibition full of fascinating little details and you really need to experience it to get the full sense of being immersed in the world of forensics for a couple of hours. While you’re at the Wellcome Collection, the exhibitions on the other floors are also definitely worth checking out: I recommend the room of miscellanea from Henry Wellcome’s personal collection, including shrunken heads, preserved mummies and Napoleon’s toothbrush.

The exhibition is free and open Tuesdays-Sundays until 21 June. If you’re going to the Digital Legacy Conference looking at death and grief in the digital age, the Wellcome Collection is just around the corner, so you can do both!


Looking for deathly jewellery and pins for all the family?


pennyThen look no further! I recently commissioned some pieces from the wonderful Alison Atkin, the lady behind Penny Darlings, and I wanted to write a small review as I have been completely delighted with the results.

I found Alison through talking about Death Salon UK on Twitter. She is currently an osteoarchaeology doctoral researcher and also runs the brilliant Deathsplanation blog where she talks about all things death! I followed Alison on Twitter because she is not only into deathly things but is also majorly involved in science communication and outreach, an area that I am also passionate about and have done a lot of work in in my last job as a polar librarian.

However, it wasn’t until I overheard a conversation on Twitter between Alison and the brilliant Ben Garrod (presenter of the recently excellent BBC series ‘Secrets of Bones’) about how he wore a piece made by Alison on one of his episodes. This immediately intrigued me and so I did some digging and found Penny Darlings!

I immediately loved everything that Alison has up for sale. From tiny skeleton pins to larger pendants, her work is meticulous, detailed and beautifully put together. I knew I had to buy something from her and I thought I would commission some pieces as I had been hunting for some particular items for a while and never seemed to find anything that was quite right.

So, I asked Alison to make me a crow skull pendant as I love corvids and have never been able to find the right sort of necklace version of one. I sent her some images for reference and she made something quite beautiful. I also asked for a Ouija planchette necklace, because even though I know the Ouija board is nothing more than a novelty parlour game, I do like its associations with the occult and Victorian seances, both things that fascinate me. We exchanged ideas via email, Alison sketched up some examples and we worked together to get the final design that I wanted.

I also spotted a hero shrew pin on Alison’s list of items for sale and I asked if she could make a tree shrew for me instead as Ryan (who writes Deathly Ponderings with me) loves them. Alison did not disappoint and the detail on the tiny skeleton is breathtaking.

Alison turned around the designs really quickly, especially as they were new designs, and I received my packages yesterday. Each item was individually packed in a tiny envelope with the name of the animal or item written on the front with a delightful wax seal. I love my two necklaces and Ryan is thrilled with his tree shrew.

photoAlison has had her work featured by people wearing her pieces in the media and in other places, one excellent example being the wonderful Carla Valentine who wore Alison’s Abracadabra necklace in her interview photograph with the Independent when talking about Death Salon UK.

This is not a promotional post. Alison has not asked me to write this post, but I wanted to because I think her work is beautiful (and supporting independent artists is a good thing!) and you should all go and buy something from her or get in touch if you want something a bit more personal through her commissions option.

Image credits: Screenshot of Penny Darlings (Copyright Alison Atkin);
Penny Darlings jewellery image by Georgina (Designed by Alison Atkin)