Friday, July 4, 2008

Bateson's Belfry

In about the mid nineteenth century, in an era of quacks and inept American and European doctors, arose a problem of identifying the dead from the alive because pple where not skillful or knowledgeable enough to confirm for sure whether a person was dead or was just unconscious and they didn’t even know that cardiac arrest could be reversed. As a result, there were a lot incidents, wherein a person was buried alive not knowing that he was just unconscious and to compound the problem further, there were a few occasions when a person who was considered dead, got up and started to move just when the person was about to be buried.

In one such incident, a little boy of about 10 years of age, got sick and fell unconscious, the boy didn’t get up or move even after several attempts by those quacks and inept doctors. Hence he was considered dead and all arrangements had been made by their parents to bury him the next day. The next day, with a heavy heart, the parents took their son’s body to bury him in a place that was reserved for him but by that time it was more than a couple of days since the boy had been unconscious and when a shovel full of sand was thrown on him, the slight impact made him gain some consciousness and started to get up and move. This made the pple around him scared and unsure if the boy was indeed a human or a ghost in action.

Incidents like these caused a lot of inconvenience to the family and the pple in general. As a result, whenever a person was declared dead by doctors, the body was still kept by the family members for about a few weeks to at most a month to confirm their death. But this practice reached an extreme when the Duke of Wellington died in 1858; his burial was postponed for about 2 months.

This resulted in pple burying the bodies with a crowbar and shovel in their casket, assuming that the person, if alive, would dig himself out and rescue himself. In the case of wealthy pple, they would make one of their servants to stay near the casket for a couple of weeks and would fix a pipe with one end into the casket and the other end propping out of the ground so that person could communicate throw the pipe just in case he was alive. But even after this effort, pple were still living with a guilt feeling of burying their own family member alive.

Seeing this as an opportunity, a gentleman named George Bateson invented a mechanism which was economical, efficient and something that promoted peace of mind amongst the bereaved in all walks of life. His invention came to be known as Bateson’s belfry and consisted of an iron bells on top of the casket with a cord being attached to the dead person’s hand, making sure that even the slightest movement would set off the alarm.

Though there has been no case recorded, wherein a person had been saved due to Bateson’s belfry, the demand for such a casket grew by leaps and bounds making Bateson a very rich man.

Ironical as it may sound, the belfry casket produced a sense of fear in Bateson as he reached the latter years of his life, for he was scared of being buried alive in the belfry casket. The fear in him grew so large and worse that he immolated himself by dousing in linseed oil and setting himself on fire.

So next time you plan to invent something, beware, chances are that your own invention may get you. :)

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

very interesting post, many thanx!

GaryMartin said...

The Bateson Belfry story is a popular fallacy. See http://www.phrases.org.uk/meanings/bats-in-the-belfry.html