'Mortsafe', or iron coffin case, 19th century.
© Science Museum / Science & Society Picture Library
View showing the mortsafe in the Science and Art of Medicine gallery in the Science Museum. The top of the mortsafe is the original 19th century iron object and the base is a copy. The original base is in storage. Mortsafes were sometimes used to protect coffins and stop people from desecrating graves and stealing the corpses to sell to anatomists. This crime became more frequent in the early 19th century when the increased interest in studying medicine resulted in the short supply of legally available bodies for disection. The coffin would be removed from the safe once the body had decomposed beyond the point of usefulnes for disection.