From the Dissection Room: Diseased Penis of Executed Criminal

Anterior part of penis with gonorrhea belonging to George Robertson at the time of his execution, 1753. Dissected by John Hunter. Specimen from the Royal College of Surgeons, London. 

DEFINITION: Gonorrhea (also colloquially known as the clap) is a common sexually transmitted infection caused by the bacterium Neisseria gonorrhoeae. The usual symptoms in men are burning with urination and penile discharge. Women, on the other hand, are asymptomatic half the time or have vaginal discharge and pelvic pain. In both men and women if gonorrhea is left untreated, it may spread locally causingepididymitis or pelvic inflammatory disease or throughout the body, affecting joints and heart valves. [Wikipedia]

DESCRIPTION: ‘Till about the year 1753, it was generally supposed that the matter from the urethra in a gonorrhoea arose from an ulcer or ulcers in that passage; but from observation it was then proved that this was not the case. It may not be improper to give here a short history of the discovery that matter may be formed by inflammation without ulceration. In the winter, 1749, a child was brought into the room used for dissection in Covent Garden; on opening of whose thorax a large quantity of pus was found loose in the cavity, with the surface of the lungs and the pleura furred over with a more solid substance, similar to coagulable lymph. On removing this from those surfaces, they were found entire. This appearance being new to Dr. Hunter, he sent to Mr. Samuel Sharp, desiring his attendance; and to him it also appeared new. Mr. Sharp afterwards, in the year 1750, published his Critical Inquiry, in which he introduced this fact, “That matter may be formed without a breach of substance;” not mentioning whence he had derived this notion. It was ever after taught by Dr. Hunter in his lectures. We, however, find writers adopting it without quoting either Mr. Sharp or Dr. Hunter. So much being known, I was anxious to examine whether the matter in a gonorrhoea was formed in the same way. In the spring of 1753 there was an execution of eight men, two of whom I knew had at that time very severe gonorrhoeas. Their bodies being procured for this particular purpose, we were very accurate in our examination, but found no ulceration. The two urethras appeared merely a little blood-shot, especially near the glans. This being another new fact ascertained, it could not escape Mr. Gataker, ever attentive to his emolument, who was then attending Dr. Hunter’s lectures, and also practising dissection under me. He published soon after, in 1754, a treatise on this disease, and explained fully, that the matter in a gonorrhoea did not arise from an ulcer, without mentioning how he acquired this knowledge; and it has ever since been adopted in publications on this subject. Since the period mentioned above I have constantly paid particular attention to this circumstance, and have opened the urethra of many who at the time of their death had a gonorrhoea, yet have never found a sore in any; but always observed that the urethra, near the glans, was more bloodshot than usual, and that the lacunae were often filled with matter.’ [John Hunter, Works, Volume 2, p. 168]. 

5 comments on “From the Dissection Room: Diseased Penis of Executed Criminal

  1. James Olson says:

    Apparently, Tutankhamun was embalmed in an aroused state. It has since broken off and disappeared. Howard Carter commented on it.

  2. First Napoleon’s penis, and then this. Is ANYONE’s manhood safe?!

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