This is a sneak peek of edition 22 of Traces!
By Dr David Waldron
On 25 January 1875, Melbourne’s newspapers were abuzz with a grisly discovery in the slums of Fitzroy North: a ‘Hand of Glory’.
In a small cottage on Batman Avenue, an elderly woman, Margaret Connor, passed away in a state of extreme poverty and squalor. Yet, despite her apparent indigent circumstances, a search of her home had revealed more than £500 in bank receipts concealed in the walls of her property. In such a circumstance, it was hardly surprising that the young servant girl who was sent to clean out the property undertook a very thorough search of the premises.
In her detailed examination of the brickwork in the fireplace, she found several loose bricks. Anticipating another hidden treasure, she removed the bricks only to discover the dried remains of a human hand concealed within the fireplace, along with some other pieces of desiccated flesh. The Argus gave a description of the hand:
‘The hand has the appearance of a very dirty glove, all the bone and flesh having disappeared, but the skin and nails are perfect. In close proximity to the hand was a piece of flesh in an advanced state of decomposition. ln the chimney, some other pieces of flesh were also found.’
Further descriptions were provided in grim detail in the Melbourne Herald:
‘The hand was without doubt cut from the wrist of an able‑bodied laboring [sic] man, the nails being strongly ribbed. Great care appears to have been observed by the operator… as not a particle of flesh adheres to the cuticle of the hand. The portions of flesh taken inside the chimney appear to be the buttocks or the fleshy part of the thigh of a human being. They are thoroughly well smoked… The putrid piece found in another part of the shanty appears to be the biceps of a man’s arm, it is knotty, and seems to be composed of thews and sinews.’
To find out what happened next, read the latest edition of Traces.
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