Joseph Merrick

Joseph Merrick
Joseph Merrick carte de visite photo, c. 1889.jpg
Merrick c. 1889
Joseph Carey Merrick

(1862-08-05)5 August 1862
Leicester, England
Died11 April 1890(1890-04-11) (aged 27)
Whitechapel, London, England
Cause of deathAsphyxia (officially)
Resting placeSkeleton on display in Royal London Hospital
Other namesThe Elephant Man
John Merrick
Height5 ft 2 in (1.57 m)
  • Joseph Rockley Merrick (father)
  • Mary Jane Merrick (née Potterton) (mother)

Joseph Carey Merrick (5 August 1862 – 11 April 1890), often incorrectly called John Merrick, was an English man with very severe face and body deformities who was first exhibited at a freak show as the "Elephant Man", and then went to live at the London Hospital after he met Frederick Treves, subsequently becoming well known in London society. Merrick was born in Leicester, and began to develop abnormally during the first few years of his life: his skin appeared thick and lumpy, he developed enlarged lips, a bony lump grew on his forehead, one of his arms and both of his feet became enlarged and at some point during his childhood he fell and damaged his hip, resulting in a permanent limp. When he was 11,[1] his mother died from bronchopneumonia, and his father soon remarried. Merrick left school at the age of 13 and gained employment at Freemans Cigar Factory in Leicester.[2] Rejected by his father and stepmother, he left home and went to live with his Uncle Charles Merrick, a hairdresser.[3] In December 1879, Merrick, aged 17, entered the Leicester Union Workhouse.[4]

In 1884, after four years in the workhouse, Merrick contacted a showman named Sam Torr and proposed that Torr should exhibit him. Torr agreed and arranged for a group of men to manage Merrick, whom they named the Elephant Man. After touring the East Midlands, Merrick travelled to London to be exhibited in a penny gaff shop on Whitechapel Road which was rented by showman Tom Norman. Norman's shop, directly across the street from the London Hospital, was visited by a surgeon named Frederick Treves who invited Merrick to be examined and photographed. After Merrick was displayed by Treves at a meeting of the Pathological Society of London in late 1884, Norman's shop was closed by the police [5] and Merrick joined Sam Roper's circus and was toured in Europe.[6]

In Belgium, Merrick was robbed by his road manager and abandoned in Brussels. He eventually made his way back to London, and to the London Hospital.[7] Treves was in the hospital at the time and whatever conversation passed between them, Joseph was given a temporary bed in the hospital.[8] Although his condition was incurable, Merrick was allowed to stay at the hospital for the remainder of his life. Treves visited him daily, and the pair developed quite a close friendship. Merrick also got visits from the wealthy ladies and gentlemen of London society, including Alexandra, Princess of Wales.

Merrick died on 11 April 1890, aged 27. Although the official cause of his death was asphyxia, Treves, who performed the autopsy on the body, said that Merrick had died of a dislocated neck. Joseph was found at 3pm by physician Sidney Hodges.[9] Joseph was lying across his bed, his lunch was where the maid had left it at 1pm, untouched.[9] Joseph was found stretched across his bed which indicated he was awake and trying to get up when he suffered an event which caused his death.[10] In absence of the possibility of genetic tests, the exact cause of Merrick's deformities has long been unclear, so that throughout much of the 20th century it was speculated that Merrick had been affected by other neurological syndromes. Only in 1986 was it conjectured that he had Proteus syndrome, a very rare congenital disorder also known as Wiedemann syndrome (named after the German pediatrician Hans-Rudolf Wiedemann). DNA tests on his hair and bones in 2003 in a study by Charis Eng were inconclusive.

Merrick's life was depicted in a 1979 play by Bernard Pomerance and a David Lynch film in 1980, both titled The Elephant Man. In late 2014 and early 2015, Bradley Cooper starred in a Broadway revival of The Elephant Man, directed by Scott Ellis.

Early life and family

Merrick photographed in 1889, the year before his death in 1890

Joseph Carey Merrick was born 5 August 1862 at 50 Lee Street in Leicester, to Joseph Rockley Merrick and his wife Mary Jane (née Potterton).[11] Joseph Rockley Merrick (c. 1838–1897) was the son of London-born weaver Barnabas Merrick (1791–1856) who moved to Leicester during the 1820s or 1830s, and his third wife Sarah Rockley.[12] Mary Jane Potterton (c. 1837–1873) had been born at Evington, Leicestershire, her father being William Potterton, who was described as an agricultural labourer in the 1851 census of Thurmaston, Leicestershire.[13] She was said to have some form of physical disability and as a young woman worked as a domestic servant in Leicester before marrying Joseph Rockley Merrick, then a warehouseman,[14] in 1861.

The following year, Joseph Carey Merrick was born, apparently healthy, and had no outward symptoms of any disorder for the first few years of his life. Named after his father, he was given the middle name Carey by his mother, a Baptist, after the preacher William Carey.[15] The Merricks had two more children, not three as stated on his mother's grave. John Thomas, born 21 April 1864, who died of smallpox on 24 July of the same year, was not related to Joseph and Mary Jane Merrick.[16] The other two children were: William Arthur, born January 1866, who died of scarlet fever on 21 December 1870 aged four and was buried on Christmas Day 1870; and Marian Eliza, born 28 September 1867, who was born with physical disabilities and died of myelitis and "seizures" on 19 March 1891 aged 24. William is buried with his mother, aunts and uncles in Welford Road Cemetery in Leicester[17] while Marian is buried with her father in Belgrave Cemetery in Leicester.[18] In his book The Elephant Man: A Study in Human Dignity, Ashley Montagu states that "John Thomas [sic] Merrick was born on 21 April 1864".[19] Montagu believed Treves's statement in his book, The Elephant Man and Other Reminiscences, referring to Merrick's first name as John, not Joseph, was due to confusing him with his younger brother, a child which has now been proven was not related to Joseph Merrick.[16]

A pamphlet titled "The Autobiography of Joseph Carey Merrick", produced c. 1884 to accompany his exhibition, states that he started to display symptoms at approximately five years of age, with "thick lumpy skin ... like that of an elephant, and almost the same colour".[20] According to a 1930 article in the Illustrated Leicester Chronicle, he began to develop swellings on his lips at the age of 21 months, followed by a bony lump on his forehead and a loosening and roughening of the skin.[21][nb 1] As he grew, a noticeable difference between the size of his left and right arms appeared and both his feet became significantly enlarged.[21] The Merrick family explained his symptoms as the result of Mary's being knocked over and frightened by a fairground elephant while she was pregnant with Joseph.[21] The concept of maternal impression—that the emotional experiences of pregnant women could have lasting physical effect on their unborn children—was still common in 19th-century Britain.[23] Merrick held this belief about the cause of his affliction for his entire life.[24]

In addition to his deformities, at some point during his childhood, Merrick suffered a fall and damaged his left hip. This injury became infected and left him permanently lame.[25] Although affected by his physical deformities, Merrick attended school and enjoyed a close relationship with his mother.[25] She was a Sunday school teacher, and his father worked as an engine driver at a cotton factory, as well as running a haberdashery business.[25] On 29 May 1873, less than three years after the death of her youngest son William, Mary Jane Merrick died from bronchopneumonia.[1] Joseph Rockley Merrick moved with his two children to live with Mrs. Emma Wood Antill, a widow with children of her own. They married on 3 December 1874.[26]

Other Languages
العربية: جوزيف ميريك
asturianu: Joseph Merrick
български: Джоузеф Мерик
čeština: Joseph Merrick
Ελληνικά: Τζόζεφ Μέρικ
español: Joseph Merrick
Esperanto: Joseph Merrick
فارسی: جوزف مریک
français: Joseph Merrick
한국어: 조지프 메릭
Bahasa Indonesia: Joseph Merrick
italiano: Joseph Merrick
עברית: ג'וזף מריק
ქართული: ჯოზეფ მერიკი
Bahasa Melayu: Joseph Merrick
Nederlands: Joseph Merrick
português: Joseph Merrick
română: Joseph Merrick
Simple English: Joseph Merrick
Türkçe: Joseph Merrick
Tiếng Việt: Joseph Merrick