Friday, 5 April 2013

The Chequered Careers of the Siamese Siblings

                 Conjoined twins are, even today, commonly referred to as ‘Siamese Twins’, a term taken from the case of Chang and Eng Bunker, born in Siam (now Thailand) on May 11th 1811. Their father was Chinese, their mother was Chinese/Malay, and they were the fifth of their nine children. 

Young Chang and Eng

A cartilaginous band at the sternum joined the twins, with their livers fused but independently complete. At birth, the shortness of the band forced them to lie face to face, but over time, as they grew, the band stretched to about four and a half inches in length, allowing them to stand side by side. In 1819, their father died and Chang and Eng, even though only boys, became involved in a series of business ventures, including a duck-rearing and preserved-egg farm. 

The Siamese Twins

In 1824, they were ‘discovered’ by a Scottish merchant, Robert Hunter, who saw them boating, stripped to the waist and Hunter negotiated with their parents and the King of Siam, Chowpahyi, to allow the boys to go with him on exhibition. They left their duck-breeding concern in the care of a brother and, on April 1st 1829, they departed for Boston, America on board the ship Sachem, with Hunter and under the protection of its captain, Abel Coffin. After a short stay in America, they sailed again, for England, on the ship Robert Edwards, with Captain Sherburne. 

Chang and Eng at the Egyptian Hall, Piccadilly, November 24th 1829

In London, they were exhibited at the Egyptian Hall, Piccadilly, and then embarked on an extensive tour of the cities and larger towns of Britain, and when they came of age in May 1832, they undertook their own financial and touring arrangements (Hunter and Coffin had fed very little of the income back to the boys). 

Publicity Poster

They returned to the Americas in 1831, toured in the US, Canada and Cuba, before leaving again for Europe, arriving in Paris in 1835 (although they were not welcome in France, doctors feeling that any pregnant women who happened to see them may have deformed children of their own, as a result of the maternal impression formed), and also visiting Belgium and Holland, before returning again to America a year later, where they grew tired of touring and settled down, became naturalised citizens, invested their shared earnings and purchased a plantation and slaves in North Carolina. 

The Siamese Twin Brothers - 1831

In respect for a woman who had treated them well in New York, they assumed the surname Bunker, and on April 13th 1843, they married two sisters, Adelaide and Sarah, the daughters of a neighbouring farmer and part-time preacher, David Yates. 

Adelaide, Chang, Eng and Sarah

Chang (pronounced Chun) always stood on the left of his brother, he weighed 110 pounds and was five feet and one inch tall. Eng (pronounced In) was five pounds heavier and one inch taller; Chang wore blocks on the heels of his boots to lift him slightly. They were able to run reasonably fast over short distances, could swim, and were able to use farming implements with ease. They enjoyed hunting game, could read and write tolerably well, played draughts and chess (although not against each other) and adopted American dress, although they maintained the habit of wearing their hair in long pigtails. 

Bunker Family Home, North Carolina

In the early part of their married lives, they shared a bed made for four, but when Adelaide and Sarah quarrelled, they set up two separate households, a mile-and-a-half apart, spending three days a week at each. Each was the master of his own home and his brother had to comply totally with his wishes. 

Chang-Eng The United Siamese Brothers 1836

Chang and Adelaide had ten children, two of whom were deaf-mutes, and Eng and Sarah had eleven children; one son of the former couple, Christopher, and one son of the latter pair, Stephen, fought for the Confederacy during the American Civil War. 

Chang and Eng with sons

As a result of that war, the Bunkers lost some of their property, and began to exhibit themselves again, although somewhat unsuccessfully. In 1869, they returned to Europe, ostensibly to seek medical advice about the possibility of an operation to separate themselves, following an acrimonious quarrel, although this was most likely a cover for their renewing their touring careers in an attempt to recoup their post-war financial losses. 

The Siamese Twins

As they grew older, Chang developed a taste for drink and was frequently inebriated (although Eng remained sober when Chang was drunk), his spinal curvature increased and he became hemiplegic on his right side. Both brothers became partially blind in their anterior eyes, possibly as a result of a lifetime of squinting outwardly and obliquely. 

Chang and Eng Bunker

On Monday evening, January 12th 1874, Chang was seized with an attack of bronchitis whilst at his own home, but by Wednesday, the symptoms had subsided a little and Eng insisted that they should go to his house, as was their custom. On a freezing cold evening, and in an open carriage, they rode the mile and a half to Eng’s home, where Chang complained of chest pains and the inability to lie down in comfort. On the Friday evening, they built a log fire and retired to bed, and the following morning (Jan 17th), Eng called for his son, who slept in the room above, to come and awaken Chang. 

Adelaide and Sarah in later life

The boy came and announced, “Uncle Chang is dead,” to which Eng responded with, “Then I am going.” He did not refer to his brother again, other than to ask to be moved a little nearer to him, but complained that he was choking and asked to be raised in bed. He slowly lost consciousness and a little over two hours after Chang had died, his brother Eng also died. The bodies were placed in a coffin, then in a tin box, which was soldered shut, and the whole buried under charcoal in the cellar. 

Post-Mortem Cast of the Twins

A team of physicians made for Mount Airy, but did not arrive until a fortnight later and, on Sunday February 1st 1874, fifteen days and eight hours after their death, the coffin was exhumed and opened and the bodies injected with zinc chloride, to begin the embalming process. The coffin and tin box were then re-sealed and sent to the College of Physicians, Philadelphia, where a detailed autopsy was carried out. 

Report of the Autopsy - 1874

Although, as I said at the very top, conjoined twins are still referred to as Siamese Twins, although they were by no means the originals.

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