It would be unacceptable today for a human body part to be kept as a souvenir of a momentous event but that's what happened in 1832.

During the 1831 Bristol Riots, the Customs House in Queen Square had been set on fire and collapsed, trapping and killing an unknown number of people. When the rubble was cleared a year later, the remains of five or six people were found. A witness at the time said "They were not corpses but corpse fragments; there was one charred fragment with a scrap of old red petticoat adhering to it, which I will never forget (1) ".

Amongst the fragments was this upper arm bone (humerus). We don't know who the person was or whether they had been a rioter or a bystander. The size of the bone suggests that it was a man.

The inscription on the bone tells us that a Richard Stephens presented it to Richard Smith, a surgeon at the Bristol Royal Infirmary. Smith was interested in whether people who committed criminal acts shared physical characteristics. He obtained human body parts to study this and to add to the Infirmary Museum which he established. He collected the body of John Horwood, who was hanged for murder at the New Gaol, and covered a book in his skin.

We don't know who wrote the inscription onto the bone, nor who carved the head into the ball end. A debate continues in museums about how to display human remains in a respectful way.

1 Quoted in Latimer's Annals of Bristol