Vivisection in the pub
Public spectacles and plebeian expertise, 1840–80
in Venomous encounters
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Public demonstrations of snakebite in living creatures became the central device through which Australian colonists determined the deadliest serpents and the most efficacious antidotes. This chapter argues that antipodean uptake of vivisection was not driven by doctors. Such was the public acceptance of snake showmen and antidote sellers until the 1870s, clinicians and scientists were impelled to emulate or collaborate with the plebeian experts. In contrast to the prevailing teleology of natural history, the 'vivisection in the pub' represented a challenge to the uncertain legitimacy of colonial doctors and natural philosophers. Within settler societies negotiating a wider franchise and jury service, snakebite spectacles echoed the 1819 New York court case in which naturalists testified that whales were not fish. Into the late 1840s, British practitioners were predominantly censorious of vivisection. The instrumentarium of vivisection extends beyond organic-inorganic dichotomies to incorporate affective, ethical and legislative considerations.

Venomous encounters

Snakes, vivisection and scientific medicine in colonial Australia


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