This mortuary table was used at St Joseph's Hospital in the suburb of Auburn, Sydney, Australia from the 1940s to the 1960s. It was used for both teaching and medical purposes. It was also used to prepare bodies for transport to funeral homes.
The practice of post mortem, human dissection and embalming has been recorded as far back as 3,000 BC in Ancient Egypt. Autopsies and body preparation have been a part of nearly all cultures for religious, legal and educational purposes. Some cultures are resistant to the practice of post mortem as they believe it is disrespectful and impinges on funerary rites.
Mortuary practice is an important part of human culture. It is the final aspect of medical, pathological and cosmetic activity performed on the human body. The table is an essential component of the mortuary. Along with other mandatory aspects, such as cooled body storage, appropriate instruments, good lighting, adequate ventilation and personal protective equipment, the mortuary table must be maintained to the highest standard of repair and cleanliness. This example is made from porcelain - an easily decontaminated material - and is designed to allow liquid material to drain away easily.
The table's manufacture and design are coldly utilitarian, and yet have a soft aesthetic. The drainage channels and large sink leave little to the imagination; however, the porcelain that allows extreme ease of cleaning of body fluids and matter is also an attractive piece of craftsmanship. This is why the mortuary table has survived five decades: people who had worked with the table saw its beauty and value and saved it. The table began life as a part of human dissection apparatus, but went on to be a potting table in a suburban backyard. It fulfilled both roles superbly.
Knight, Bernard, 'The Post-mortem Technician's Handbook: A Manual of Mortuary Practice', Blackwell Scientific Publications, UK, 1984
Sheaff, Michael T, Hopster, Deborah J, Sir Berry, C, 'Post Mortem Technique Handbook', Springer, New York, 2004
Waters, Brenda L, MD, 'Handbook of Autopsy Practice, Springer New York, 2009
'Mortuary Design and Hazards', BMJ Publishing Group Ltd and Association of Clinical Pathologists, downloaded from jcp.bmjjournals.com. on August 5, 2010
'Requirements for the Facilities and Operation of Mortuaries', The National Pathology Accreditation Advisory Council, Australian Government Department of Health and Ageing, 2009