From the Dissection Room: Caroline Crachami, the ‘Sicilian Fairy’

[LEFT] The skeletal remains of Caroline Crachami (ca. 1815? – 1824) who is sometimes cited as being the smallest person in recorded history. At the time of her death, she measured a mere 19.5 inches tall. Her condition has subsequently been diagnosed as Seckel syndrome. From the Royal College of Surgeons, London.

DEFINITION: Seckel syndrome is a form of microcephalic primordial dwarfism which results in a smaller body size in all stages of life beginning from before birth. It is a congential nanosomic disorder characterized by intrauterine growth retardation and postnatal dwarfism with a small head, narrow bird-like face with a beak-like nose, large eyes with an antimongoloid slant, receding mandible and mental retardation. [Wikipedia]

DESCRIPTION: When Caroline Crachami was born on 19 June 1815 in Palermo, Italy, she measured approximately 8 inches long and weighed only 450 grams. Shortly after her birth, her parents moved to Dublin to work in the Theatre Royal. They settled there and lived relatively uneventful lives for the next 8 years.

Sometime in 1823, Caroline’s health began to fail, at which time a Dr Gilligan advised she be taken to England, a ‘healthier atmosphere’. To cut expenses, Gilligan also suggested that Caroline be exhibited to medical audiences; however, upon arriving in England, he ended up parading her around the country as ‘The Sicilian Fairy’, reaping considerable profits. It was at this time that the famous surgeon, Sir Everard Home, became interested in Caroline and persuaded Gilligan to allow her to be shown to King George IV. Home wrote:

[Caroline] could walk alone, but with no confidence. Its sight was very quick, much attracted by bright objects, delighted with everything that glittered, mightily pleased with fine clothes, had a shrill voice and spoke in a low tone; had some taste for music but could speak few words of English; was very sensible of kindness and quickly recognised any person who had treated it kindly. [Sir Everard Home, ‘Lectures on Comparative Anatomy,’ vol. v. (1828), p. 191.]

Unfortunately, Gilligan’s exhibition schedule proved too exhausting for little Caroline. She died on 4 June 1824 in front of a reported 200 spectators. Hoping to profit from her in death as he did in life, Gilligan attempted to sell Caroline’s body for £100 to various anatomical schools. When he failed to do so, he approached Home, who then arranged for it to be kept in the Museum of the Royal College of Surgeons.

Upon hearing of his daughter’s death in the Cork Inquirer, Caroline’s father travelled to England in a frantic attempt to reclaim her body. It is said that when he arrived at the Royal College of Surgeons, he discovered that the autopsy was already in progress, or had just been completed, and left in terrible anguish.

The post-mortem reports reveal that Caroline likely died from tuberculosis. Her dental records also suggest she may have been younger than her reported 9 years of age. Her bones, along with the clothes and jewelry she was wearing when she died, can be seen at the Hunterian Collection in London today.

By | 2011-11-04T10:49:55+00:00 November 4th, 2011|Casebooks|4 Comments

4 Comments

  1. Sarah Waldock November 4, 2011 at 11:11 am - Reply

    I wonder if she could have lived longer if she had not been dragged around the country – an ordeal even for the able bodied at the time, albeit better than a hundred years before. I dug around and the life expectancy can be into the 60’s nowadays but with a higher risk of blood disorders in some cases. I feel like vivisecting Gilligan…….

  2. […] Chirurgeon’s Apprentice brings us a case of Seckel’s syndrome, in a child called the Sicilian fairy, and her […]

  3. Arc July 17, 2012 at 12:10 am - Reply

    She had tb. So she would haves died anyway.

  4. Dawn December 26, 2012 at 7:12 pm - Reply

    Regardless of what she had she was abused by what was done to her. The Dr. Gilligan should have been shot along with the people responsible. He took her from her parents with a lie. Regardless of her health she would have been better off with her parents than to be paraded around like a freak show for some ass’ financial gain. Her story is really sad. History is full of sad stories.

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