This month marks the bicentennial of the birth of the first conjoined twins to be called “Siamese twins”. Chang and Eng (Bunker) were born in a small village in Thailand in 1811. The boys were joined at the side of the chest by cartilage, they also had fused livers. By stretching the cartilage as they grew older, the boys were able to easily stand side by side.
In modern times separation would be easy but in the early nineteenth century this was beyond the skills of the doctors. The twins were discovered by a Scottish merchant, Robert Hunter, who arranged for them to leave Thailand(Siam) and travel the world in a ‘freak show’ Later they toured with the famous P.T. Barnum.
They became quite wealthy and settled in North Carolina. They became US citizens and adopted the surname Bunker. They married two local sisters, Adelaide and Sarah Anne Yates. The couples set up home together initially but eventually maintained two separate homes spending three days at each in a continuing cycle. Between them the twins fathered 21 children, Chang(10) and Eng(11). In 1874 Chang contracted and subsequently died from a severe chest infection, refusing medical help(separation) Eng died some three hours after his brother. Their descendants hold regular Family Reunions
There had been famous conjoined twins before this – like the Biddenden Maids from the village of that name down in Kent. Records are quite sketchy before the 18th century – some say they were born in 1100, others in the mid 16th century. What is certain is the Biddenden Bequest – every Easter, food was distributed to the poor of the village in their name.
It was paid for by the rent from a plot of land called “The Bread And Cheese Land”. The custom continues to this day – and the Science Museum in London has a display case containing a broadsheet about the twins and some samples of the cakes [imprinted with their image]
I think the generous ladies of Kent sound rather more pleasant than the brothers in Carolina – but maybe that is a false impression.
How complicated their lives must have been! Having a sibling is one thing, to have a twin is another - but to be actually physically joined for life is quite beyond my comprehension.