Note:  Do not rely on this information. It is very old.


Cremation (Latin cremare, to burn to ashes), the disposing of dead bodies by burning instead of burial. This was the practice of the ancient Greeks and Romans, the Celts, the ancient Assyrians, the Hindoos, and other nations; it was probably adopted originally to save the bodies of those slain in war from maltreatment by an enemy, e.g. by cannibalism. The Greeks and Romans burnt their bodies on open pyres, generally with various perfumes, and the ashes were preserved in urns. But the practice was checked by the material view of the "resurrection of the body" taken by the early Christians. In 1874 Sir Henry Thompson, the well-known physician, suggested the revival of the practice on sanitary grounds. The Cremation Society of England was formed, and a crematory furnace erected near Woking, Surrey. The scheme excited violent opposition among a section of the clergy, and from doubts as to the state of the law (set at rest in 1884 by the charge of Mr. Justice Stephen) no steps were taken by the society to perform cremations until 1885. A Bill, however, to legalise the practice was introduced into the House of Commons in 1884, but opposed by the Government chiefly on the ground that it would facilitate the concealment of murders, and defeated by 149 to 79. In 1885, however, the Cremation Society first publicly performed a cremation at Woking, and since then upwards of 200 bodies have been there dealt with. In 1889 the number was forty-six, in 1890 fifty-four, and in 1891 ninety-nine, including the bodies of Mr. Baron Huddleston and Mr. James Nasmyth (q.v.). Cremations, however, have taken place elsewhere in England. In 1769 the body of a Mrs. Pratt was burnt by her own wish in the Tyburn burying-groand. In 1883 and 1884 three cremations took place in a private crematory in Dorset, while a Dr. Pryce cremated his child on an open pyre in Wales. Cremation has been legalised in France, Germany, and Italy, and crematory furnaces now exist at Pere la Chaise (Paris), Dresden, Gotha, Milan, Rome, and elsewhere. Cremation is opposed partly on grounds of sentiment, but mainly because it is feared that it would greatly increase the difficulty of detecting murders. Its advocates, however, reply that mineral poison would still be traceable in the ashes, while in suspicious cases the internal organs could be kept for analysis. They propose also that a "medecin verificateur" (as is usual in France) shall be appointed in every district to examine carefully into the causes of all deaths. The sanitary advantages of the practice are immense; the germs of zymotic diseases are, under the present method of burial, multiplied and diffused, and often pollute drinking water. Moreover, the waste of land in ordinary burial is serious. Chemically, burning effects in an hour or two what burial does in many years. In a cremation furnace the destruction of the body is effected by gas generated from the fuel used and then passed over the body. The gases from the body are passed through and under the fire before being carried out into the air, so as to secure effectual combustion. The process takes from an hour and a half to two hours.