Curator's Choice: Teeth from the Battle of Waterloo at the Royal Engineers Museum

Dominique Bignall interviewed by Ben Miller | 29 September 2011
A photo of a woman holding up a set of teeth inside a gallery
© Courtesy Royal Engineers Museum
Curator's Choice: Dominique Bignall, of the Royal Engineers Museum, on a set of teeth on display at the Gillingham venue's new galleries…

"This is a rather gruesome item on display within the new galleries. It’s a group of teeth collected from the battlefield of Waterloo.

Waterloo was an unusual Peninsular War battle in that it was fought and won in just a day – finally ending the Napoleonic and Peninsular Wars.

Within days of Wellington’s victory, sightseers and fortune hunters were already visiting the battlefield, removing items from the bodies of those killed.

This large collection of teeth would have had a high value in 1815, either to sell on to use as dentures or as relics from the battlefield.

The Peninsular War was a defining period for Military Engineers, highlighting not only their bravery and skill but also deficiencies in siegecraft and other engineering specialisms.

Towards the end of the conflict, engineer training was formally put in place.

In 1812, a brand new school opened, that still provides training for the Royal Engineers of today. The professionalisation of the Corps had begun."

  • The Early Engineers Gallery: From Roman Rochester to the Battle of Waterloo is open at the Royal Engineers Museum now.
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