Charles O'Brien or Charles Byrne
, he was known as both, but how he was best known was "the Irish Giant
". He was the tallest man known in eighteenth-century Britain, at 8 ft 4 in, and was of course exhibit
ed around the country. The sad part of his story is that he knew his fate after death: to be dissected and have his skeleton
exhibited as a prodigious
and well-paying curiosity
He paid fishermen the enormous sum of £500 to agree to take his body, weight it down with lead, and cast it into the sea. But Dr John Hunter, the famous surgeon, was equally keen to preserve him. When O'Brien did die in 1783, Hunter made a counter-bid and successfully gained the skeleton. It is still held in the Hunterian Museum, named for him, at the Royal College of Surgeons in Lincoln's Inn, London. Hunter had dogged O'Brien for years, to the extent of hiring a boy to follow him around with a pot for boiling his flesh in, to clean the bones! (Part of this story might be just legend.)
Hilary Mantel's 1998 novel The Giant, O'Brien tells his story. There is a review of it at
Another Irish giant of the same period, Patrick Coulter, changed his name to Patrick O'Brien to cash in on the phenomenon.
The twentieth-century American giant Robert Wadlow had similar fears about misuse of his body, and had himself encased in a concrete tomb after death.