The Victorian Coffin; a Steampunk Feminist Perspective

Probably the most epic coffin in all of History. I'd get buried if I could have one of these!

The Victorian era is considered a morbid time in history, due to its seeming obsession with death. Rather, it was an era when humanity began to win the fight against preventable diseases and so the loss of a life was considered a greater tragedy then in previous eras. In our modern era, we tend to avoid discussing death and all the paraphernalia that accumulates around the passing of an individual. We tend not to talk about coffins (shaped to be widest across the shoulders) and caskets (a straightforward box shape), and yet they are still big business for funeral homes.

Sir Henry Thompson’s main reason for supporting cremation was that “it was becoming a necessary sanitary precaution against the propagation of disease among a population daily growing larger in relation to the area it occupied”.

Until the 1870s, cremation was not an option for British citizens, and all were buried in graveyards (though not forever in cemeteries with limited space). Some Christian religions need the body to remain uncremated because the body will be resurrected. This created levels of ‘status’ for the various coffins (and caskets). In keeping with the Victorian for ornamentation, there were certain items added to coffins to ‘decorate’ them.

Coffin Screws:

Coffin screws

Victorian coffin screws

Coffin Hinges:

Coffin hinges

The shop for antique and Victorian door furniture,door handles,door knobs,locks,door bells,bolts,hinges,latches etc.

Coffin Plates:

 victorian coffin plates - Google Search

victorian coffin plates - Google Search

victorian coffin plates - Google Search

People collected coffin plates from family relatives. Now that is morbid!


French Antique Large Cast Iron Handle by LeMoulinBleu on Etsy, $50.00

1890 Antique French Coffin Handle via Skinner And Hyde

1890 Antique French Coffin Handle

Coffin handles

Assorted Ornaments:

Cavity filler and embalming fluid

Brass stamped flowers

Brass stamped flowers

As you can see, a pine box can get very ornamental with all these doodads. As well, the lining of a coffin could vary from nothing to a lead lining right up to silk or satin linings, and might include a coffin bell for those who feared being buried alive.

Coffins of the Victorian period came equipped with an extensive system of the bell, which reportedly detained person can ring if you woke up Six Feet Under. These rarely work, however, because even if the person they called, no one hears. Gravediggers sometimes paid to keep watch over the graves and hear the bells to go off.   This is the where the term, "Saved by the Bell" derived from.

accidental mysteries: Exceptional Post-Mortem Photographs

Fully lined coffin

As a writer, I would use coffins as a metaphor for the social status of the deceased. Coffins add a Gothic sensibility to the Steampunk genre, though the addition of bells might inspire one to make a coffin something more than a bed for your character’s eternal rest. In Terry Pratchett’s Nation, the character of Cookie has equipped his coffin as a survival pod, complete with rations, maps and a sail. A Steampunk writer might add grenades, rayguns, and the coffin might convert to a mole machine with a rotating digger for a nose. A coffin for a truly Great Escape.

Leave a comment

Filed under History, Metaphors, Setting, Steampunk, Steampunk Feminist, Victorian Era

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s