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Chang Eng Bunker (1811-74)

Chang Eng were conjoined twins born in Siam (now Thailand) to a Chinese family. It is because of their fame that the phrase ‘Siamese twins’ has sometimes been used to describe conjoined twins.

When the boys were 17, they joined the Scottish merchant Robert Hunter, who managed a tour in which they displayed themselves, and were examined by doctors across the United States and Europe. In 1832 they realised that their new manager, Captain Coffin, was taking most of their profits, and made a separate arrangement with the circus owner Phineas T Barnum, with whom they toured until 1839.

In that same year they became American citizens and settled in North Carolina. They took the name Bunker, and in 1843 married two sisters, Adelaide and Sarah Ann Yates. During their marriages, Eng had 11 children and Chang 10. They ran two households, and became wealthy plantation owners, known for their brutality towards their enslaved workers.

After the Civil War, in which sons of both Chang and Eng served in the Confederate army, the Bunkers lost much of their fortune. They returned to displaying themselves in order to support their families. In 1870 Chang became paralysed from a stroke, which required Eng to support him physically. In January 1874 Chang Bunker died after a severe case of bronchitis, possibly from a cerebral clot. Eng died shortly thereafter. Many of their numerous descendants continue to live in the region.

Bibliography

J Van Dijk, The Transparent Body: A Cultural Analysis of Medical Imaging (Seattle and London: University of Washington Press, 2005)

A and I Wallace, The Two: The Story of the Original Siamese Twins (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1978)

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