Sunday, August 16, 2009

Chang and Eng Bunker, the Original Siamese Twins

One-hundred-eighty years ago, on August 16, 1829, two eighteen-year-old males, Chang and Eng, arrived in Boston from Siam aboard the Sachem. The Daily National Intelligencer (Washington, D.C.) reported in its August 22, 1829 issue that "It was one of the greatest living curiosities that we ever saw," as the two were conjoined, "connected by a cartilaginous substance about seven inches in circumference and four in length." Despite this congenital condition, the newspaper notes that "They appear to be in good health, and apparently contented with their confined situation."

The original "Siamese twins," as they became known, Chang and Eng toured widely, giving lectures and exhibitions, and were one of P.T. Barnum's most popular "curiosities." The twins added the surname Bunker when they become American citizens in 1839; their first names apparently meant left (Chang) and right (Eng). They enjoyed great notoriety and financial success, but eventually retired to Wilkes County, North Carolina in the late 1830s where they purchased a farm as well as slaves. They married the sisters Sarah and Adelaide Yates in 1843 and together had 21 children. They died on January 17, 1874, and are buried in the White Plains Baptist Church cemetery.

UNC University Library holds many materials related to Chang and Eng, including the Chang and Eng Bunker Papers in the Southern Historical Collection, and printed material and original photographs in the North Carolina Collection. The library also has an online digital collection, Eng & Chang Bunker: The Siamese Twins, that contains photographs, engravings, letters to and by the twins, account books, and published works.

The image above is from the North Carolina Collection Gallery. It is a watercolor on ivory, and was painted by an unknown French or Dutch artist in Paris circa 1835-6.

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