THE ORIGINAL SIAMESE TWINS
Eng and Chang Bunker, The Siamese Twins
There is an extremely rare form of identical twins that occurs perhaps in one out of every 75,000 to 100,000 births or 1 in 200 deliveries of identical twins, that of conjoined twins.
Conjoined twins originate from a single fertilized egg so they are always identical and same-sex twins. The developing embryo starts to split into identical twins within the first two weeks after conception but then stops before completion, leaving a partially separated egg which continues to mature into a conjoined fetus.
The most famous set of conjoined twins were Chang and Eng, the men who originated the term “Siamese Twins”. Eng and Chang were born in Siam (modern day Thailand) on May 11, 1811 to a Chinese father and half-Chinese, half-Malay mother. Thanks to their heritage, while growing up in Siam the boys were known as “The Chinese Twins”.
Despite the fact that their birth was initially believed to be an omen of the end of the world, they brought celebrity to their small village. Their mother refused to allow doctors to attempt to separate the boys, fearing that to do so would result in the death of one or both. Instead she taught them to stretch the tissue that joined them so that they could stand side-by-side rather than always face-to-face.
In 1824, Scottish merchant Robert Hunter discovered the twins by accident while they were swimming. He introduced himself and became a friend of their family. Later he asked the Siamese government for permission to take the boys to Europe, but his request was at first denied.
In 1829 Hunter and his associate Captain Abel Coffin offered money to the boys’ mother for permission to take them abroad, then tried again with the government; this time they succeeded. In April, 17 year-olds Chang and Eng left for Boston, excited to see the world.
After a successful and profitable tour of the States, the group then sailed to England where they became quite popular.
They were extensively examined by doctors and visited by royalty.
Unfortunately, their next planned stop, France, did not receive them quite so well; they were denied entry by the French government. The rest of Europe, however, was not closed to them, so they toured extensively, continuing to pack venues.
In 1832 Chang and Eng broke off their arrangement with Captain Coffin (Mr. Hunter having sold his share of the rights to Coffin while they were in Europe) when they realized that he was taking the vast majority of the money received for their tours. This break led them to P. T. Barnum, with whom they toured until 1839, when they decided to quit the exhibition life and settle down.
They chose Wilkesboro, North Carolina where they began the life of farmers. In 1839 they became United States citizens, but lacking last names they were simply listed as “Chang and Eng, Siamese Twins.” In 1844 they decided to remedy that by petitioning to adopt the name Bunker, although it is not known for sure where this came from.
Chang and Eng began to date Adelaide and Sarah Ann Yates, two of nine daughters of local farmer and part-time clergyman, David Yates. The townspeople disapproved, so Chang and Eng scheduled a separation surgery in Philadelphia. Their fiancées found out and quickly stopped the proceeding, and in April, 1843, Chang was married to Adelaide and Eng to Sarah Ann in a double wedding.
During the course of their marriages, Eng fathered six boys and five girls; Chang seven girls and three boys. All were normal except for a son and daughter of Chang’s who were deaf mutes.
In January, 1874, Chang Bunker died after a severe case of bronchitis, possibly from a cerebral clot. Eng died two and half hours thereafter (most likely of shock.)
After their deaths it was determined they could have been successfully separated, a medical option that was never offered to Eng and Chang during their lives.
Although Eng and Chang’s fame helped coin the phrase ‘Siamese Twins’, they were not the first pair of conjoined twins recorded in medical annals as there were probably about 100 such pairs known by the time of their 1811 births, a fact which helped the King of Siam reverse an early death sentence on the brothers. In fact, conjoined twins were recorded as early as 945 in Armenia and the first pair of successfully separated twins took place in 1689 by German physician G. König.
This photograph shows them with their wives, the Yates sisters and two of their children.
Eng is the quiet, studious one on the left. Chang, slightly shorter, likes to have fun, but don’t offer him a drink.
In their homeland they’re known as In-Jan, and there’s a monument to them near their birthplace, but few Thais these days know much about the conjoined brothers who became world famous a century and a half ago as Chang and Eng Bunker, the Siamese Twins.
The conjoined twins Eng and Chang Bunker fathered 21 children and now have 1,800 descendants – and every July many of them come together in Mt. Airy, NC., where the twins settled.
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