Chang & Eng

by Harley Newman


January 17th, 2004 marks the 130th anniversary of the deaths of Chang and Eng, the original Siamese Twins, who gained substantial fame and fortune through the mid-1800s.


Although they were of Chinese descent, they were born in what was then Siam, and were presented to the King on a couple of occasions.


They were physically and intellectually capable kids. Their father died when they were quite young, and they developed a business in duck-raising and manufacture of fermented eggs that were considered a delicacy.


They were “discovered” by Robert Hunter, a British merchant/fortune-hunter, while swimming. Hunter took them to be some kind of very strange animal, and followed them home. He eventually received permission from the King, to take the boys to the West, for purposes of exhibition. Their mother was supposed to receive $1000 for the privilege of losing her sons, but only received $500.


Hunter teamed up with Captain Abel Coffin in managing Chang and Eng, and paid them a nominal salary while raking in huge profits, only a small portion of which they fed back into the business enterprise.

In their exhibitions, they were known for intelligent conversation, wherein each could start a sentence that the other would finish. They did flips. They danced. And if something went wrong, they acquired a reputation for more than holding their own in a fight.


Chang and Eng, upon reaching the age of maturity, took over their own management, and earned substantial sums. They retired to Mount Airy, North Carolina, where they purchased land, married a pair of sisters, farmed, and proceeded to raise families, totaling 21 or 22 children (depending on the information source).


After ten years of marriage, their wives didn’t get along so well any more. Chang and Eng built another house, and instituted a system of spending three days in each house, and then going to the other. They never violated this rule.


At whichever house, the owner was absolute boss. This led to problems between them, as Chang liked drinking whiskey in excess, and had a fiery temper. Eng was only a moderate drinker. On several occasions they came to blows.


When the American Civil War occurred, they lost all their money, being on the losing side, and decided to go back on tour. They’d been retired long enough that they’d lost most of their connections, so they turned to P.T. Barnum for management. They neither liked nor trusted Barnum.


On their final European tour, they may have seriously discussed the possibility of separation with eminent surgeons. However, this was a publicity scam that they’d worked with great success, earlier in their careers, so its seriousness is suspect.


Chang had a stroke on the voyage back, and never completely recovered from it.


January of 1874 was cold. Chang got a cold which may have been controlled, had they not had the rule of changing houses. It developed into pneumonia. And he died, either from a stroke or pneumonic complications.


Folk history says that Eng died of fright, upon finding himself bound to the corpse of his brother. This is not so. They shared a liver, and some circulatory system parts. The heart of each circulated blood through his own body, and into that of his brother as well.


And so when Chang died, Eng continued to pump blood into his dead body. Chang could no longer pump it back.


Eng died of loss of blood.


Their body(s) were eventually sent to the Philadelphia College of Physicians for an autopsy. The plaster death cast of their body(s) is in a display case there, in the Mutter Museum, the sewn-up incisions from the autopsy being clearly visible.


On the shelf under the cast is their liver.


The rest of them is buried in North Carolina.


Dates adjusted and verified with information from Yorke Haynes, Great-Great Grandson of Chang Bunker


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