Perhaps the best-known set of conjoined twins and the ones who were first given the name "Siamese Twins" were Chang and Eng, who were born on a houseboat in the village of Mekong in what was then known as Siam on May 11, 1811. Born to a farming family, they were the fifth and sixth children of their mother Nok and their father, Ti-eye. The couple would later have three additional children. Connected by a five-inch band of cartilage between their breastbones (which would expand slightly as they aged), Chang and Eng were dipolopagus twins, completely symmetrical and most probably could have been separated during their lives.
Chang and Eng led celebrated lives, they spent much of their childhood living with King Rama III in Bangkok before traveling to America in 1829. Arriving in the United States, they added a surname, Bunker, most probably because of their friendship with a family with that name. The two toured extensively throughtout the world for most of their lives before settling down to live as farmers in Wilkesboro, North Carolina in 1839. It was in the North Carolina hills that Chang and Eng met their wives, marrying sisters Adelaide and Sallie Yates, respectively.
The two families led relatively prosperous lives and combined to parent 21 children. They died witihn hours of each other on January 17, 1874 at age 62. For more on their rich lives, we suggest reading The Two, Chang and Eng: A Novel or visiting The Hypenated Life Web Site. One of the Bunker Twins descendents, Michael Bunker, maintains an informative web site on his family here at twinstuff.
A sad fate awaited the Sardinian Twins, Ritta and Christina (shown below), who were born in Sassari, Sardinia in 1829. The eighth and ninth children of poor parents, the twins died of cold at just 8 months and 11 days (Nov. 23, 1829) when their parents took them to Paris to be exhibited. Their skeleton is still preserved in Paris. They were Dicephali Twins with 2 legs, 2 upper bodies, 4 arms and 2 heads.
While Chang and Eng were garnering most of the headlines during this era, another remarkable pair of conjoined twins, Millie and Christine McKoy, the Two-Headed Nightingale, were also living in North Carolina. These two twins were born into slavery in Columbus County, North Carolina on July 11, 1851, weighing a remarkable combined 17 pounds at birth (Christine, the stronger baby, likely weighed a dozen of those 17 pounds). The twins were fluent in five languages and were accomplished pianists, singers and dancers who toured the world performing, with many of those years as featured performers of PT Barnum's traveling shows. They died on October 8 and 9, 1912 as Millie succombed to tuburculosis and Christine was then given massive doses of morphine before also passing on from eight to 17 hours later. For more on Millie-Christine, we recommend reading the book, Fearfully and Wonderfully Made.
Another well-known set who lived during this era were Giavanni and Giacomo Tocci, the inspiration for Mark Twain's Those Extraordinary Twins. The Tocci Twins were born in Locana, Italy on October 4, 1877 and lived until 1940. They were one body below their sixth rib and two bodies above with each brother controlling one of their legs (dicephalus twins). They were quite artistic, spoke three languages, perhaps married sisters (it is unclear), and lived their final 40 years in relative seclusion near Venice, Italy.
According to the book, The Two-Headed Boy & Other Medical Marvels by Jan Bonderon (Cornell University Press, 2000), the Tocci Twins were born to a 19-year-old mother and 32-year-old father, who fainted when first presented his newborn sons. After their parents exploited the pair during extensive tours, both the family and twins made a great deal of money, allowing the twins to retire at an early age (at age 20).
Another set of dicephalus twins, Mina and Minnie Finley, were born in Mt. Gilead, Ohio on October 12, 1870. The twin girls lived to be just 13 months before passing away. They were connected at the lower lims and had two heads, four arms and four legs. Their casts reside in the Mutter Museum in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania today.
A rare example of parasitic conjoined twins was the sideshow performer, Jean Libbera, who was born in Rome, Italy in 1884, with a conjoined twin, Jacques, growing from his torso. He was the fourth of 13 children in his family and the third child in the family also had the same type of parasitic twin, but died shortly after birth. The People of the Sideshow Web Site has a biography and photo of Jean and Jacques.
Another early pair of twins who were separated briefly were the Orissa Sisters, Radica and Doadica, who were born in India in either 1888 or 1889. They were separated by a French physician after one of the sisters contracted tuberculosis with Doadica dying immediately following the separation and Radica dying two years later also to tuberculosis.