The Shadow of Eng and Chang

Robert Traynor
February 7, 2012

As result of a rare embryological accident, conjoined twins were born in May, 1811 about 60 miles outside of Bangkok in Maklong, Kingdom of Siam (present day Thailand).  The birth was a miracle and an oddity, in 1811 as conjoined twins,  even in the present day, are usually stillborn and those that live usually expire after only hours (UIC, 2012).  Due to this particular birth of conjoined twins, however, all conjoined twin births are now called “Siamese Twins.”

Born to Chinese parents, Eng and Chang were joined by a ligament 4 inches long and 8 inches in circumference.  They were born 5th in a family of nine children and, according to Morheid (1850), their father died in 1819 when they were 8 years of age.  Morheid further presents that at age 8 they began working in the manufacture of coconut oil and later turned their talents to peddling wares to merchants. Finally,  they went into business raising young ducks using heat (a new procedure at the time) and made this into a very

successful business.

At age 17, the boys were brought to America by the showman Abel Coffin, whose associate had initially discovered them in 1824 while they were swimming in the Mekong River. In America they joined up with P.T. Barnum, traveling though the US, Europe, Asia, and other parts of the world until their retirement from exposition in 1839.   They became naturalized citizens of the United States, taking the name Bunker after a woman who had treated them with respect and kindness at a boarding house in New York when they were on the road.

The twins loved fine cigars, literature, and smart clothes. Eng, the calm one, liked late-night poker. Chang drank and had a temper. Although probably exploited by the exhibition promoters to some degree, by age 21 they had amassed a significant fortune and used their money to purchase land, slaves, and other personal property. They settled in Wilkes County, North Carolina (around present day Wilkesboro, NC).  Here they became gentlemen slave owners in the pre-Civil War South. About 1842 both began courting the daughters of David Yates, a prominent local citizen.  According to Anderson (2012), Chang and Eng were dating sisters Adelaide and Sarah Ann (or Sally) Yates, respectively.

They were scheduled to marry, but locals disapproved strongly of the brothers’ courtship of the girls and even threatened them. Fearing for their lives, the brothers arranged for a separation surgery, begging to be separated even if it meant killing them both. However, the sisters intervened just before the operation and married the twins in a quick double-wedding ceremony. One couple purchased a farm adjacent to the brothers’ original property and they built separate houses raising tobacco to make a comfortable living. From then on, they spent alternating nights with their wives in their own houses. (up to your imagination as how they worked this one out).  Together they fathered 22 children (10 were Chang’s, 12 were Eng’s).

Although many of their children died of disease and other causes, today they have about 1500 decendants in the Winston-Salem, NC area.  After the Civil War their farm was devastated, and they had no slaves to work the land so they decided to go bacvk on the road to make a living.   Algie (2012) writes that the Bunkers had a final, disastrous sideshow tour in 1866 after the Civil War, but by that point, the twins were already in their 50s, their star had dimmed, and Chang, once the gregarious wisecracker of the duo, had become a gloomy alcoholic. Eng, a lifelong teetotaler, was repulsed by his brother’s habit, partly because the alcohol had a physical effect on him, too.  Doubly defeated, their performances became erratic and they made little money and they were not on good terms with each other du to Chang’s alcoholism and Eng’s bitterness and enhanced by their mutual poverty.  One night in 1874 Eng woke up in the middle of a cold January night to find his brother dead beside him, the final act of his life was one of reconciliation; he died 3 hours later at age 63, a record for conjoined twins.  Algie reports that an autopsy demonstrated that the conjoined twins would have died if they had been separated as planned prior to their marriages, as they shared a liver.

What can Audiologists learn from conjoined twins and, particularly this pair of conjoined twins?

Schuknecht (1979) studied the lives of Eng and Chang and found that at age 58, Chang had hearing loss in both ears.  Eng had a hearing loss as well, but it was significantly worse in the Left ear.  Here’s the audiology lesson from Eng and Chang.. Both shooting right handed, they were avid hunters who routinely took game on their land using rifles.  Chang, who was located to the left of Eng, had hearing loss in both ears and that Eng had a hearing loss in both ears as well, but the loss that was significantly greater in the left ear.  Schucknecht proposed that these hearing losses were probably caused by muzzle-blast injury from hunting and that only Eng’s right ear experienced the protective effect of head shadow.  One of the oldest documented examples of the practical result of naturally sheltering the ear from damage by the head shadow.


Algie, J. (2012).  Strange story of the ORIGINAL Siamese twins.  American Expat In Chaing Mai.  Retrieved February 6, 2012:

Anderson, E., (2012).  Chang Eng.  Phreeque  Retrieved February 5, 2012:

Britannica Blog (2011).  Chang and Eng:  the original Siamese twins.  Britannica Blog.  Retrieved February 5, 2012:

Hong, C. (2002).  Ontology of Chang and Eng:  The original Siamese twins.   Translating Mo’um, Hanging Loss Press. Retrieved February 5, 2012:

Moreheid, J. (1850).  Eng & Chang Bunker:  Siamese Twins.  University of North Carolina Libraries.  Retrieved February5, 2012:

Schuknecht, H. (1979). The Siamese twin, Eng and Chang:  their lives and their hearing losss.     Archives of Otolaryngology.  Retrieved February 5, 2012:

UIC (2012).

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