DESCRIPTION: Irishman Burke comes to Scotland looking for work. He and McDougall join Hare who kills poor lodgers and sells the bodies to doctors; "sixty men and women I willingly did kill." They are taken, Hare turns state's evidence and Burke is hanged.
EARLIEST DATE: 1906 (Greig/Duncan2)
KEYWORDS: execution homicide Scotland gallows-confession
Jan 28, 1829 - William Burke is hanged for the murder of Mrs Docherty (source: broadside NLScotland Ry.III.a.6(028)).
FOUND IN: Britain(Scotland(Aber))
REFERENCES (2 citations):
Greig-FolkSongInBuchan-FolkSongOfTheNorthEast #36, p. 2, "Burke's Confession" (1 text)
Greig/Duncan2 192, "Burke's Confession" (5 texts, 3 tunes)
cf. "The Black Cook" (subject: sale of dead bodies for anatomical studies)
cf. "The Roon-Moo'ed Spade" (subject: sale of dead bodies for anatomical studies)
Burke and Hare
NOTES [4928 words]: For an account of "Execution, Confession, and a list of all the Horrid Murders committed by Burke, also the decision of Hare's Case" "List of the 16 Murders committed by Burke" see broadside NLScotland, Ry.III.a.6(028), "Broadside regarding the Burke and Hare trials," unknown, 1829. That broadside explains some of the ballad's loose ends. The episode is known as the "West Port Tragedies." When a man died in Hare's house, he and Burke sold the body to "anatomists" for 10 GBP. Surprised at the windfall they decided to kill people not likely to be missed and sell those bodies. They killed sixteen, rather than sixty, and one of those was Mrs. Docherty. Helen McDougal was a prostitute who went with Burke; the ballad gives the impression that Burke was turned in by McDougal but the broadside does not mention that. The broadside confirms that Hare turned state's evidence; after that the High Court found that Hare could not be tried for those crimes and he was released. - BS
There is also a long account, titled "Burke and Hare," on pp. 207-210 of Briggs.
NLScotland has several broadsides on Burke and Hare in addition to the one Ben cites above, and indeed has a whole category on "body snatching." Some of the titles include "Burke and Hare trials," "Confessions made by William Burke," "Confessions, Lamentations, & Reflections of William Burke," "Hare's Confession and Death!," "Hare's Dream!," "Horrible and Barbarous Murder of Helen M'Dougal," "Life and Transactions of the Murderer Burke and his Associates," "Lines On The Gilmerton Murder," "Lines Supposed to have Been Written by Mrs. Wilson, Daft Jamie's Mother," "Trial and Sentence of William Burke and Helen McDougall," "Trial and Sentence of William Burke, 1828," "William Burke -- A New Song," "William Burke's Confession," and "William Burke's Murders in the Westport."
Henderson-VictorianStreetBallads, pp. 26-27, also has one called "The Recent Murders -- A New Song," which appears to be based on "Chevy Chase." It lists most of the murder victims, and appears to have been written just after Burke's trial, since Hare's fate is not yet known.
For background on anatomists and the context of Burke and Hare's activities, see the notes to "The Black Cook."
Incidentally, the Burke and Hare case seems to exert continued fascination. It appears that at least four books have been written about them since the middle of the twentieth century, although the only one I have seen is Edwards.
Edwards attempts to give us a rather different, and more sympathetic, view of Burke than is found in most sources. Both Burke and Hare were Irish Catholics from Ulster who were driven to Scotland by poverty. They were originally respectable; Burke, who was born in 1792, served in the Irish militia from 1809 to 1816 (Edwards, p. xvii) before coming to Scotland.
The two met in 1827, when Burke and his girlfriend took lodging with Hare and his wife (Edwards, p. ix). Unlike other resurrectionists, they do not seem to have robbed graves (Edwards, p. 23, says that Burke denied this to the very end, by which time the denial could do him no good and a claim of grave-robbing would have allowed him at least some vengeance on Hare who betrayed him) -- but they did kill at least fifteen people, although the first murder, in early 1828 (Edwards, p. xvii) may have been accidental.
They earned between eight and ten pounds for each cadaver supplied, meaning they earned sixty to seventy pounds each in a period of ten months (Young, p. 102) -- easily enough to live on at this time. (This was a dramatic improvement on earlier rates. Adams, p. 13, tells of a 1751 case with many similarities to the Burke and Hare murders: A child was forcibly made drunk and suffocated, and the body sold -- but, in this case, for a mere five shillings.)
According to Edwards, p. 3, many of the stories about Burke and Hare are inaccurate or misreported. He notes, for instance, that the Dictionary of National Biography falsely stated that Hare was executed with Burke, and points out also that it seems likely that Burke was born in Urney, Ulster, rather than a non-existent town of Orrey.
Burke's native tongue was probably Irish rather than English (Edwards, p. 6). Even so, he seems to have been a loyal British citizen; according to Edwards, p. 13, "Burke's years in the militia meant a good deal to him. He was to speak of them afterward with affection... it is probable that they were the best [years] of his life." But Edwards, p. 19, points out that the casual brutality of the militia might well have fostered in him an attitude that life is cheap.
For a man of his background, Burke was highly unusual in that he was apparently literate (Edwards, p. 76).
If we have some records of Burke's early life, we have nothing at all about the origins of William Hare (Edwards, p. 29, although he proceeds to speculate at length). It is possible that he had already gotten in trouble in Ireland and been forced to flee (Edwards, p. 40) -- but, like many other Irishmen including Burke, there was also the lure of work in Scotland; thousands left overcrowded pre-Famine Ireland to work as navvies on the Union Canal or find other jobs (Edwards, p. 41). Burke and Hare were among those who worked on the Union Canal, both apparently starting in 1818.
Navvy work cannot have been easy for Burke, who was a small man (Edwards, pp. 46-47). In any case, the project was finished in 1822, and the canal boom went bust after that; there would have been few other opportunities for such unskilled jobs. Burke was about thirty years old anyway, and Hare about the same age, so they could not have continued such back-breaking work for much longer. Burke seems to have drifted into odd jobs; Hare eventually became a slum landlord (Edwards, p. 49).
Burke seems to have traded, to some extent, on his looks and his charm with the ladies (despite the fact that his native language was Irish); Edwards, p. 55, thinks he got a girl pregnant and married her. They had two children (Edwards, p. 59), but that didn't keep him from picking up another woman, Helen MacDougall, in Scotland (Edwards, p. 60, who notes that she too seems to have had previous children although Edwards, pp. 63-64, reports that observers found her very unattractive). Hare's relations with women seem also to have been very complicated and likely bigamous.
Edwards, p. 62, considers whether Burke would have discussed his murderous activities with Helen MacDougall. The mob of course felt her to be an accessory after the fact. Edwards, p. 63, suspects that she did not know the truth, at least at first, although she may eventually have guessed.
MacDougal gave her age as 33, making her about three years younger than Burke, but we cannot be sure of this; even her birth name is somewhat uncertain (Edwards, p. 65).
Burke and MacDougal were together by 1827, when they spent the summer as agricultural laborers (Edwards, p. 66). Margaret Hare met them when the season was over and invited them to lodge with her and her husband (Edwards, p. 67, who considers Margaret Hare the least sympathetic of the four principals, Burke, MacDougall, and the two Hares).
Edwards, pp. 68-69, suggests that the Hares may have turned to murder even before they went into the body-snatching business. Margaret Hare's first husband James Logue died rather suddenly, and Margaret married Hare very soon thereafter; Edwards thinks they might have had an affair and decided to eliminate her husband. It is true that Burke never accused Margaret Hare, even after the Hares turned on him, but he had no way to know what the Hares were doing before he met them. Edwards thinks that his refusal to indict Mrs. Hare was because Burke was "a gentleman."
Whatever happened to Logue, Margaret Logue and Hare found themselves with a small boarding-house, and one of their lodgers was Burke.
All four were apparently heavy drinkers (Edwards, p. 68), which both increased their expenses and left them more open to various temptations. Burke, MacDougal, and the Hares all were involved in ordinary work in 1828 -- Burke as a cobbler, Hare as a boatman or hawker, Burke and MacDougall as agricultural laborers (Edwards, p. 77). But these were not lucrative occupations.
It appears that the idea of body-snatching came to them when one of Hare's lodgers died (Roach, p. 49). The man was a pensioner, paid quarterly, and the Hares had extended him credit -- and, due to his death, lost their chance to be paid (Edwards, pp. 78-79; Adams, pp. 77-78). They found a unique way to make up for the loss....
Although the evidence is conflicting, Edwards, p. 79, thinks it was Burke who first suggested harvesting the corpse; having been in the militia, he would be more aware of doctors' need for cadavers. He was also the first to "borrow" the body (Edwards, p. 80), filling the coffin with tanner's bark so that the burial could proceed.
Burke and Hare, having acquired their cadaver, don't seem to have known quite what to do with it; they headed off for Edinburgh's Old College and seemingly started trying to find an anatomist. They were referred to Dr. Robert Knox in Surgeon Square (Edwards, p. 81). Knox apparently asked few questions and promptly offered seven pounds, ten shillings, which they took (Edwards, p. 82).
Knox was a surprisingly young man, born probably in 1792 or 1793 (Edwards, p. 120); perhaps he had less access to legitimate cadavers than most. His history to this time had mostly been good; he had been a military surgeon in 1814 (Edwards, p. 121). He would go on, in 1850, to write a thoroughly prejudiced book, The Races of Man, based on his anatomical work -- but his conclusions don't seem to have bothered anyone at the time.
He was unusual in other ways -- he had a "blasted eye" and a "satanic smile," according to Edwards, p. 121, and happily married below his station (although he did not otherwise associate with the lower classes). He gave an air of intelligence and wit (Edwards, p. 122) -- but, according to a fellow physician who was not overly squeamish himself, he was "a man of undoubted talent, but notoriously deficient in principle and in heart... exactly the person to blind himself against suspicion" (Edwards, p. 126).
Edwards, p. 135, declares (without proof, we should add) that "Knox simply did not regard the Burke and Hare murders as criminal; on the contrary, he looked on them as an enlightened method of disposing of useless derelicts with ultimate betterment to the more desirable segments of humanity."
He was a popular lecturer and teacher, having as many as 400 students, so apparently he was under genuine pressure to dig up enough bodies to give his demonstrations (Edwards, pp. 130-131). This seems to have been the core of his defense to the committee which eventually investigated his conduct. Certainly it was at the core of the one and only public statement he made on the matter (quoted by Edwards, pp. 132-134): He regretted what happened but disclaimed any responsibility -- and hinted at political persecution. The committee disapproved of his actions but did not revoke his licence or otherwise interfere with his future work.
The fact that Knox made no attempt to investigate (Roach, p. 49), but simply ordered his assistants to pay men who hauled in a dead body, will tell you something about the market in cadavers at the time. Indeed, Edwards, p. 83, suggests that this may be what inspired Burke and Hare's next steps. He suggests that they had a legal, or at least a moral, right to the corpse (since the dead man owed Hare money) -- but that Dr. Knox, since he asked no questions, clearly thought that they had obtained it illegally. Which set them thinking about obtaining bodies by less legitimate means.
They certainly don't seem to have done much to conceal their identities. They used the names William and John in dealing with Knox (Adams, p. 77).
It is not absolutely certain which of their victims came next, but Edwards, p. 86, thinks that it was probably a miller named Joseph, who was dying of fever. At most, Burke and Hare hastened the process along. But, obviously, they had started down a slippery slope.... And, indeed, they seem to have become more bold as more bodies passed through their hands. One early victim was an old pensioner whom they got drunk to the point of illness, then disposed of (Edwards, pp. 87-88).
There isn't much to be said about the next several murders; Burke and Hare, for obvious reasons, generally did not get to know their victims closely, and naturally did not keep records (Adams, p. 78), so they eventually started to blur in their memories (Edwards, p. 88); they would disagree on the order of the murders (Adams, p. 78). And it appears that Hare may have committed at least one murder on his own, without involving Burke (Edwards, p. 104).
Their activities seem to have expanded over the months; having done their initial work in Hare's boarding house, they took to operating in other sites because they ran out of room (Edwards, p. 105).
One of the first victims to be identified was a prostitute, Mary Paterson (Edwards, p. 89). It is true that she had no real defenders -- but, apparently, a number of men knew and remembered her. And Dr. Knox kept her body preserved in alcohol, apparently because she was pretty (Roach, p. 52), which obviously simplified identification.
Also noteworthy for its vileness was the murder of a middle-aged woman and her son or grandson, the latter being about twelve and perhaps not mentally sound (Edwards, p. 92). This was a more-than-usually brutal murder, since the boy's back was reportedly broken (Edwards, p. 86, although his next several pages seem to imply he distrusts the account, and Adams, p. 82, also questions it) -- but Dr. Knox still asked no questions.
There was also an instance in which they killed a mother and daughter, but that may have been more forced -- the daughter came nosing around trying to find out what happened to her mother (Edwards, pp. 105-107).
Burke later admitted that they became bolder as the weeks passed; initially, they brought the corpses to Knox at night, but they carried Mary Paterson's body (e.g.) in daylight (Edwards, p. 101). Eventually they even took a seeming relative of Helen MacDougal (Edwards, p. 108). Little surprise that they finally slipped up!
Their downfall began when they took a man named James Wilson, commonly called "Daft Jamie." Born in 1809, he had apparently been cast from home because he was wild and destructive and developmentally disabled (Edwards, pp. 111-112; on p. 113, he describes Jamie as if his mental age were about seven or eight, and on p. 129 he mentions his "malformed feet"). Adams, p. 81, also refers to malformed feet and says that he walked with a stoop. On the one hand, he probably seemed like someone who could safely be murdered. On the other hand, he still had a family -- as well as recognizable physical peculiarities....
The deformities may have contributed to his demise, although this does not seem to have come out in testimony. According to Adams, p. 21, anatomists particularly liked unusual specimens such as dwarfs.
The exact date of the murder is not known, but it was probably in mid-October 1828. Sadly, it appears Hare was unable to get Jamie drunk, so this was true murder; Jamie was conscious and alert (insofar as he was ever capable of being aware of what was going on) while he was killed (Edwards, p. 113).
Adams, p. 82, admits that Burke seems to have had qualms by this time -- a point which is the main subject of Edwards. But he didn't stop his activities.
There was, apparently, only one more murder after that, of an old woman named Docherty (Edwards, p. 114).
Although the murders were detected, the authorities seem to have had little idea of what was going on until a married couple, the Grays, visited the criminals and reported to authorities that they had seen a dead body -- Docherty's -- there (Edwards, p. 138; Adams, p. 83). And even that clue was not enough to give the prosecutors a clear case. They needed more.
Burke and his girlfriend Helen MacDougall were finally arrested on November 1, 1828, apparently just one day after the death of Docherty, whose un-dissected body was found the next day. The Hares were arrested on that same November 2. Another man, John Brogan, was briefly arrested but soon released (Edwards, p. 146) The initial court appearance was on November 3 (Edwards, p. 139).
For whatever reason, the government from the start seemed to want to get Burke in particular (Edwards suggests that it is because he was literate and therefore suspected of being the ringleader). When it was concluded that the evidence was not sufficient to gain a conviction without an admission by someone, prosecutors tried first to get something out of Helen MacDougall. She refused to reveal anything (Edwards, p. 146; indeed, he suggests on p. 175 that she did not learn what was going on until the time of the last murder). Next they turned to Hare. He turned King's evidence and was let off in return for helping prove a capital charge against Burke.
Edwards describes Burke's initial statement as odd -- "Burke comes very close to telling the Sheriff-substitute... that he got the body from the fairies" (Edwards, p. 139). It also makes a claim that he was the middleman in the resurrectionist business rather than the original collector of corpses. As for evidence that the body of Mrs. Docherty seen in his home, he explained that she had died there -- and he had sold her rather than calling authorities (Edwards, p. 147).
Burke and MacDougall were tried only for the murder of Mrs. Docherty. (Charges had been initially filed for the murders of Docherty, Daft Jamie, and Mary Paterson, but apparently the prosecutor decided to try the single count because the only body they had was Docherty's, plus perhaps they didn't want to arouse the mob; Edwards, pp. 153-155. As it turned out, dropping the counts regarding Jamie and Paterson roused the mob at least as much as the trial would have; Edwards, p. 155. Still, the Scottish law supplied good lawyers for the defense, so it might have been easier not to give them much to work with).
Hare, when turned, proved very clever. Although he was asked only about Mrs. Docherty, he gave testimony about all the murders -- thus in effect giving himself immunity from prosecution for any of them (Edwards, p. 152).
The decision to concentrate on the Docherty case, and to spare the Hares, had the secondary effect of taking Knox out of the equation, since he had never seen Docherty's body (Edwards, p. 161). Edwards, pp. 248-249, seems to grant that the Hares were needed to prove the Docherty case -- but that there were sufficient secondary witnesses to prove the Patterson and Daft Jamie murders. He suggests that the Crown's decision to proceed as it did was largely political
The trial opened with theatrics, with the defense showing its willingness even to quibble over such things as a distinction between "also" and "likewise" (Edwards, p. 158). I doubt this endeared them to the court.
According to Edwards, p. 156, no evidence was ever brought forward making Helen MacDougall a participant in the murders; at most, she was an accessory before and after the fact. Of course, with fifteen or more murders, that's a lot of accessorizing. And Edwards, p. 181, thinks her incoherent testimony was damaging to Burke.
The trial began on Christmas Eve 1828 and took all of two days (Young, p. 102. We should add that they were very long days, with sessions ending after midnight; supposedly the second session lasted more than 17 hours; Edwards, p. 205). Hare was called upon to testify on Christmas Day (Edwards, p. 182). His testimony was confused and confusing (Edwards, pp. 182-183), and at least some of it appears to have been perjured (Edwards, p. 185), but clearly he described murder. This was vital, because every other witness's testimony was consistent with accidental death and an attempt to sell the body.
John Wilson ("Christopher North") would say contemptuously of the testimony, "First ae drunk auld wife, and then inither drunk auld wife -- and ten a third drunk auld wife -- and then a drunk auld or sick man or twa. The confession got unco monotonous... tough, to be sure, poor Peggy Paterson, the Unfortunate, broke in a little on the uniformity, and sae did Daft Jamie" (Adams, p. 79).
Margaret Hare offered no noteworthy testimony; it has been suggested that she was given immunity simply because her husband could not testify against her, so there could be no case against her (Edwards, p. 191). Sadly, the record of Hare's confession has been lost, so we do not know details (Edwards, p. 237).
Interestingly, the defense called no witnesses (Edwards, p. 199); their whole case was built on discrediting the prosecution and maintaining that Mrs. Docherty could have died a natural death (probably from alcohol poisoning) -- a point on which the feeble forensics of the time simply could not testify.
Burke's defense ultimately consisted of an argument that the prosecution had not proved that a crime had been committed -- that the only proof of murder, as opposed to accident, was the evidence of William Hare, and that that was inconsistent (true) and tainted by having been purchased (true). From a logical standpoint, it was a strong argument (Edwards, pp. 211-214); I would have hated to have been on the jury required to deal with it. It might even had worked had Burke's own story been more consistent.
Interestingly, Helen MacDougall's defense was conducted separately, and her lawyer assumed Burke's guilt but argued that she had not known what was going on.
It should be recalled that Scottish law, unlike English, allowed THREE verdicts, "guilty," "not guilty," and "not proven" -- the special Scottish verdict to say that the jury simply couldn't be sure of what happened (although Adams, p. 19, notes that cynical Scots paraphrase this as "not guilty -- but don't do it again"). MacDougall's lawyer, in fact, made the curious plea to the jury that they find the case against her "not proven" rather than "not guilty." (Edwards, p. 222). Which, in fact, is exactly what they did (Edwards, pp. ix-x). The case was given to the jury at about 8:30 on Christmas morning, and they returned their verdict about an hour later (Edwards, p. 229).
Burke, however, was convicted, and, after his conviction, eventually confessed (Edwards, p. x). Burke gave two fairly complete confessions, but it was some time before these were released. As a result, a vast number of false confessions began to be published (Edwards, p. 275). This song probably derives from some of these, since Burke killed only about sixteen people, not sixty.
Burke's personal prospects in the trial were apparently so slight that he pinned what little hope he had on the survival of MacDougall. At least, when the "Not Proven" verdict came down, his first response was apparently to fling his arms around her neck and declare, "Thank God, you are safe!" (Edwards, p. 230).
Burke naturally was condemned to death. Once his fate was settled, he really did give a full and detailed confession -- possibly with a goal of making Hare swing as well (Edwards, p. 251). If so, it didn't work. Hare was free -- and fleeing -- before the confession became known.
Oddly enough, when asked what sort of ministers he would like to visit him before his execution, Burke said he was not a bigot and asked for those of all available denominations (Edwards, p. 281), although he was Catholic and clearly placed the most importance on the visit with the priest. But he had Presbyterian as well as Catholic clergy present at his execution (Edwards, p. 282).
Burke was hanged in Edinburgh on January 28, 1829, with tens of thousands of spectators looking on (Edwards, p. xviii). A typical estimate is that 25,000 witnessed the event (Roach, p. 51); it is thought to have been the largest crowd ever to have seen an execution in Edinburgh (Edwards, p. 285). Young, p. 102, observes that the crowd would not have been large by Glasgow standards, but was very large for Edinburgh, which did not have a green for such things. (Interestingly, this crowd seems to have been mostly male; according to Edwards, p. 275, the few women in it were extensively hassled.)
The authorities had made special preparations to guard Burke from being lynched on his way to the gallows (Edwards, pp. 283-284). When the execution was slow in starting, the crowd became vocal, shouting "Burke him!" (Young, p. 103). "To burke" thus became a word for "to strangle or suffocate" (the latter is the usage supplied on p. 111 of Partridge, who dates it to 1829 -- i.e. to this execution).
The hangman was either incompetent or malicious; Burke's neck was not broken when he was dropped, and he was left to strangle for many minutes (Young, p. 103). Given that executioner Thomas Young had held his job since 1820 (Young, p. 158), one suspects this was deliberate.
The crowd wanted both Hare and Knox on the scaffold with him (Young, p. 103; Edwards, p. 285). They of course were not accommodated.
Burke's cadaver was used for anatomy lectures (Edwards, p. xix). Supposedly 30,000 viewed his dead body at the time, and many more since -- his skeleton was preserved (there is a photo of it on p. 62 of Adams; you can see where his skull was opened. Adams, p. 63, has sketches of Burke and Hare, and on p. 68 a sketch of where Knox had his office). Several wallets were made from Burke's skin (Roach, p. 51). This use of a dead man's body was not new; a man named James McKean has similarly been skinned in 1797 (Adams, pp. 11-12). It is also reported that Burke's skin was used to bind a copy of a book now in the Surgeon's Hall Museums; according to https://arstechnica.com/science/2020/12/dark-archives-come-for-the-floating-goat-balls-stay-for-the-fascinating-science/, protein tests have now verified that this book is bound with human skin.
Hare still had to face a hearing on whether he had done enough to be allowed his freedom. Edwards, p. 266, doesn't think much of this proceeding; he observes that several of the judges had been involved in the Burke case, and the two who were not both opposed setting Hare free. But, because it was a split decision, the state abandoned all proceedings against him. He did have to face a civil case from the family of Daft Jamie (Edwards, p. 266), but apparently this was given up when they realized Hare was destitute; all they were doing was giving him a place to stay (even if it was a prison) until the case was settled (Edwards, p. 268). On February 5, 1829, Hare was set free.
Hare fled Scotland; apparently nothing is known of his whereabouts after February 9, 1829 (Edwards, p. xix; Adams, p. 88). Although Hare disappeared and his fate is unknown, it appears that Margaret Hare had already left him by the time he vanished (Edwards, p. 72).
There was apparently a tradition that Hare was thrown into a lime-kiln and ended up as a blind beggar (Edwards, p. 29), although Edwards is forced to add that Hare was the only known mass murderer to have been in the hands of police but never punished in any way. Another tradition says that he survived for more than half a century as a peddlar in Aberfeldy (Adams, p. 88).
Knox was hanged in effigy (Edwards, p. 134) but was able to continue his work, eventually producing his magnum opus of racism. He did suffer, however, as his home was heavily damaged by rioting. He also found his number of students dwindling (Adams, pp. 88-89).
Helen MacDougall was several times assaulted by mobs; it is possible although not certain that she was eventually lynched by one (Edwards, p. 153).
Apart from all those modern books and contemporary broadsides describing the Burke and Hare story, the case seems to have inspired at least a few contemporary literary poems, such as Thomas Hood's "Mary's Ghost," cited on p. 129 of Edwards. In addition, Dylan Thomas wrote "The Doctor and the Devils" about Burke, Hare, and Knox; this was later made into a movie. And it is reported that the characters Morris and MacCab in Roger Zelazny's A Night in the Lonesome October are based on Burke and Hare (although the resemblance is very slight, and my source -- The Road to Amber, Volume 6: The Collected Stories of Roger Zelazny, NESFA Press, 2009, p. 477 -- does not give a reference for this claim).
Apparently Madame Tussaud actually commissioned waxworks of Burke and Hare -- the former from his death mask, the latter naturally from seeing him (Adams, p. 114). Macabre either way. One of those who saw them was Lady Jane Franklin, the wife of Sir John Franklin of Northwest Passage fame (McGoogan, p. 133).
A side effect of the Burke and Hare case was a revision of the Anatomy Acts (Roach, p. 49). Since the time of Henry VIII, the only cadavers doctors could legally obtain were those of executed criminals (Roach, p. 40). These were simply not enough for doctors to learn their trade. The result was the horrors of the Burke and Hare situation. A bill was quickly introduced to curb the demand (Edwards, p. 274). The first attempt died in the Lords, but then a pair of killers named Bishop and Williams brought Burkeing to London. They even confessed to imitating Burke and Hare, and were hanged in December 1831 (Adams, p. 91). That managed to push even the Lords into action. The Anatomy Act was given the royal assent on August 1, 1832 (Adams, p. 97), and made things at least a little better. - RBW
Last updated in version 6.0
- Adams: Norman Adams, Scottish Bodysnatchers: True Accounts, Goblinshead, 2002
- Briggs: Katherine Briggs, British Folktales (originally published in 1970 as A Dictionary of British Folk-Tales), revised 1977 (I use the 1977 Pantheon paperback edition)
- Edwards: Owen Dudley Edwards, Burke & Hare, 1983 (I use the revised 1993 paperback edition by Mercat Press)
- McGoogan: Ken McGoogan, Lady Franklin's Revenge: A True Story of Ambition, Obsession and the Remaking of Arctic History, Harper Perennial, 2005
- Partridge: Eric Partridge, A Dictionary of Slang and Unconventional English (combined fifth edition with dictionary and supplement), Macmillan, 1961
- Roach: Mary Roach, Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers, Norton, 2003
- Young: Alex F. Young, The Encyclopedia of Scottish Executions, 1750 to 1963, Eric Dobby Publishing, 1998
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