Burke & Hare

Edinburgh 1827-1832


Both Burke (1729-1829) and Hare (1729 or 1804-?) were originally from Northern Ireland and immigrated to Scotland to work in the Union Canal. Burke had a mistress called Helen McDougal and Hare was married to Margaret Laird.

Edinburgh at that time was a city well known for medical science, but the city could not provide the medical institutes with enough cadavers for their studies. This opened a market for selling large amounts of cadavers. At first it was grave robberies, but in this example developed into more radical actions. In just one year they killed around 17 people that we know of. Burke and Hare sold must of their bodies to Dr Robert Knox, who was a well known og respected doctor.

Victims + Trial & Execution

This is a list of the victims:

1. Donald, army pensioner

2. Abigail Simpson from Gilmerton, salt seller

3. Joseph, miller

4. Drunken female lodger - Burke acting alone

5. English male lodger from Cheshire

6. Mary Haldane, prostitute

7. Effie, cinder- gatherer

8. Irish woman from Glasgow

9. Glasgow woman’s son or grandson

10. Female lodger - Hare acting alone

11. Drunken woman in the West Port

12. Margaret Haldane, prostitute

13. Mary Paterson, also known as Mary Mitchell

14. Mrs Hostler, washerwoman

15. Ann McDougal, cousin of Helen McDougal

16. James Wilson, simpleton

17. Mary Docherty, Irish beggar-woman, also known as Margery Campbell

These killings happened over a period of time of roughly one year. The medical students started to recognize some of the cadavers and got more and more suspicious. Burke and Hare got court by the Grays, a couple who found one of their killings(victims) under Burkes bed. They ran to tell the police thus started the trial that lead to Burke getting executed and Hare leaving the country. Hare got a lighter conviction by testifying against Burke who was found guilty and executed 28th of January 1829.

The hanging led to the biggest gathering in Edinburgh ever up to the day .

Influence on history

In the beginning af the 19th century doctors and medical student were only allowed to dissect bodies of executed murderers. The demand of "fresh corpses" rose due to the growing interest in medical science, but the supply was weakening because of the decreased amount of murders.

As a natural reaction to this situation, the phenomenon of grave robbery grow worse - since it was a profitable business, and furthermore it wasn't an actual crime the UK, due to the fact that nobody owned the bodies.
Another way of supplying the medical scientists with this special demand became burking, a phenomenon named after the notorious serial killers W. Burke & W. Hare. Examples are both the West Port murders(1828) and the London Burkers(1831).

The Anatomy Act of 1832

As a reaction to the the West Port murders and the London Burkers a commission in London decided to change the low according to dissection of human bodies.
It was no longer a requirement, that bodies for dissection had to be from executed murders (Act of Murder 1752). The bodies of pour people were to surpass to scientific purpose, furthermore donated corpses were allowed to be used for examinations. Thereby it was now possible for doctors, teachers of anatomy and serious/ambitious/bona fide medical students structurally and repeatedly to dissect human bodies. In this way it was feasible for medical science to specialize and advance in several areas of the human anatomy, by getting a huge amount of new knowledge within a relatively short period of time.

These scientific progress were some of the most important in nearly 2.000 years (since Galen). Thus the newly acquired knowledge doctors were able to cure patients and underline the importance of hygiene. This so to speak changed the face of medicin.