Image One: William Burke and William Hare’s death/life masks.
Image Two: Said to be a piece of Burke’s brain.
Image Three: A wallet made from the skin of Burke’s hand.
Image Four: Burke’s skeleton.
Bits and Pieces of Burke and Hare
The Burke and Hare murders were serial murders perpetrated in Edinburgh, Scotland, from 1827 to 1828. Before 1832, there were insufficient cadavers available for the teaching of anatomy in British medical schools. As medical science began to flourish in the early nineteenth century, demand rose sharply, but at the same time, the only legal supply of cadavers—the bodies of executed criminals—had fallen due to a reduction in the execution rate. This situation attracted criminals who were willing to obtain specimens by any means…
Burke and Hare murdered 17 people for this purpose, selling each of their acquisitions to Dr. Robert Knox of Edinburgh Medical School for around £10 each (approx. £1000 today). They would lure people to their inn and intoxicate them with alcohol before smothering them. They were almost undone by their 16th victim who was a well-known mentally disabled young man with a limp called “Daft Jamie”. When Dr. Knox uncovered the body the next morning, several students recognised Jamie. His head and feet were subsequently cut off. Knox denied that it was Jamie, but he apparently began to dissect the cadaver’s face first. Burke and Hare would go on to murder one more victim before they were discovered.
The evidence against the pair was not overwhelming, so Hare was offered immunity from prosecution if he confessed and testified against Burke. Hare’s testimony led to Burke’s death sentence. He was hanged and then publicly dissected at the Edinburgh Medical College. The dissecting professor dipped his quill pen into Burke’s blood and wrote “This is written with the blood of Wm Burke, who was hanged at Edinburgh. This blood was taken from his head.” His skeleton and death mask are displayed at the University of Edinburgh’s Anatomical Museum whilst items, such as a calling card and wallet, made from his tanned skin are displayed at Surgeon’s Hall. The wallets were once offered for sale on the streets.