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Timeline of Scottish History

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Burke & Hare

  • Name  : Burke & Hare
  • Born  : Burke-1792, Hare-?
  • Died  : Burke-1829, Hare-1860
  • Category  : Infamous Scots
  • Finest Moment : None

William Burke (1792-1829) and William Hare (d.c.1860) were both Ulstermen, coming to Scotland to work on the Union Canal. Hare was already in Edinburgh, having married the widow of a landlord. His home was Log's lodging house in Tanner's Close. Burke had abandoned his wife and family, migrating to Scotland in 1818 and taking up with a Helen McDougal. They were not a nice pair, Burke and Hare, and their series of callous murders, at least 16, were to shake the citizenry of Edinburgh. Though Scots can say quite legitimately that they were not Scottish, the story is worth telling, and took place in Scotland.

At this time there was a grave shortage of bodies for medical dissection; indeed, boats used to land corpses at the Port of Leith for such a purpose. There was also a certain Dr Knox, an anatomist in the city, brilliant, extroverted, and willing to pay #10 for a body without asking many questions. He is reputed to have bought at least some of the product of the horrible pair.

Burke has been described as a neat little man, light on feet, and possibly even in possession of a conscience. Hare was by all accounts an animal, a brutal man. There may have been little difference, and certainly none as far as their victims were concerned. In one dreadful case the pair met an Irishwoman wandering the streets and looking for friends. She had her 12-year-old deaf-mute grandson in tow. Our two pals took her home, poured drink into her and killed her. Their usual method was suffocation incidentally. But that left the boy, an embarrassing oversight. So Burke took the boy on his knee and broke his back. He was crammed into a herring barrel and taken to Surgeons' Square by cart. Double rates that night.

They eventually became careless, stuffing one victim under a bed while a Halloween party continued. The victim was discovered and the police called. There was very little evidence, and Hare was accepted as a Crown witness. He told all and his partner went to the gallows. Worse, the trial involved only the one death, in which Dr Knox had had no dealings. He was eventually tried by public outrage as it were, and his career blighted. Hare and McDougal fled, with Hare said to have died a pauper's death in London, in 1860. And Burke' After he was hanged his body was dissected and his skeleton preserved in the Anatomical Museum at Edinburgh University.

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