Saturday, 7 May 2016

Burke and Hare Greyfriars Kirkyard, Edinburgh.
In the 16th Century, the Royal College of Surgeons were allocated 1 body a year for dissections. This was insufficient for the whole college encouraging the illegal trade of grave-digging. These mostly occurred from Greyfriar’s Kirkyard. When an elderly tenant in their Grassmarket lodgings died, William Burke and William Hare sold his body to the College fetching £7 10s. Realising the demand for dead bodies, Burke and Hare resorted to murder. In order to keep the bodies as perfect as possible – partly for the college who would not accept ‘damaged’ bodies and partly so that they wouldn’t get caught – they lured them back to Hare’s lodgings where they were given copious amounts of alcohol and then suffocated. 16 people were murdered between December 1827 and October 1828 although exact figures are not known. They were eventually caught when their last victim’s (Mary Docherty) body was discovered under a pile of straw by another tenant. The police were then contacted. At this point Hare testified against Burke claiming that he had killed Mrs Docherty and then refused to answer any additional questions. Burke was then hanged outside St Giles Kirk in January 1829 and his body was given to the college for dissection. Burke’s dissected body attracted lots of attention, eventually been exhibited in the anatomical theatre – a total of 30,000 students are said to have passed through and seen the body. Hare, escaping the fate of execution, was smuggled out of jail and put to Dumfries where he was met by a crowd of 8,000 people. For his own protection he had to spend the night in jail but was later told to move on. Last sightings were in Carlisle however it is rumoured that he was later recognised and thrown into a lime pit causing him to become blind. It is thought a blind beggar seen on London’s streets in the ‘50’s and ‘60’s was Hare.

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