Edinburgh Bookshelf

Old and New Edinburgh Vol. IV


Volume 4 Page 226
  Enlarge Enlarge  
west Port.] BURKE AND HARE. 227 by a distinguished anatomist for the body of a poor old pensioner, named Donald, who died in their hands, a short time before his pension became due. Hare, who expected to be reimbursed for A4 owing to him by Donald, was exasperated by the loss,?and filling the coffin with bark from the adjacent tannery, it was buried, while the corpse in a sack was carried alternately by Burke and Hare, through College Street, to Surgeon Square, and sold for seven pounds ten shillings, to Dr. Knox and his assistants. The money so easily won seemed to exert a magnetic influence over the terrible quaternion in Tanner?s Close. The women foresaw that other lodgers [email protected] die, and hoped to flaunt in finery before the poor denizens of the Portsburgh ; and the steady and studied career of assassination began, and was continued, by Burke?s own confession, from Christmas, 1827, to the end of October, 1828. -( Week&JoumaZ, Jan. 6th, 1829.) The modus ojei-avzdi was very simple: the unknown and obscure wayfarer was lured into the ? lodging-house,? weary and hungry, perhaps, then generally well dosed with coarse raw whisky, preparatory to strangulation, glass after glass being readily and cordially filled in contemplation .of the value of the future corpse, as in the case of one unfortunate creature named Mary Haldane. Then, ?? all is ready-the drooping head-the closing eye-the languid helpless body. The women get the hint. They knew the unseemliness of being spectators-nay, they were delicate ! A repetition of a former scene, only with even less resistance. Hare holds again the lips, and Burke presses his twelve stone weight on the chest. Scarcely a sigh; but on a trial if dead a long gurgling indraught More is not required-and all is still in that dark room, with the window looking out on the dead wall.? By twelve the same night the body of Mary Haldane was in the hands of ?the skilled anatomist,? who made no inquiries; and as thb supply from Log?s lodgings increased, the value for each subject seemed to increase also, as the partners began to get from 6 1 2 to A14 for each-nearly double what they had received for the body of the poor Highland pensioner. The attempt to rehearse in detail all the crimes of which these people were guilty, would only weary and revolt the reader. Suffice it to say, that the discovery of the dead body of a woman, quite nude, and with her face covered with blood, among some straw in an occupied house of Burke and another Irishman named Broggan, caused the arrest of the four suspects. Hare turned King?s evidence, and on the 24th December, 1828, amid such excitement as Edinburgh had not witnessed for ages, William Burke and Helen McDougal were arraigned at the bar of the Justiciary Court, charged with a succession of murders ! Among these were the murder of a very handsome girl named Mary Paterson in the house of Burke?s brother, Constantine Burke, a scavenger residing in Gibb?s Close, Canongate ; that of a well-knowp idiot, named James Wilson (?Daft Jamie?), at the house in Tanner?s Close; of Mary McGonegal, or Docherty, at the same place. These were selected for proof as sufficient in the indictment j but the real lit was never known or exhausted. Among the cases was supposed to be that of a little Italian boy named Ludovico, who went about the city with white mice. Two little white mice were seen for long after haunting the dark recesses of Tanner?s Close, and in Hare?s house a cage with the mice?s tuming-wheel was actually found. Of this murder Burke was supposed to be guiltless, and that it had been a piece of private business done by Hare on his own account. The libel contained a list of a great number of articles of dress, &c., worn or used by the various victims, and among other things were Daft Jamie?s brass snuff-box and spoon, objects which excited much interest, as Jamie was a favourite with the citizens, and his body must have been recognised by Dr. Knox the instant he saw it on the dissecting table. The presiding judge of the court was the Lard Justice-clerk Boyle; the others were the Lords Pitmilly, Meadowbank, and M?Kenzie ; the prosecutor was Sir Wdiam Rae, Lord Advocate. The counsel for Burke was the Dean of Faculty ; that for M?Dougal the celebrated Henry Cockburn. The witnesses were fifty-five in number-the two principal being Hare and the woman Log, received as evidence in the characters of soni? mininis. When all had been examined, and the cases were brought fatally home to Burke, while his paramour escaped with a verdict of ?not proven,? a loud whisper ran through the court of (? Where are the doctors ?? as it was known the names of Knox and others were placed on the back of the indictment as witnesses ; yet they could scarcely have appeared but at the risk of their lives, so high was the tide of popular indignation against them. Burke was sentenced to death in the usual form, the Lord Justice-clerk expressing regret that his body could not be gibbeted in chains, but was to be publicly?dissected, adding, ?and I trust that if it is ever customary to preserve skeletons yours will be preserved, in order that posterity may keep in remembrance your atrocious crimes.? So the body of Burke was sent appropriately where he
Volume 4 Page 227
  Enlarge Enlarge