Greetings, friends. I hope this day finds you all well.
In my recent post about Boleskine Cemetery, I told you about the mort house located within the graveyard. You may recall that mort houses were used to store the bodies of the deceased, under guard, until they were no longer a valuable commodity to body snatchers (i.e., decayed). Gross, I know. But as crazy as it sounds, body snatching was at one time a real problem!
“Why?” you wonder. During the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, medical and anatomical schools faced restrictions as to how they could legally obtain cadavers for dissection (for example, they could have the remains of the executed or those who had committed suicide). The resulting shortage of bodies gave rise to a rash of grave robbing by men who became known as ‘resurrectionists.’ These ‘resurrection men’ as they were also known, discovered they could make a buck or two by selling the stolen corpses to medical schools that were all too eager to receive them.
If that wasn’t unscrupulous enough, some were even worse than the grave robbers.
Case in point: enter one William Burke…
and one William Hare, two of the nastiest so-and-so’s you could ever meet.
Both men hailed from Northern Ireland (born in the late 1700s) but, by mere coincidence, found themselves living on the same street in Edinburgh, Scotland. It is there that Burke lived with his mistress Helen McDougal, and where Hare ran a boarding house with his girlfriend, Margaret Laird. The two men, who had so much in common, became friends. Unfortunately, that friendship would take them to some very dark places.
In late 1827, one of Hare’s lodgers passed away. Frustrated that the fellow still owed £4 on his rent, Burke and Hare devised a plan to recoup the loss by selling the body to local anatomists. They transported the corpse to the medical school at The University of Edinburgh, where they were directed to Professor Robert Knox, an anatomy lecturer. Knox paid the duo a handsome sum for the deceased body. And so it began…
Motivated by money, greed, and what had to be sheer evil, the duo went even further the next time. In early 1828, another of Hare’s tenants became ill. In a bold move, they intoxicated the man before physically restraining and suffocating him. Their method of killing – suffocation involving the mouth and the nose – eventually became known as “Burking.” Burke and Hare continued their murderous spree for the rest of the year, always plying their victims with alcohol and then suffocating them. In total, sixteen people fell victim to this savage duo.
Up the close and down the stair,
But and ben’ wi’ Burke and Hare.
Burke’s the butcher, Hare’s the thief,
Knox the boy that buys the beef.
-19th century rhyme
The pair committed their last murder on Halloween in 1828. A woman named Marjorie Docherty, who had been invited to lodge at Burke’s. Following her death, her body was found by two other lodgers, Ann and James Gray, who reported the discovery to the police. However, by the time law enforcement arrived, Marjorie’s body had already been hauled off to Knox.
Burke, Hare, Helen, and Margaret were subsequently arrested and charged with murder, while Robert Knox was investigated for his part in the drama. The case went to trial on Christmas Eve in 1828 before the High Court of Justiciary in Edinburgh’s Parliament House. In the end…
Professor Robert Knox was cleared of wrongdoing for lack of hard evidence (although his reputation and career were sullied).
The two women were released. Margaret fled to Ireland, but no clear accounts are given for what became of Helen.
Though charged with murder and making a full confession, William Hare was released for testifying against Burke and turning king’s evidence. Though no one really knows what became of him, rumor has it that he escaped to England and lived out his days as a beggar.
William Burke was charged with murder and hanged in front of a massive, cheering crowd in Edinburgh.
In perhaps the greatest bit of irony to this whole sordid tale, today William Burke’s smiling skeleton (no, really, it looks like it’s smiling) is on display at the Anatomical Museum at The University of Edinburgh. A book, bound in his skin, is on display at The Surgeons’ Hall Museums in Edinburgh. Ick.
The Anatomy Act of 1832
“The combination of body snatchings, murder, and resurrection riots led to the enactment of the Anatomy Act in Britain in 1832 and similar acts in U.S. states in subsequent years. These acts, which were amended and refined over the years, recognized the need for bodies for medical education and research and sought to control snatching by making more bodies available—at first by allowing medical schools to take unclaimed bodies of the poor and ill and later requiring family permission before a body could be taken. Although these laws had some effect by making more bodies available, it was really embalming, which was in regular use by the 1880s and which enabled medical schools to keep bodies for months, that led to the demise of body snatching.” –Encyclopedia Britannica
What a crazy tale, isn’t it? It’s difficult to understand the evil that pervades some human hearts.
Anyway, I do hope you enjoyed today’s post, and I wish each of you a fantastic week ahead. Halloween is this week. Stay safe, everyone. xo
Hi friends. I have a case of the glooomies. I can think of no other reason except that it’s the end of February, which here in Virginia feels like the purgatory of months. It may be the shortest month, but somehow it feels like the longest! Hurry up, spring!
Today we’re going to take a look at one of Edinburgh’s most iconic structures – the Scott Monument. Read more
Hello, friends. Do you ever feel like the gears in your brain get stuck? Seriously, I have been trying to put words to paper for four solid days, and I haven’t been able to get past ‘hello’! Maybe it has something to do with the elephant sitting on my left sinus cavity. Anyway, if today’s post stinks, you’ll know why. 😀
Today we’re going to take a quick look at the oldest surviving building in Edinburgh. This is St. Margaret’s Chapel, located at Edinburgh Castle.
Hello, my friends. A very happy new year to you. I hope your 2019 has gotten off to a great start!
Today I would like to take you to a place in Scotland that is extra special to me. I know, I know…you think I always say that. Haha, you know me too well, dear reader. And it’s true, I suppose. But this place really does put a skip in my plaid heart.
Isn’t it lovely? This is Pilrig House, a historic Scottish townhouse located in Edinburgh, next to the burgh of Leith. It is believed that the name ‘Pilrig’ may have derived from the former ‘Peilrig’ and ‘Pellryge’ (rig=ridge), where a peel tower stood in the 15thcentury. According to pilrighouse.com, “stonework in the basement walls suggests the remains of a peel tower”. For a newby history geek like me, that is fascinating.
Back in May, I took you guys on a photo tour of the spectacularly beautiful grounds at Lauriston Castle. I want to revisit Lauriston with you today. Only this time, we are going to explore the beautiful Edwardian interior, decorated and designed by the Lauriston’s final owners, Mr. William Robert Reid, his wife Mrs. Margaret Johnstone Reid, and Mrs. Reid’s brother, Mr. William Barton.
Mr. C and I visited Lauriston for the second time in March 2017. It is one of our favorites, so no trip to Edinburgh will now ever be complete without paying a visit to this lovely place. We were thrilled to be able to take a guided tour of several of the castle’s main rooms. Our docent was excellent and was a wealth of knowledge of the castle’s history, from the first construction in the sixteenth century until the passing of Mrs. Reid in 1926. I think that if I lived in Edinburgh, I would want that job!
To recap a little of Lauriston’s history…
Lauriston’s tower house was built by Sir Archibald Napier sometime around 1593 and the pretty Jacobean-style extension was added in 1827. Over the centuries, the castle passed through numerous hands until it came into the possession of its final owners – William and Margaret Reid. The Reids acquired the property in 1902 and lived there until Mrs. Reid’s death in 1926. Because the couple had no children, they left the castle to the city of Edinburgh under the condition that it be preserved unchanged. And so the promise was kept. The remarkable Edwardian interior, filled to the brim with their fine furniture and artwork, is now a museum maintained by the city. For a nominal fee, you can take a guided tour of this home (uh, castle) which remains exactly as it was at the time of the Reids. The manicured grounds, which boast a view of the sea and a stunning Japanese garden are a real bargain – free! Lauriston truly is a gem in Edinburgh. –from my previous post on Lauriston Castle
Well, are you ready to step inside and see what a 425-year-old castle clothed in 100-year-old decor looks like? Great. Follow me, friends.Read more
Hi, friends. How would you like to join me today for a stroll around the grounds of one of the prettiest castles in Scotland? Oh good, I’m so pleased! I promise that you are going to love it. Today we are in Edinburgh at the oh-so-lovely Lauriston Castle.
First, a quick history of the castle: Sir Archibald Napier built Lauriston’s tower house (front left) sometime around 1593, and the pretty Jacobean-style extension was added in 1827. Over the centuries, Lauriston Castle passed through many hands until it came into the possession of its final owners – William and Margaret Reid. The Reids acquired the property in 1902 and lived there until Mrs. Reid’s death in 1926.
Because the couple had no children, they left Lauriston to the city of Edinburgh under the condition that it be preserved unchanged. And so the promise was kept. The castle with the remarkable Edwardian interior, filled to the brim with their fine furniture and artwork, is now a museum maintained by the city. For a nominal fee, you can take a guided tour of this home, which remains exactly as it was in the couple’s day. The manicured grounds, with views over the Firth of Forth and a stunning Japanese garden, are a real bargain – free! Lauriston Castle is a true gem.
The photos that follow were taken in the month of May. The weather that day was MAGNIFICENT. I think you will see that with scenery like this, it was impossible not to fall crazy in love with the place.
Let’s go for that stroll.