Burke and Hare
[ Issue 29 ]

Burke and Hare intrigue Emily Bronto

Permit Bikwil to acquaint you with the fascination of Burke and Hare

Burke and Hare

Fizzgig shows what sinister goings-on led up to the British Anatomy Act of 1832.  Though Dr.Robert Knox gets a mention, it's only fair that most of the article should be devoted to William Burke and William Hare.

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From the Back Verandah — Fizzgig


Resurrectionists are not, as you might be excused for imagining, some born-again American sect. Far from it. They were the chief players in a macabre custom that arose in Britain in the latter half of the 18th century and flourished until the Anatomy Act was passed in 1832. These grave-robbers would open the coffins of the recently buried and sell the bodies to surgical and medical schools. They always took care to remove the corpse naked, since this was a misdemeanour in law, whereas if clothing was taken the offence was a felony.

Sometimes murders were committed in order to obtain a body to trade, with a famous pair of homicidal Resurrection Men being William Burke and William Hare, who used to suffocate their victims and sell their bodies to Dr. Robert Knox, an Edinburgh surgeon. With the assistance of their wives, they enticed fifteen people to their deaths before their crimes were discovered, at which point Hare turned King’s evidence, which left Burke alone to be hanged, in 1829.

The case became so notorious that it gave Burke’s name to a verb meaning “to murder by suffocation or strangulation”. The word came later to be used metaphorically to indicate the quiet suppressing of ideas at inception (e.g. “the publication was burked”), though it seems to have been smothered itself somewhere in the first half of the 20th century.

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