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Saturday, December 21, 2013

Requiem Burke & Hare

Up the close and doun 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 Edinburgh skipping rhyme
Burke & Hare as they appeared in the EotD Requiem Kickstarter.
Their portraits in the Edinburgh newspapers during their trial.

Backers of the EotD Requiem Kickstarter had the option of selecting this villainous pair as part of their rewards package, But just who are these men? William Burke and William Hare where real persons tried for the murder of 16 people in the city of Edinburgh in 1829. They are popularly know as Resurrectionist or Resurrection Men that is to say grave robbers but they were not strictly speaking robbing graves. They where Irish Immigrant laborers who came to Edinburgh to get work on the canal and remained in Edinburgh after it was completed. Edinburgh was the European center of medical knowledge specifically anatomical knowledge. It was known at the Scottish renascence.  If one wanted to become a renown surgeon then one had to study anatomy at Edinburgh. Now the only real way to learn human anatomy is to dissect a human body but there was only one way to legally obtain anatomical specimens (bodies), executed criminals who consented to having their bodies given over to scientific research. Now there was a religious superstition prevalent in Scotland at this time, that a dissected body would be resurrected in pieces not as a whole person. This idea was so horrific to the common folk that the vast majority of Edinburgh's criminals preferred to have their bodies hung in chains in front of their homes or crime scene and literally rot  to pieces rather than be dissected. This need for bodies created a new line of work grave robbing or "reserecting bodies" for the purpose of dissection. In cities around the world this gruesome task was usually performed by the medical students them selves. In Edinburgh gangs of professional body snatchers sprang up to meet the needs of the medical colleges. At this time diffing up bodies was not illegal anywhere in Western Europe or America but the relatives of the snatched where outraged by it. The wealthy cemeteries built watchtowers and hired armed guards, the poor organized volunteer guards from the relatives of the deceased. Mr. Burke and Mr. Hare tried their hand at grave robbing but where nearly caught by armed guards on their first attempt. Mrs. Burke ran a flophouse and one of her tenants died so Mr. Burke And Mr. Hare took the body to the famous Anatomist Dr. Knox who gave them 8 pounds on account of its freshness. Then Mr. Burke & Mr. Hare got a bright idea murder tramps and vagrants then sell their bodies to Dr. Knox. They would get a mark drunk then suffocate them by holding their nose and mouth shut. After 16 murders they where finally caught by the peelers.

Now Dr. Knox was a brilliant surgeon who's medical lectures where very well attended, near the end of this association with Burke & Hare he had to hold 3 lectures a day to accommodate his 300 students. His medical knowledge enriched Edinburgh and his students enriched him.  The Edinburgh Gentry didn't want his reputation tarnish by the murder of a few tramps. The attitude towards the victims of the Scottish Gentry is embodied in this quote by famed Scottish novelist Sir Walter Scott

“Our Irish importation have made a great discovery of Oeconomicks, namely, that a wretch who is not worth a farthing while alive, becomes a valuable article when knockd on the head & carried to an anatomist; and acting on this principle, have cleard the streets of some of those miserable offcasts of society, whom nobody missd because nobody wished to see them again.”

So a deal was struck William Hare would turn crowns evidence and testify that Dr, Knox couldn't possibly have know they where bringing him murdered corpses in exchange for a full pardon. The 1972 British film Burke & Hare portrays the murders very authentically, but be ware this is a 1970's horror flim so there are numerous bare breasted scenes. The full movie can be found on youtube in 9 parts. Below is the theatrical trailer.

The confession and subsequent execution of William Burke became and instant best seller. The common folk of Edinburgh unlike the Gentry of Edinburgh were not content to allow William Hare to escape his crimes unpunished a crowd grabbed hold of him as he tried to leave Edinburgh and throw him into a lime pit. The lime permanently blinded him and he live out the remainder of his days a blind beggar on the streets of London. One would think after all the trouble the Edinburgh Gentry went through to exonerate Dr. Knox in this affair he would emerge unscathed, not so no one believed his claim that he that he didn't know he was paying for murdered corpses. His students abandoned him en mass leaving him impoverished and friendless.

I've noticed that several people wanted "special rules" or "character profiles" for EotD for all the special characters in the Requiem release. The Requiem special character figures are a combination of three groups EotD background specific characters, Victorian literary characters and historical persons like the pair above. The historical persons are Burke & Hare, Nadezhda Duroa, (see her profile here)  John Brown, Queen Victoria and the famous authors set. I'll do a post on each one of this persons and if your interested in a post on the Victorian literary characters in the Requiem KS let me know in the comments.

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