The Infamous Burke and Hare: Serial Killers and Resurrectionists of Nineteenth Century Edinburgh

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A couple of the lodgers, James and Anne Gray, became suspicious and found her body hidden under a bed. Because they did not have enough evidence to secure a guilty verdict, Hare was offered immunity from prosecution if he confessed and testified against Burke. Burke was tried, condemned to death and hung in January It is thought that the ghosts of the Resurrectionists haunt the pub as they cannot rest because of their crimes, and strange noises are frequently heard even though the building is empty and people have had their bedclothes dragged off them in the middle of the night by ghostly hands.

The most famous resurrectionist gang that operated in London was led by a man called John Bishop.

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They were expecting to be paid 12 guineas for such a fresh, young corpse, but the staff at the hospital were very suspicious as the body did not appear to have been buried before it had been brought in to them for sale. The police were called and the gang arrested. A house they maintained in Shoreditch was searched and evidence emerged that there had been more than one killing. Bizarrely, the police then subsequently opened the building for viewing by the public, who were charged five shillings for the privilege.

Most of the building was then taken away in pieces as souvenirs by these visitors. All the gang members were convicted of the crime, and although it was initially thought that the victim had been an Italian boy called Carlo Ferrari, Bishop confessed that the victim had in fact been a young cattle drover from Lincolnshire. He had been lured to their lodgings from a pub called The Bell in Smithfield and once there he was drugged with rum and laudanum.

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Bishop and Williams then went off to have a drink at another pub, and by the time they returned the boy was unconscious as they expected. The murderous pair then tied a rope around his ankles and dangled him head first down a well where he swiftly died. They also confessed to the murder of a homeless woman called Frances Pigburn and her child and admitted that they received 8 guineas for her remains. They also said that they had lured, drugged and smothered another boy called Cunningham, who was also then sold to the Anatomists for 8 guineas.

Because murder was a felony, Bishop and Williams were condemned to death and were hung in Newgate Prison in December What goes around comes around as they say, and their corpses were removed from the gallows and then taken for dissection, where for the following couple of days large crowds of people came to view their remains. She was caught and tried and she too ended her life on the gallows. These gruesome murders led to the introduction of the Anatomy Act of which allowed any corpses from prisons and workhouses that were not claimed for burial by their relatives to be given over to the medical schools for dissection.


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This Act effectively put a stop to both the illegal body snatching and the murders, and corpses could once more rest easily in their graves without fear of violation. It may seem disturbing to us that eminent surgeons and medical students in the early 19 th century turned a blind eye to where the cadavers they used for dissection came from, but they needed them to increase their knowledge of the human body and advance medical science.

However, murder proved to be a step too far and the implementation of Anatomy Act provided the steady supply of fresh corpses that the medical profession required to develop new surgical techniques, learn about the workings of the human body and train the surgeons of the future.

Burke and Hare, the Terrible Pair: Edinburgh's Anatomy Murders

Sign in or sign up and post using a HubPages Network account. Comments are not for promoting your articles or other sites. Thanks for reading the hub nathalia I agree medical students are lucky now, but even though body snatching was a horrible practice, the knowledge gained from those cadavers was invaluable to the development of modern medicine. Thanks for reading the hub FlourishAnyway and the vote up.

The history of how we humans have viewed dead bodies and treated them is fascinating and probably says a lot about society at those times. What a thorough account and fascinating to read. It's no wonder that we cannot now outright sell cadavers although money can be made via "handling" fees. There's quite a colored past. Voted up and more and pinning. Hi mercuryservices, thanks for reading the hub and commenting. What a great niche to have gotten into 'men in frilly panties' lol.

I believe that these hubbers are doing really well and getting great traffic. I think if you want to write about darker topics like serial killers, its specific words and phrases you need to watch. Certain words and phrases will trip the filters. Maybe if it is a topic that really interests you, write a series of articles and create an ebook instead?

The Resurrection Men—Body Snatching in 19th Century Britain | Owlcation

Saw your funny comment on a hub about a guy who likes to wear frilly panties, so I decided to check out your hubs. Love this topic. My only suggestion on this hub would be to break it up a little by putting in some headings to make it easier to read. I'd write more about dark topics myself but every time I try to write about serial killers, etc. I get caught by the automatic content filter and my ads get disabled.

Thanks NathaNater, it is a bit gruesome to think that some of our current medical knowledge comes from the practice of body snatching. But they were more brutal times, where executions were a good day out and death was much more in people's faces than it is now. Gruesome but very fascinating subject matter here. It is amazing what people will do for money, and it is interesting how kind of macabre were those times, people even turning out to watch dissection of cadavers and making products out of convicted murderers' skin.

Amazing that some resorted to murder to be able to have cadavers to sell. However, I guess we might wonder if we'd have any advances in medicine without the use of cadavers and they were a bit hard to come by. Very engrossing piece, thanks for sharing! Glad that you found the article interesting kittythedreamer. There is an exhibition about the body snatchers in the Museum of London at the moment and there has been an archaeological dig in an East End cemetery that is turning up bodies that had been dissected during this period, so there is a lot of information coming to light about this fascinating episode in history.

I'd heard of the body snatchers but I guess never realized exactly what it entailed. Amazing stories here.

Voted up and awesome. And shared. Thanks for the wonderful comment and reading the hub Nemingha. I think that it is one of the great ironies of medical history, that some of the greatest advancements and achievements have arisen from tragedies such as the First World War and body snatching. Here in the UK a proper nursing system only came into being because of the Crimean War. I really think that the human race really needs to learn to motivate themselves from peaceful, happy places and not through bloody conflict.

Thanks Alastar. I haven't actually read the email so was in blissful ignorance until I read your comment lol! No wonder this Hub was recommended in this week's Hubpages Weekly email! The many crimes that were committed during this time in history for the advancement of medical knowledge are both fascinating and sad and many would argue they were 'a necessary evil'.

From everything I have read elsewhere, there can be no doubt that the wannabe and practising Physicians of that time certainly thought so.

Who Were 'The Resurrection Men'

Well done! Thanks for stopping by Case1worker. The families got quite creative in trying to protect their relative's remains from the body snatchers. They made metal coffins, metal grilles to go over graves and specially constructed mausoleums. But as you say, who knows what advances would not have been made in medical since if this gruesome trade had never gone on? Really very interesting- I guess the families would only have guarded dead bodies for a little while; til they started decomposing.

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