Illustration: Mrs M'Dougal Pursued by the Mob
The unparalleled atrocities of which this diabolical murderer was guilty, with his associates, can scarcely ever be obliterated from the recollection of man. Devoid of all sense of humanity,-- a butcher of the human race, he was guilty of almost innumerable murders, for which his only reward was to be the miserable amount to be paid him for the bodies of his victims, in order that they might be submitted to the knife of the anatomist.
The scene of these horrible occurrences was Edinburgh; but notwithstanding the publication of the details of the circumstances attending them which appeared at the investigations which took place before the sheriff, few could be found who had formed such an idea of the baseness of human nature, as to believe the possibility of the truth of the dreadful disclosures which were made. The traffic in human blood, with such an object as we have already pointed out, appeared too fearful a crime to be contemplated; and all suspended their judgment until the issue of the solemn inquiry of a jury should decide upon the allegations which were made. Upon that inquisition, however, the most dreadful apprehensions which were entertained as to the result were fully realised, and the reports which had been circulated with reference to the offences charged against the prisoners, were amply proved to be well founded.
The metropolis of Scotland had been long and frequently excited by statements being made of the disappearance of persons in the lower orders of life, who were suddenly missed, and of whom no subsequent traces could be discovered. Tramps entering the city with their friends were suddenly lost; Irish hay-makers, on their road to the agricultural districts of the Lowlands, in the same manner seemed to vanish from among their companions; and in one instance an idiot, who in Scotland is always looked upon as a harmless playmate for the children, as a welcome guest at every table, and as an object of universal pity, was on a sudden lost from the favourite haunts of his imbecile wanderings. Suspicions of a dreadful character entered the minds of persons, whose duty it was to superintend the police of the town,-- suspicions of murder, which might well be supposed to have been excited by the influence of the Almighty, and through which the guilty were eventually discovered and brought to punishment.
The occurrence which immediately led to the disclosure of these diabolical crimes was the unaccountable disappearance of a mendicant named Mary Campbell, an Irishwoman, who, after having been seen frequenting the same vicinity for a considerable time, towards the end of October 1829, was suddenly missed. The poor woman happened to have friends, who were not disposed to treat her loss lightly, and a rigid inquiry by the police was the result. An idea was suggested that her body might be found at some of the medical schools in Edinburgh, so justly celebrated for the excellence of the anatomical instruction which they afforded to the pupils; and one day's search testified the truth of the fears which had been excited of her death. Her remains were discovered at the dissecting-room of Dr. Knox, a distinguished anatomist, bearing marks perfectly conclusive of their identity. The poor woman had received a wound upon her ankle, from the kick of a drunken man, the aspect of which was sufficiently well known to enable her former companions to speak with certainty as to the body. The cause of death was now the subject of investigation; and here the deficiency of caution in the purchase of subjects, the necessity of a change in the law with regard to the provision of bodies for dissection, and finally, the certainty of the murder of the deceased, were exemplified. The medical men, by whom the body was examined, gave their firm and decided opinion that suffocation had been the means by which the deceased had been deprived of life,-- a means which it was exceedingly unlikely any natural circumstances would have produced. It was evident, therefore, that murder had been resorted to,-- it was believed, with a view to secure the body of the wretched woman, in order that it might be sold for dissection.
The next inquiry which followed, was that as to the individual from whom the subject had been purchased. The law at that time contained no enactment with regard to the mode by which surgeons were to be provided with those subjects which the study of anatomy, so important to the human race, positively required that they should possess. The occasional execution of a criminal, whose remains were ordered by the terms of his sentence to be given over to the surgeons for dissection, afforded no sufficient supply to meet the constant demand which existed; and the stealing of dead bodies was a practice openly encouraged by the professors of anatomy, although it excited universal disgust and hatred amongst those whose immediate interests forbade their looking upon the custom with any feelings but those of horror.
So long as the war continued, the period of time required for the completion of the education of medical students, so as to fit them in some measure for the army or navy, was very short, and the study of anatomy was consequently so much neglected, that it frequently happened that a student filled the office of assistant-surgeon in those services who had never dissected an entire body. At that time the dissecting-rooms were supplied by men who in general exhumated the bodies; and, as the suspicion of the public was not excited, it was attended with no great difficulty. The highest price then ever obtained by these men was four guineas for each subject; but as the number of medical men increased, and many gentlemen, who had been engaged in the army and navy during the war, returned to complete their education, the demand became greater, and consequently the risk of procuring subjects by the usual means was proportionately augmented. The men were frequently detected in their attempts, and punished severely; they therefore demanded an advance in their remuneration; and in consequence of no legal provision being made for supplying the schools, it was found necessary to accede to the demands. The price then became eight guineas; and it subsequently varied from that to sixteen guineas, according to circumstances.
On account of the greatly increased amount obtained for subjects, numbers of persons now engaged in the traffic, and the consequence was more frequent detection. Every means which ingenuity could suggest was put in practice to obtain bodies which had not been buried; and for this purpose, the men, when they heard of the body of a person being found (drowned for instance), and which was lying to be owned, trumped up a story of an unfortunate brother or sister, humbugged a coroner's jury (who, by the by, were more than once so well imposed on as to make a subscription, to enable the supposed brother to bury his relative), and thus obtained possession of the body. In this sort of trickery the wives of the men were often employed, as their application was attended with less suspicion, and it was never difficult to impose on the parochial officers, who were always anxious to avoid the expense of burying the deceased. Subjects were thus occasionally procured, but they were much more frequently obtained by pretending relationship to persons dying without friends in hospitals and workhouses. As, of course, the bodies thus obtained were much fresher than those which had been buried, they produced generally (independent of the teeth,) as much as twelve guineas each.
But the poor and friendless were not the only sufferers from this system; persons moving in a higher sphere of society have often suffered the loss of their friends, when they were confident in security. What will the wealthy not feel, when they are told that the very men employed to solder down the leaden coffin of a child have abstracted the body, and carried it off, without exciting the slightest suspicion, in the baskets with their tools?
Yet, notwithstanding all these means of procuring subjects, the difficulties were occasionally so great, that students from the country have been obliged to wait for months without being able to study anatomy practically; at the same time having to live at an expense they could ill afford, in London. In Scotland, at one time, to the great honour of the labouring classes, no such persons as resurrection men could be procured for any remuneration, and it was then necessary for the students to exhumate bodies for themselves. Indeed, for a long time, this, in many parts of that country, was the constant practice; but, from the great horror with which the Scotch in particular regard the violation of the tomb, these attempts were always attended with considerable danger; and very frequently the graves were guarded with so much diligence, that the carrying off a body was totally impracticable. Instances indeed occurred, where the parties engaged in such an enterprise were fired upon by persons employed to watch, whom they had not observed; and, in one case with which the writer is acquainted, the life of one of the parties was sacrificed.
The surgeons from their anxiety to obtain subjects, and from the acknowledged illegality of the proceedings, were frequently not overnice or minute in their inquiries as to the cause of death, or the means by which the body offered to them was obtained. The impossibility of obtaining any answer the truth of which could be relied on, and the independence of the "resurrection-men," who were always sure of a market, may be reckoned as almost sufficient excuses for this lax mode of proceeding; and it is just to believe, that no suspicion can ever have entered the imagination of the anatomists, that unfair means had been resorted to, to take away the life of the subjects offered to them, merely with a view to their bodies being submitted to their dissection. To such causes may be ascribed the non-discovery of the suspicious cause of death of the numerous miserable victims whom investigation proves to have been murdered.
In this case, happily, the frequency of the visits of the supposed resurrectionist or body-stealer to the same museum enabled the police to discover his haunts, together with the circumstances attending the disappearance of the deceased, which were sufficient to afford convincing proof of her murder at his hands. Paterson, the porter to Dr. Knox's museum, was well acquainted with the persons of Burke and a man named Hare, by whom this subject had been sold, and he related the circumstances attending its purchase to the police sergeant, by whom the investigation was carried on, in such a manner, as at once secured their apprehension. He said that on the 31st of October, Burke and Hare called at the dissecting-rooms, and said that they had got something for the doctor, at the house occupied by the former. Paterson had before visited this place on similar occasions, and was well acquainted with its position, and on the next morning he went to the house in Tanner's-close, where he was told the body lay. He found there Mrs. M'Dougal, who passed as the wife of Burke, and Mrs. Margaret Laird, who stood in the same relation with regard to Hare. Upon his entrance, Burke pointed to a heap of straw under the table, signifying that the body was there; and the witness gave them 5l. to be divided between the two men, 3l. more being agreed to be paid, if the subject should turn out to be such as was desired. The men divided the money, and promised to carry home the body on the same night to the museum. It arrived, packed in a tea-chest, and at the time of the visit of the police, which was on the following day, (the 2nd of November,) it had not yet been looked at. Upon the chest being opened, appearances presented themselves which induced Paterson to believe that the body had never been buried; the face was livid, and blood was running from the nostrils and mouth; and, as we have already said, subsequent examination proved that death had been caused by suffocation.
Coincident with the discovery of this evidence, the voluntary testimony of two other witnesses was obtained, which afforded conclusive proof of the violent means resorted to by Burke and Hare, to procure the death of the deceased. Mr. and Mrs. Gray, poor persons, who were travelling through Edinburgh, informed the police, on the same day, of occurrences which they had witnessed on the night of the 31st October, which induced the most dreadful suspicions in their minds. They stated that they had taken up their lodgings in the house occupied by Burke in the course of that day, and towards the evening they had seen Mrs. Campbell go in with that person. They, however, retired to rest without holding any communication with her, as she appeared to be intoxicated; but in the morning, they were surprised to find that she was gone. They inquired of Mrs, Burke what had become of her, and she said that they had turned her out because she was impudent; but an undefinable apprehension lurked in their minds of some wrong having been done, and seizing an opportunity they peered into Burke's room, and there, under the table, they saw marks of blood, and upon further investigation, the body of the murdered woman concealed beneath some straw. Terror-struck with the discovery, they immediately gathered up their bundles and proceeded to quit the house, but were dissuaded from their intention by Mrs. Burke, who had ascertained the fact of their having made so important a discovery, who urged them to stop, "as it might be 10l. a week to them," They, however, rushed from the place as soon as they could escape, and on the following day conveyed intelligence to the police of what they had seen.
Upon the arrival of the authorities at the Tanner's-close, they found it to be a scene well fitted for the performance of such tragedies as had been recently enacted within its limits. The close itself was narrow and dark, and contained only one house, which was situated at the bottom. Here, almost shut out from the light of heaven, lived this detestable murderer, letting out lodgings either by the night or otherwise, to such poor wretches as would put up with the accommodation which he could offer. The house consisted of two rooms only, one of which was occupied by Burke and his wife, while the other was devoted to his lodgers. The former contained nothing but a miserable bed, a table, and some straw, still reeking with the blood of the murdered woman, while the latter was totally devoid of furniture. Fortunately for their purpose, the whole party, four in number, was assembled; and they were all immediately secured and conveyed to prison, Burke, it appeared, had carried on a pretended trade of shoemaking, and in one corner of his room was found a pile of old boots and shoes, consisting of nearly forty pairs; but the discovery also of a great number of suits of clothes, of various sizes, and bearing distinct marks of blood, afforded sufficient proof, that the murder of Mrs, Campbell was not the only one which had been perpetrated within the apartment.
It would be a vain effort to attempt to convey even a faint idea of the universal horror excited by these dreadful discoveries, and the fearful execration heaped upon the heads of the diabolical assassins. Even the surgeons, who were looked upon as the supporters and the indirect instigators of the murders, shared with the prisoners the effects of the strong public sensation which existed; and in several places throughout the empire -- for, the system being the same everywhere, the indignation of the people was not confined to Edinburgh -- attempts were made to destroy the dissecting-schools. In this, however, and in the obloquy cast upon the gentlemen of this profession, it must be said that they suffered unjustly. They were the victims, as well as the public, under a defective system of legislation; and the insufficiency of the law was to be blamed, and not those whose absolute necessity compelled them to adopt measures of themselves illegal, but excusable, considering the advantages to be derived from them to society, and the utter neglect of the efforts which they had made, to secure such provisions by the legislature as should enable them to proceed in a manner becoming the high and honourable station which they filled.
The examinations of the prisoners before the magistrates of Edinburgh served only to bring to light fresh atrocities and to excite fresh horror; and eventually the whole of the prisoners were committed for trial, the evidence being clear and conclusive as to the implication of the men, although that which affected the women left great doubts as to the possibility of their conviction being secured.
During the period which elapsed subsequently to their committal, and preparatory to their trial. Hare, with a degree of villainy excelling that of his fellow in guilt, offered to make disclosures upon the subject of the system which had been carried on, upon condition of his own indemnification from punishment, and that of his wife. Mrs. Laird, it had been discovered, was the least guilty of the whole party, and so far as her discharge was concerned but little difficulty was experienced; but upon the question of the other terms desired by Hare to be imposed in reference to his own case, considerable doubt was entertained. Long and frequent consultations were held by the magistrates upon the subject, in which the probabilities of the conviction of these associates in villainy were most anxiously weighed; and it was at length determined that, for the sake of that justice which imperatively demanded the most satisfactory and complete evidence of the guilt of one at least of the gang, the offer should be accepted. The prisoner then made a statement to the officers of the jail, which was reduced to writing, but which, from causes too obvious to need repetition here, was not published in full. That portion of it which immediately affected the case of Burke and Mrs. M'Dougal came out upon the trial; but many particulars with regard to the system which had been carried on were most properly concealed from the public knowledge.
On the 23rd December in the same year, the two prisoners, William Burke and Helen M'Dougal, were put upon their trial before the High Court of Justiciary at Edinburgh. The indictment charged against them several murders, founded upon the communications made by Hare; but after much discussion on the part of the counsel for the crown, and on behalf of the prisoners, it was determined that that part only of the indictment which alleged them to have murdered Mary Campbell should be proceeded with, inasmuch as that the disclosure of any of the particulars of one murder in the course of a trial for another would materially prejudice the minds of the jury against the persons charged. The murder of Mrs. Campbell was alleged to have been committed by suffocation.
The preliminary witnesses produced a plan of the house of the prisoners in Tanner's -close, and proved the identity of the remains found at the house of Dr. Knox.
William Noble, the shopman to Mr. Rayner, a grocer at Portsburgh, near Tanner's-close, was then examined, and he proved, that on the night of the 31st October Burke, who had been in the habit of dealing at his employer's house, called there in order to purchase some trifling articles of grocery. While he was standing at the counter, Mrs. Campbell entered the shop, and begged for charity. She said that she had come to Edinburgh to search for her son, a boy of eleven years old, but that she had been unable to find him, and that she was now quite destitute. Burke inquired her name, and on her mentioning the name of Campbell he at once claimed acquaintance and relationship with her, and finally took her away with him, saying that he would provide her with lodging for the night. The woman at this time was sober. The witness added that on the following day, Burke called again and purchased an old tea-chest, and Mrs. Hare, whom he knew, as well as her husband and Mrs. M'Dougal, carried it away about half-an-hour afterwards.
Mrs. Ann Black and Hugh Alison gave evidence tracing Mrs. Campbell to Burke's house, and as to the occurrences of the dreadful night of her death. The former said that she was a lodger of Burke's; and upon going home on the night of the 31st of October, she saw Mrs. Campbell sitting in Burke's room by the fire. She was ill-clad, and was eating porridge; and in answer to a question which the witness put, Mrs. M'Dougal said that she was a Highland woman, a friend of her husband's, and that she had been assisting them in washing. The witness then quitted the room; but subsequently, in passing through it after dark, she saw that Mrs. Campbell was much intoxicated. Hare and his wife were then there, and had brought in some spirits with them, and they were all merry, and laughing and singing together. The witness afterwards heard dancing, and on looking into the room, she saw that it was Mrs. M'Dougal, Hare, and Mrs. Campbell. Between ten and eleven o'clock she heard a disturbance, as if Burke and Hare were fighting, and a woman screaming, but she took no notice of it, as such occurrences were frequent with her landlord's friends. In the morning she inquired of Mrs. M'Dougal where Mrs. Campbell was, and she told her, that she and her husband (Burke) had got too friendly, and that she had kicked her out of the house. Alison, the witness, corroborated the evidence of Mrs. Black, as to the disturbance which occurred in the house of Burke at about the hour mentioned, and which he had heard in his residence at one of the upper flats of a house nearly adjoining, but he had distinguished screams of agony, and cries for help, succeeded by a noise as if some person had been strangling or suffocating. He afterwards heard the voices of two men in conversation in the close, whom he had taken to be Burke and Hare.
Mr. and Mrs. Gray, whose names we have already mentioned, were also examined upon the same point, and having proved the presence of Mrs. Campbell in Burke's house at the time of their arrival, they stated that Mrs. M'Dougal had told them in the morning, that she had turned out the deceased because she was impudent. They, however, watched their opportunity, and slipping into the room unseen, discovered her body concealed among the straw under the table.
Other confirmatory evidence was also given upon the same subject; and David Paterson, the porter at Dr. Knox's, having detailed his account of the transaction of the purchase of the body in the manner in which we have already described it, and of its arrival in a tea-chest; and other witnesses having proved that they saw the prisoner (Burke) and Hare carrying a tea-chest in the direction of Dr. Knox's, but in such a line of street as clearly showed their object to be to escape observation, William Hare, the approver, was called.
Lord Meadowbank, a learned and very distinguished judge, presided upon this occasion, and with the most humane feelings, he earnestly cautioned this witness to give his evidence with truth. The fellow, whose appearance in the witness-box excited great interest and indignation, sullenly answered, that he intended to do so, but that he only came there as a witness in the case of the "old woman," as he emphatically described the deceased Mrs. Campbell, as distinguished, doubtless, from other miserable victims; and his examination then proceeded. We shall give his evidence as nearly as we can in the terms in which it was delivered by him in the witness-box. Having been sworn in the common form, he said he was a native of Ireland, and had resided in Scotland ten years. He had been acquainted with Burke about twelve months. M'Dougal lived with Burke as his wife; witness lived in the West Port, not far from Burke; he was in a public-house in the West Port on the forenoon of the 31st of October, when Burke came in, and they had a gill; he asked witness to go down to his house, to see the shot he had got to take to the doctor's; he said he had taken an old woman off the street, and wished witness to go down and see her, and see what they were doing. He understood by the word "shot," that he was going to murder the woman. He went to Burke's house, and found there was a strange man and woman (their name was Gray), the old woman, and Helen M'Dougal; the old woman was washing her short-gown; it was white and red striped. [Identified the bedgown.] Witness remained in the house about five minutes, and then went home. Between eight and nine on the same night he was at the house of a man named Connaway with his wife; and Burke, Mrs. M'Dougal, the old woman Campbell, and a lad named Broggan, Mrs. M'Dougal's nephew, came in. Liquor was introduced, and after a while, Burke and Broggan went away. Witness remained some time longer, but then he also quitted the house, and went to Tanner's-close. There had been some dancing at Connaway's; and at this time he had no idea that any harm was to be done to the old woman on that night. Soon after he arrived at Tanner's-close, Burke, M'Dougal and Mrs. Campbell also came in, the latter being so much the worse for liquor as scarcely to be able to keep her feet. A quarrel arose between him and Burke (which was evidently got up for the purpose of murdering the old woman in the confusion which would be the result of it), upon the subject of his being in the house, Burke declaring that he had no business there, while he asserted that he had been invited by Mrs. M'Dougal. They began to fight, and Mrs. Campbell appeared alarmed, and called police and murder. She ran into the passage twice, but was brought back each time by Mrs. M'Dougal; and upon her re-entering the room the second time, witness intentionally pushed her over a stool upon the floor. She got up so as to rest upon her elbow, but was so drunk as not to be able to regain her feet; she called on Burke to quit fighting, and he did so; but then having stood for some minutes on the floor, Burke stood stride-legs over her, and laid himself down above her -- his breast being on her head. She gave a cry, and then moaned a little; he put one hand on her nose and mouth, and the other under her chin, and stopped her breathing; this was continued for ten or fifteen minutes; he never spoke while this was going on; after he had risen from above her he put his arm upon her mouth for some minutes; she appeared quite dead; witness was sitting all the while on a chair. When he saw the woman was dead, he stripped the body of the clothes, put it into a corner, doubling it up, and covering it with straw; witness's wife and M'Dougal, when they heard the first screech of the old woman, ran into the passage, and did not come in again until the body was covered with straw; before this they were lying in the bed; and witness sat at the head of the bed; did not observe blood on the floor, or on the woman's face at the time; did not observe the woman in the passage cry -- but nobody came to the door during the time. Burke had not been above the woman more than a minute or two, when the woman started out of bed and ran to the door; he saw none of them attempting to save or assist the old woman, and such could not have happened without his seeing it. When it was all over the woman came in again, and then Burke went out; the woman asked no questions, nor did they make any remark, but they went to bed again without a word being exchanged. When Burke returned, he brought with him the man from Dr. Knox's (Paterson), and he looked at the body; he said it would do well enough, and they were to get a box and put it in, in order to carry it to his master's house. At this time the women were in bed, but he could not tell whether they were awake or not, and he soon afterwards fell asleep himself. He was rather the worse of liquor, but he knew well enough what he was about. He awoke about seven o'clock in the morning; he found himself on a chair, with his head on the bed; the women were in the bed, and John Broggan was lying beyond his aunt; Burke was at the fireside. He and his wife got up and went home. In the course of the day, Burke called on him, and asked him to assist in procuring a box. They went first to Surgeons'square, where Dr. Knox's school was situated, but failed in obtaining one there; and then Burke went and purchased a tea-chest at the grocer's. M'Culloch, a porter, took the box home, and witness arrived there with him before Burke came in. They were standing at the door when he came; and he asked whether they had put up the body. He answered that they had not; and Burke then remarked that they were worth little if they had not done that. They, however, directly went in; and witness and M'Culloch assisted in placing the body in the chest, the latter forcing it down in its place. M'Culloch also, on seeing some of the woman's hair hanging out, pushed it into the box, remarking that it would be "a fine thing to have that seen!" The chest was corded; and M'Culloch was instructed to carry it to Surgeons'-square, witness and Burke accompanying him. On their way they met Mrs. M'Dougal and his (witness') wife, in the High School Yard, and they all went together. Having delivered the chest to Paterson, it was placed in a cellar, and the latter then went with them to Dr. Knox at Newington, where he and Burke were paid 2l. 7s. 6d. each, 5s. being given to the porter.
The witness was cross-examined by Mr. Cockburn on behalf of the prisoners, when he admitted that he had followed many businesses, both in Ireland and in Scotland. He had been frequently concerned in supplying medical schools with subjects, but had never assisted in raising any bodies from church-yards. He had often seen bodies carried to the houses of medical lecturers, but declined to say how often; he also declined to say whether he had been concerned in the murder of any other person but the old woman, and whether he had been present at any other murder in the course of the same mouth of October.
Mrs. Laird, the wife of this witness, gave evidence very similar to that of her husband, corroborating his statements as to so many of the transactions which he had described as had fallen within her knowledge and observation.
This completed the case for the prosecution, and a most humane and able address having been delivered to the jury by Lord Meadowbank, at half-past eight o'clock in the evening, they retired to consider their verdict. During the period of their absence, which extended to fifty minutes, the most breathless anxiety was exhibited as to the result of the trial, and upon their re-entering the court, an eager silence prevailed amongst the persons assembled. The verdict consigned Burke to an ignominious fate by a declaration of his guilt; but the jury, contrary to all expectation, declared, that as to Mrs. M'Dougal, the offence alleged was "not proven," a finding which relieved her from all immediate consequences upon the indictment.
Lord Meadowbank immediately passed the sentence of death upon Burke, and ordered him to be hanged on the 28th January, 1830, and his body to be delivered over to the surgeons for dissection.
He and his fellow prisoner, M'Dougal, were then immediately conveyed to the lock-up house attached to the court, where they met Hare and his wife, who, although they had been examined as witnesses, were detained to answer any charge which might be preferred against them. Hare, on his way to this place from the court, had been seized with a sudden fit of fiendish and malignant exultation at his own supposed escape from punishment, and at the success of his schemes to bring the neck of his fellow murderers into the noose, which had not ceased when Burke and M'Dougal were introduced. His spirits somewhat fell, however, when he learned that he was to be conveyed to Calton-hill jail, with his wife, to await the result of the deliberations of the legal authorities, as to his prosecution upon certain charges of murder, of which there was no doubt he had been guilty, and upon his entrance to that prison the most direful forebodings appeared to fill his mind with apprehension. His wife was a fitting comrade for such a husband. While giving her evidence she had in her arms a child, ill of hooping-cough, and altogether the picture of abject misery, wretchedness, and disease; but instead of treating it with that maternal tenderness which even the tigress shows for her whelps, she seemed to regard it with aversion and hatred, shaking and squeezing it, whenever the cough seized it, with the expression of a fury in her countenance.
On the succeeding Friday, Mrs. M'Dougal, who had been allowed to remain so long in custody from motives of humanity only, fears being entertained that if she were to go at large, her life would be sacrificed to the vengeance of the mob, was discharged, and forthwith proceeded to her old abode, the scene of so many horrible transactions. On the next day she ventured out to a neighbouring liquor-shop to purchase whiskey, but she was instantly recognised,-- the spirit was refused her, and the mob gaining intelligence as to who she was, she was compelled to fly for her life. Fortunately for her, the police interfered, and conducted her again to the prison, thereby saving her from violence; but there can be little doubt that, but for this fortunate intervention in her behalf, she would have fallen a victim to the vengeance of the justly indignant populace.
In the mean time Burke had become scarcely less communicative than Hare had previously been. He made no denial of the truth of the statements which had been made by that wretch, and confirmed the horrid tale related by him, by declaring that he had sold as many as thirty or forty subjects to the surgeons, although he subsequently admitted, like his companion, that he had never once been concerned as a resurrectionist; a confession from which nothing could be inferred but that he had been a party to as many murders as he had sold dead bodies. Nor was this declaration, horrible as it was, without corroboration. The appearances of the den which he inhabited -- its loneliness marking it as a fit stage for the enactment of such tragedies; the various articles found in it; the frequent disappearance of persons of the lower orders, and of women of an unfortunate class, for whom, abandoned as they were by the friends and relations whom they had dishonoured, and excluded from all notice and regard by the virtuous part of the community, no person cared to inquire; were circumstances, all of which tended to impress the public mind with a firm belief of the truth of the dreadful suspicions which were raised by the prisoner's unsatisfactory but most frightful admissions.
The conclusion to which these circumstances lead is as obvious as it is appalling; and to strengthen it we shall here introduce a statement which was published at the time, and which may be relied on. About six months previously to these transactions, the body of a female was offered for sale by some miscreants, probably of Burke's gang, to the assistant of a most respectable teacher of anatomy in Edinburgh. The ruffians offering it were not known to him, and were not resurrection-men; but as a subject was required, he said he would take it if it suited him when he examined it, and asked when they could bring the body. They replied that they had it now, and that they would bring it to the dissecting-room in the evening, between nine and ten o'clock. At the appointed hour, accordingly, they made their appearance, accompanied by a porter, with the body in a sack. It was taken in, of course, and turned out of the sack, when it proved to be the body of a female, as had been stated by the ruffians -- a woman of the town in her clothes, and with her shoes and stockings on. The assistant was startled, and proceeded at once to examine the body, when he found an enormous fracture in the back part of the head, and a large portion of the skull driven in, as if by a blow from the blunt part of a hatchet, or some such weapon. On making this discovery, he instantly exclaimed, "You villains, where and how did you get this body?" To which one replied, with great apparent sang-froid, that it was the body of a woman who had been "popped in a row (murdered in a brawl) in Halkerston's Wynd," and that if he did not choose to take it another would. The assistant then suggested that they should wait till he sent for his principal, his intention being to have them detained; but not relishing this proposal, the ruffians (three in number, besides the porter) immediately withdrew with their horrid cargo, and, doubtless, soon found a less scrupulous purchaser. Statements of a similar character were subsequently made in many of the Scotch journals, and there appears to be too good reason to suppose that they were perfectly true.
When we consider this most singular and atrocious conspiracy, and the characters of the different actors in it, as we understand them to be, it should seem as if each of them had his allotted part in the bloody drama. Hare was a rude ruffian, with all the outward appearances of his nature -- drunken, ferocious, and profligate; and far likelier to repel than to ensnare any one by a specious show, which he was quite incapable of putting on. He appears, however, to have been the more deeply designing of the two; and to have over-reached his associate, Burke, whom he succeeded in always thrusting forward, with a view, we have no doubt, of turning short upon him, as he did at the last, and consigning him to the gallows, when this should be necessary, in order to save himself. Burke was, indeed, the only one of the two qualified to manage the out-door business of the co-partnery; and he it was, accordingly, who always went out to prowl for victims, and to decoy them to their destruction. In his outward manners he was entirely the reverse of Hare. He was, as we learn from good authority, quiet in his demeanour: he was never riotous; was never heard cursing and swearing; and even when he was the worse of drink, he walked so quietly into his own house, that his foot was never heard along the passage. He was of a fawning address, and was so well liked by the children in the neighbourhood, that each was more ready than another to do his errands. The riots which often occurred in the house, and in which Hare always bore a conspicuous part, were, there is no doubt, got up on purpose, either when they were in the act of committing murder, or that the neighbours might not be alarmed at the noise which inevitably accompanied the mortal struggle between them and the unhappy inmates whom they had enticed into their dwelling.
We have already mentioned the full statements made by Hare, as to the horrid traffic in which he had been engaged, which were not published in the form in which they fell from the lips of this diabolical ruffian. Some portions of them, however, escaped and found their way into the public papers; and regretting our inability to lay before our readers the whole of his history of this terrible case, we shall present to them so much of his story as we have been able to learn:--
The first murder which he charged against Burke, although it is surmised that several had been committed before that time, was that of a girl named Paterson, who was about eighteen or twenty years of age. It appears, that this girl, with one of her associates, Janet Brown, had been lodged in the Canongate police-office, on Tuesday night, the 8th of April. They were kept till six o'clock the next morning, when they went to the house of one Swanstoun, to procure spirits. Here they were met by Burke, who asked them to drink. He afterwards prevailed on them to go with him to breakfast, and gave them two bottles of spirits to carry along with them. They accompanied him to his brother Constantine Burke's house, in the Canongate. This man was a scavenger, and went out at his usual hour to work. After they had been in the house for some time, Burke and his wife began to quarrel and to fight, which seems to have been the usual preliminary to mischief. In the midst of this uproar. Hare, who had been sent for, and who was a principal agent in this scene of villainy, entered, and in the mean time Janet Brown, agitated seemingly, and alarmed by the appearance of violence, wished to leave the house, and to take her companion along with her. By this time it was about ten o'clock, and Paterson was asleep in one of the beds, totally unconscious of her approaching fate. The other girl went out, and was absent about twenty minutes. When she returned she asked for Paterson, and was told that she had left the house. She came back in the afternoon in search of her, and received the same answer. By this time she was murdered. Burke had availed himself of the short interval of twenty minutes, during which her companion, Janet Brown, was absent, to execute his horrid purpose, when she was asleep, by stopping her breath; and that very afternoon, between five and six o'clock, her body was taken to the dissecting-room, and disposed of for eight pounds. The appearance of this body, which was quite fresh -- which had not even begun to grow stiff -- of which the face was settled and pleasant, without any expression of pain -- awakened suspicions; and Burke was closely questioned as to where he procured it. He easily framed some plausible excuse that he had purchased it from the house where she died; which silenced all further suspicion.
We have already alluded to the murder of an idiot. His name was James Wilson; but he was more commonly known by the appellation of "Daft Jamie." The circumstances attending his assassination were even, if possible, more revolting than those of the women Campbell or Paterson. The appearance of this creature showed at once the imbecility of his mind, and was such that he was universally regarded with a feeling of tenderness and sympathy. He was quite harmless and kind-hearted; and was on this account generally liked, and well treated; and there were certain houses where he was admitted as a familiar guest, and kindly entertained. It is probable that he had been for some time watched by this gang of murderers, and marked out as one that might be easily taken off without exciting suspicion. Accident unfortunately threw him in their way. He was met by Burke at nine o'clock one morning, in the beginning of October 1828, wandering about in his usual manner in the Grass-market. He instantly accosted him in his fawning manner, and inquired of him whether he was in search of any one; he told him he was seeking his mother, to whom, as he was a creature of kindly dispositions, he was warmly attached. The wretch at once saw that he now had him within his grasp, and instantly commenced his schemes for drawing him away to some convenient place where he might be murdered. He contrived to persuade him that he knew where his mother had gone, and would take him to the place; and by coaxing and flattery he at length decoyed him into Hare's house. Here those monsters of iniquity, exulting over their deluded victim, began to pretend the greatest affection for him, and having procured liquor, they pressed it upon him. He at first decidedly refused, but they so far wrought upon his good nature by their assumed kindness, that they induced him to join them in their cups, and they plied him so effectually, that he was soon overpowered, and lying down on the floor, fell asleep. Burke, who was anxiously watching his opportunity, then said to Hare, "Shall I do it now?" to which Hare replied, "He is too strong for you yet; you had better let him alone for a while." Both the ruffians seem to have been afraid of the physical strength which they knew the poor creature possessed, and of the use he would make of it, if prematurely roused. Burke accordingly waited a little, but impatient at the delay, and anxious to accomplish his object, he suddenly threw himself upon Jamie, and attempted to strangle him. Oppressed as he was with the influence of liquor, he was roused at once by this assault to a full sense of his danger; and, by a dreadful effort, he threw off Burke, and sprung to his feet, when the mortal struggle began. Jamie fought with all the fury of despair, and would have been an overmatch for either one of the ruffian assailants.
Burke had actually the worst of the struggle, and was about to be overpowered, when he called out furiously to Hare to assist him. Hare rushing forward, turned the balance of the unequal conflict by tripping up Jamie's heels, and afterwards dragging him along the floor, with Burke lying above him. In the course of this contest, the unhappy object of this dreadful violence contrived to lay hold of Burke with his teeth, and to inflict on him a wound which occasioned a cancer, that would in all probability have shortened his days, even if he had escaped the vengeance of the law. None were present at this murder, which was completed before mid-day, except the two ruffians themselves; but the body was recognised in the dissecting-room by one of the students.
We have stated that the confessions of Hare were fully corroborated by the statements made by Burke subsequent to his conviction. The following conversation, which took place between him and one of the officers of the jail, sufficiently indicate the state of his mind at this time, and the respective degrees of guilt attributable to him and to Hare:--
Before a question was put to him concerning the crimes he had been engaged in, he was solemnly reminded of the duty incumbent upon him, situated as he was, to banish from his mind every feeling of animosity towards Hare, on account of the evidence which the latter gave at the trial; he was told, that, as a dying man, covered with guilt, and without hope, except in the infinite mercy of Almighty God, he, who stood so much in need of forgiveness, must prepare himself to seek it by forgiving from his heart all who had done him wrong; and he was most emphatically adjured to speak the truth, and nothing but the truth, without any attempt either to palliate his own iniquities, or to implicate Hare more deeply than the facts warranted. Thus admonished, and thus warned, he answered the several interrogatories in the terms below stated; declaring at the same time, upon the word of a dying man, that everything he should say would be true, and that he would in no respect exaggerate or extenuate anything, either from a desire to inculpate Hare, or to spare any one else.
After some conversation of a religious nature -- in the course of which he stated, that while in Ireland his mind was under the influence of religious impressions, and that he was accustomed to read his Catechism and his Prayer-book, and to attend to his duties -- he was asked, "How comes it, then, that you, who, by your own account, were once under the influence of religious impressions, ever formed the idea of such dreadful atrocities, of such cold-blooded, systematic murders, as you admit you have been engaged in -- how came such a conception to enter your mind?" To this Burke replied, that he did not exactly know; but that, becoming addicted to drink, living in open adultery, and associating continually with the most abandoned characters, he gradually became hardened and desperate, gave up attending Chapel or any place of religious worship, shunned the face of a priest, and being constantly familiar with every species of wickedness, he at length grew indifferent as to what he did, and was ready to commit any crime.
He was then asked how long he had been engaged in this murderous traffic? To which he answered, "From Christmas 1827, till the murder of the woman Campbell, in October last." "How many persons have you murdered, or been concerned in murdering, during that time? Were they thirty in all?"--"Not so many; not so many; I assure you."
"How many?" He answered the question; but the answer was, for a reason perfectly satisfactory, reserved.
"Had you any accomplices?"--"None but Hare. We always took care, when we were going to commit murder, that no one else should be present -- that no one could swear he saw the deed done. The women might suspect what we were about, but we always put them out of the way when we were going to do it. They never saw us commit any of the murders. One of the murders was done in Broggan's house, while he was out; but before he returned, the thing was finished, and the body put into a box. Broggan evidently suspected something, for he appeared much agitated, and entreated us 'to take away that box,' which we accordingly did; but he was not in any way concerned in it."
"You have already told me that you were engaged in these atrocities from Christmas 1827 till the end of October 1828: were you associated with Hare during all that time?"--"Yes: we began with selling to Dr.--- the body of a woman who had died a natural death in Hare's house. We got 10l. for it. After this we began the murders, and all the rest of the bodies we sold to him were murdered."
"In what place were these murders generally committed?"--"They were mostly committed in Hare's house, which was very convenient for the purpose, as it consisted of a room and a kitchen; Daft Jamie was murdered there; the story told of this murder is incorrect. Hare began the struggle with him, and they fell and rolled together on the floor; then I went to Hare's assistance, and we at length finished him, though with much difficulty. I committed one murder in the country by myself; it was in last harvest; all the rest were done in conjunction with Hare."
"By what means were these fearful atrocities perpetrated?"--"By suffocation. We made the persons drunk, and then suffocated them by holding the nostrils and mouth, and getting on the body; sometimes I held the mouth and nose, while Hare knelt upon the body; and sometimes Hare held the mouth and nose, while I placed myself upon the body. Hare has perjured himself by what he said at the trial about the murder of Campbell; he did not sit by while I did it, as he says; he was on the body assisting me with all his might, while I held the nostrils and mouth with one hand, and choked her under the throat with the other; we sometimes used a pillow, but did not in this case."
"Now, Burke, answer me this question: were you tutored or instructed, or did you receive hints from any one, as to the mode of committing murder?"--"No, except from Hare. We often spoke about it, and we agreed that suffocation was the best way. Hare said so, and I agreed with him. We generally did it by suffocation."
"Did you receive any encouragement to commit or persevere in committing these atrocities?"--"Yes; we were frequently told by Paterson that he would take as many bodies as we could get for him. When we got one, he always told us to get more. There was commonly another person with him of the name of Falconer. They generally pressed us to get more bodies."
"To whom were the bodies so murdered sold?"--"To Dr.---. We took the bodies to his rooms in ---, and then went to his house to receive the money for them. Sometimes he paid us himself; sometimes we were paid by his assistants. No questions were ever asked as to the mode in which we had come by the bodies. We had nothing to do but to leave a body at the rooms, and to go and get the money."
"Did you ever, upon any occasion, sell a body or bodies to any other lecturer in this place?" "Never. We knew no other."
"You have been a resurrectionist (as it is called), I understand?" "No, neither Hare nor myself ever got a body from a churchyard. All we sold were murdered, save the first one, which was that of the woman who died a natural death in Hare's house. We began with that: our crimes then commenced. The victims we selected were generally elderly persons. They could be more easily disposed of than persons in the vigour of youth."
Such were the horrible disclosures made by this man -- disclosures of the truth of which there cannot be the smallest doubt. The general impression raised by Burke's declaration was, that he had been originally the dupe of Hare, and that the latter having been before engaged in a similar traffic had driven him on, after having once enlisted him in the service, to commit atrocities of which he would not otherwise have been guilty.
With such a belief almost universally pervading society, it may well be imagined that a notification which was given that no prosecution would take place against Hare was received with no small degree of surprise. A cry that he, like Burke, should be subjected to the punishment due to his crimes, was raised, but was met by a positive refusal on the part of the public prosecutor to permit any proceedings to be taken against him of a criminal nature. Great excitement was created by this determination being made known, but its propriety must be now, as indeed it was then upon mature consideration, admitted. No one, we believe, will deny that immense advantages would have been derived by society from the visitation of condign punishment upon every one of the wretches, male and female, who had disgraced the human form, by aiding and abetting the perpetration of these unheard of atrocities; but it was felt that care must be taken that in the anxiety which existed to visit the guilty with the reward of their criminal acts, the great landmarks of conservative law were not overthrown. Whatever the terms were upon which the evidence of Hare was obtained, it behoved the public authorities of the country to act upon them to their fullest extent; and although probably, according to the strict rule, he would have been liable to be brought to trial upon any one of those murders in which he had been engaged, except that of Mrs. Campbell, the expediency of such a proceeding may well be doubted. His arraignment for any offence, without the certainty of his conviction, might have been to place the authorities in a position, in which they would have been triumphed over by this ruffian. Who, we ask, could have been produced as a witness to fix any crime upon him? His own confession was taken for another purpose, and was a privileged communication which could not be produced in evidence against him; -- that of Burke would be equally useless, for before any trial could take place, he would be a "hanged man," and his statement being ex parte, could not legally be laid before the jury. Mrs. M'Dougal, burning with vengeance for the loss of her paramour, would be so prejudiced as to render her testimony impossible to be believed, and Mrs. Hare could not be examined as a witness against her own husband. The other witnesses on the trial had deposed to facts and circumstances which were in themselves vague and uncertain when stripped of the admissions, positive and negative, of Hare and Burke, which alone served to flash upon them the light of truth in a horrid and appalling glare, but which, as we have already said, could not be used in any new inquiry. If a new investigation had commenced in which Hare was the person charged, the peace of the community might have been disturbed. Great excitement would undoubtedly have been created, and it was deemed impolitic for the sake of the character of the nation, when a conviction was uncertain, to expose a wretch like this prisoner to popular outrage. Edinburgh had already had her share of those commotions, in which the people had snatched victims from the protection of the law, and wanted no other sacrifice; and however all men would have rejoiced, if in due course of law the whole of this band of wretches could have been punished by the gibbet, all right-minded persons must have shrunk, even for such a purpose, from straining the law to sharp interpretations. Hare, therefore, it was felt, must be protected from the penal consequences of his crimes, and permitted to live a little longer. Such a wretch, however, could not have escaped with impunity. To a mind capable of reflection death would have been comfort, compared with such a state of existence as that to which he was doomed. With whom, now that Burke was gone, could he associate? Where could he hide his head? The brand of "murderer" was on his brow,-- the finger of the Almighty was upon him, as one for whom the chance of mercy was small and uncertain.
Notwithstanding these considerations, however, frequent reports were circulated that the friends of Daft Jamie were determined to commence a prosecution against his murderer; and a petition was actually presented to the High Court of Justiciary in the name of his mother and sister, for a warrant to detain the prisoner in jail to answer the charge; but the court declined to interfere, as such a step would be unnecessary, the right of prosecution lying in the hands of the Lord Advocate, who was bound to take such steps as were proper and requisite.
In the meantime Mrs. M'Dougal having been again suffered to quit the jail, succeeded in making her escape from Edinburgh unperceived. Upon the night on which she was taken to the prison for security by the police, she affected to be sensible of her condition, but assured the officers that she was herself nearly falling a victim to the horrible system in which Burke had been engaged. She then related a plausible tale of her having overheard Burke and Hare come to a determination to murder her in case of their wanting a subject. She stated, that one night Burke and Hare were carousing in one of the apartments of Hare's human shambles on the profit of a recent murder. In the midst of their unhallowed orgies. Hare raised his hand, and in a fit of fiendish exultation, stated that they could never want money; for when they were at a loss for a "shot"-- a body for dissection -- they would murder and sell, first one and then the other of their own wives. Being in the adjoining apartment, the females overheard, and were petrified by this horrible resolution, as they had every reason to believe that the monsters would certainly carry it into effect. A discussion of some length ensued, and Hare finally succeeded in persuading Burke to consent, that when the dreadful emergency did arrive, M'Dougal should be the first victim. Upon her leaving the prison she was seen to go in a direction as if she intended to quit the city of Edinburgh, and unsought, and unasked for, she was never again seen within the limits of the place which she had polluted by her presence.
On Wednesday the 28th of January, pursuant to his sentence, Burke underwent the last penalty of the law. During the latter portion of his confinement, he declared that his confession had tended materially to relieve his mind; and he professed great contrition for his crimes. On the day of his execution he was removed from the jail to the lock-up, at the Court-house, where the scaffold had been erected, under a strong escort of police. The crowd which had assembled to witness his final exit from the scene of life was tremendous; and seats commanding a view of the gallows were let at a large price. Upon his coming forth upon the platform, he was assailed by the hideous yells of public execration, with a species of ferocious exultation. The concluding moments of his existence must have caused him the most acute suffering, for, stung to madness by the horrible shrieks with which he was greeted, he appeared anxious to hurry the executioner in the performance of his duty, as if desirous to escape from that life which he had spent so ill. Very soon after eight o'clock, he was tied up to the gallows in the usual way; and he immediately gave the signal for the falling of the drop, by throwing down his handkerchief. A short, but apparently a severe struggle succeeded; and in less than two minutes he ceased to move. His body hung suspended for half an hour, when it was cut down, and placed in a shell, which had been brought to the scaffold for its reception. A struggle took place among the officials present for scraps of the rope with which he had been hanged, shavings of his coffin, and other relics of a similar character; but by nine o'clock, the crowd had dispersed, and in a few hours afterwards, all appearance of his execution had vanished.
The case of Hare was argued before the Scotch judges on the 5th of February; and by a majority of four to two, they determined that the public faith had been pledged to him, when his evidence was received against Burke, that he should be borne harmless, and he was ordered to be discharged. It was found, however, that by an ancient form of law he might be detained for the costs of the suit, and his final deliberation was therefore delayed; but on Thursday, the 12th of the same month, he and his wife were set at liberty. They appear upon their discharge to have parted company; for Mrs. Hare was nearly sacrificed to the fury of the mob at Glasgow, to which place she wended her way, while her husband proceeded by mail to Dumfries, where he was near meeting a similar fate. The mail, it appears, landed him at about seven o'clock in the morning; and although there was no intimation of his arrival, he was recognised by the mob, who immediately assailed him with the bitterest execrations, and with stones and other missiles. He succeeded in effecting his escape from them into the King's Arms Inn, where he obtained a refuge; but a crowd of persons surrounded the house, and demanded that he should be given up to their fury. For a considerable time consequences of a dangerous nature were apprehended; but night having arrived, the people dispersed; and when all was quiet, Hare quitted the house, and made a precipitate retreat from the town -- whither, it was not known. The subsequent history of this atrocious ruffian, and of his wife and Mrs. M'Dougal, must, we believe, for ever remain a mystery. Their crimes and their notoriety would be sufficient to prevent their acknowledging their names, or the fact of their being the participators in these horrible transactions; and it is to be hoped, that when they quitted the scene of their dreadful offences, they did so with sincere thankfulness to the Almighty for the escape which they had had from a sudden and ignominious death, and with a firm determination to make use of that period which was granted them to live, to atone, by their repentance, for their sins.
We cannot quit this subject without remarking upon the effects which were produced by these revolting murders. It was on the 28th of January, that Burke expiated his crimes upon the scaffold, and Parliament met on the 5th of the ensuing month of February. On the 12th of the same month, Mr. Warburton gave notice of his intention of bringing the whole subject before the House of Commons. Rumours by this time had become general throughout the metropolis that the same system which had been carried on in Edinburgh had been discovered to exist in London; and the public, whose fears were easily alarmed by such a statement, immediately concluded that every report of a missing person confirmed that which now became a pretty general belief. The daily papers were filled with accounts of persons who had suddenly disappeared, and who were supposed to have been "burked," the term now universally employed in the description of the murders committed by the atrocious gang, whose villainies had just been brought to light; and the universal alarm which prevailed was rendered greater by the absurd practice of idle or drunken fellows who stopped persons whom they met in lonely situations, pretending to clap a plaister over their noses and mouths, with an intention to suffocate them. Complaints were made to the police of the system of creating alarm which was carried on, and their utmost vigilance was called for to protect the public from absolute danger, as well as from the terror which was everywhere excited. Accounts were sometimes received of dead bodies having been discovered packed in brine tubs, on their way to Edinburgh from London, and every case of this description was tortured into proof of the existence of a scheme of murder in the latter place, even more dreadful than that which had been discovered in Scotland.
Owing to the long and most important discussions, which at this period were carried on in both houses of parliament, upon the subject of the claims of the Catholics for relief, it was not until Thursday, the 12th of March, that this subject could be brought under the attention of the legislature. Mr. Warburton then moved in the House of Commons for leave to bring in a bill to legalise and regulate the supply of dead bodies for dissection. The honourable gentleman in stating to the house the general grounds upon which he made his motion, said that his first object would be, to confer a species of legality on the practice of anatomy; and with this view he should propose -- first, an enactment to render anatomy lawful, both in its practice and as a mode of instruction in all cities or towns corporate wherein there were schools which conferred degrees in anatomy, or wherein there were hospitals which were capable of receiving fifty patients at a time. The next difficulty to surmount would be the obtaining a sufficient number of subjects for the purposes of science and instruction. His project had for its basis the practice of the French government in the city of Paris. He, therefore, should propose that the overseers of the poor, in certain cases, and the governors of hospitals, should be empowered by the bill to give up to surgical examination the bodies of such persons as fell victims to disease whilst in the hospital, and were not claimed within a certain time after their decease. Here he begged that he should not be understood to treat the feelings of the lower orders with the slightest degree of disrespect by the present enactment. He begged them to take this into their consideration, and also to reflect, that in the case of the late disclosures of the horrid atrocities committed in order to obtain a supply of subjects for dissection in Edinburgh, the lower classes had in all cases been the victims. The motion of the hon. member was fully approved of by the House, and a bill was on the same night introduced, embodying the general principles which he had detailed. The bill passed the House of Commons in the course of the same session, but upon its reaching the House of Lords, so many noble individuals were found who objected to its principle, by which, it was said, the poor were subjected to what might be considered an evil, in which the rich did not participate, that it was withdrawn.
It was not until the recurrence of events in the metropolis of London, similar in character to those which we have just described,-- the murders committed by Bishop and Williams,-- that the subject again received the attention of parliament. In the session of 1831, Mr. Warburton once more moved for leave to introduce a bill, the provisions of which, although they were mainly the same as those of his former measure, differed from it in some important respects. By the new bill, the consent of the party whose body was to be submitted to dissection was required to be obtained before his death, as a condition precedent to its being handed over to the surgeons, and the whole system was to be placed under the superintending direction of inspectors and commissioners appointed for that purpose. This bill was introduced on Thursday, Dec. 15, and after undergoing considerable discussion, it at length passed into a law in the same session.
The act having been in operation during a period of upwards of eight years, has been found to have been attended with the most advantageous results, and the exertions of Dr. Southwood Smith, who holds a responsible situation under its provisions, have tended in no small degree to secure this admirable effect. The offence of body-snatching is now no longer heard of; for the object of the crime having been removed, the crime itself has ceased to be committed.
Happy would it have been for the interests of the community, if, before these dreadful scenes were witnessed and brought to light, some similar plan had met the approbation of the legislature.