This account begins: 'A Full and True Account of the Last Speech and Dying Declaration of WILLIAM BURKE, who was Executed at Edinburgh this morning, for Murder, and his body given for dissection ; also of his conduct and behaviour since his condemnation, and on the Scaffold.' This broadside sold for a penny and was published on the day of Burke's execution, Wednesday, 28th January 1829.
Although Burke and Hare are often referred to as body-snatchers they were not in actual fact grave robbers, as this report proves. They did, however, commit a great many murders, and sell the bodies to Dr Knox at Edinburgh Medical School for dissection in his anatomy classes. Hare escaped trial by giving evidence against Burke, who was hanged on 16 counts of murder. Burke was denied the right to a burial, and his skeleton can still be seen hanging in the Medical School.
Reports recounting dark and salacious deeds were popular with the public, and, like today's sensationalist tabloids, sold in large numbers. Crimes could generate sequences of sheets covering descriptive accounts, court proceedings, last words, lamentations and executions as they occurred. As competition was fierce, immediacy was paramount, and these occasions provided an opportunity for printers and patterers to maximise sales.
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