Following on from the title, the introductory text continues: 'late of Portsburgh, who is to be Executed at Edinburgh, on the 28th January, 1829, for Murder, and his body given for Public Dissection.' The ballad itself begins: 'Good people all, both great and small, / I pray you lend an ear, / Unto these lines That I have penn'd, / Which quickly you shall hear.' Although there are no publication details included on this sheet, the subject matter suggests that it was almost certainly published in Edinburgh, in January 1829.
The writer of this ballad sensationally claims to have heard this condemned cell confession of William Burke's, while walking past the jail at Calton Hill, in Edinburgh. A rather tall tale, it is far more likely that the writer caught his amazing 'scoop' by unleashing his imagination on what Burke might be thinking, prior to his execution. Illustrated with a foreboding woodcut of William Burke, in the ballad 'Burke' admits his guilt and begs the ultimate judge, God, to show him mercy. As religion dominated Scottish life at this time, the fate of what would happen to the eternal soul was of utmost importance. The National Library of Scotland's collection contains many broadsides that report on the terrible crimes carried out by Burke and Hare.
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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Probable date published:
1829 shelfmark: Ry.III.a.6(030)
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