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Broadside entitled 'Confessions made by William Burke'


This crime report begins: 'CONFESSIONS MADE BY William Burke. Now under Sentence of Death, in the Calton Jail, for the Horrid Murder of Mrs Campbell, frankly detailing several other atrocious Murders, in which he was concerned along with Hare . . . Extracted from the Caledonian Mercury, 5th January, 1829.' The broadside also contains a poem describing Burke's 'Confessions, Lamentations, and Reflections'. The sheet was priced at one penny.

William Burke is known to have made two detailed confessions between his trial in December 1828 and his execution, and a transcription of one of these confessions is reproduced on this broadside. Burke insists that his only accomplice was Hare. Burke's common-law wife, Helen McDougal, was tried with him for one of the murders, but was released on a 'not proven' verdict. Burke was convicted of this and two other murders, but in his subsequent confessions he admitted that he and Hare had carried out sixteen killings in total.

Burke and Hare were Irish bodysnatchers and murderers, who worked around Edinburgh's Canongate area, eventually becoming local legends. They hit upon the idea of murdering solitary or vulnerable people (in an attempt not to get caught) so that they could sell the bodies for dissection. Hare turned King's Evidence and so was acquitted, but this secured the conviction of Burke, who was hanged on the 28th January 1829.

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Likely date of publication: 1829   shelfmark: Ry.III.a.6(029)
Broadside entitled 'Confessions made by William Burke'
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