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Broadside ballad entitled 'William Burk's Execution'


Verse 1: 'Let old and young unto my song a while attention pay, / The news I'll tell will please you well, the monster Burke's away. / At the head of Libberton Wynd he finished his career, / There's few, I'm sure, rich or poor, for him would shed a tear.' This broadside carries no publication details. A short news report headlined 'QUEEN-SQUARE' has been pasted on to the sheet beneath the ballad.

The crimes of Burke and Hare inspired a great number of broadsides. As well as numerous accounts of Burke's trial, subsequent detailed confessions and execution, various ballads and poems were written about the case. In this poem, the author describes the crowd at Burke's execution shouting 'Burk him, Burk him.' The crowd were probably suggesting that Burke should have done to him what he did to others. This was almost certainly the first use of the verb 'to burk', meaning to murder or strangle, which subsequently became a quite common phrase.

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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Date published: 1829   shelfmark: Ry.III.a.6(033)
Broadside ballad entitled 'William Burk's Execution'
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