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Broadside ballad entitled 'William Burke.--A New Song'


This crime ballad begins: 'Come all you resurrection men, I pray you now beware, / You see what has happened William Burke, and likewise William Hare. / Hare he help a lodging house it was in the West Port, / Where all kinds of travellers unto it did resort.' Although there are no publication details included on this sheet, the subject matter suggests that it was almost certainly published in Edinburgh, in, or around, 1829. The ballad was written by John Logan, whose name is included after the last line. Below the ballad is a clipping regarding what course of action was taken against Dr Knox, the official who purchased the bodies from Burke and Hare.

Illustrated with a woodcut of William Hare, the writer of this ballad spares no details in describing to his audience the terrible crimes perpetrated by William Burke and William Hare. Edinburgh experienced a brief reign of terror in 1829, when these two bodysnatchers decided that murdering people would help to increase the number of payments they received from Dr Knox, of Edinburgh's Anatomy School. As highlighted in the small report underneath the ballad, the Edinburgh populace considered Dr Knox to be almost as guilty as Burke and Hare, and a mob stoned Dr Knox's house. The National Library of Scotland's collection includes many broadsides relating to Burke and Hare.

Early ballads were dramatic or humorous narrative songs derived from folk culture that predated printing. Originally perpetuated by word of mouth, many ballads survive because they were recorded on broadsides. Musical notation was rarely printed, as tunes were usually established favourites. The term 'ballad' eventually applied more broadly to any kind of topical or popular verse.

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Likely date of publication: 1829   shelfmark: Ry.III.a.6(034)
Broadside ballad entitled 'William Burke.--A New Song'
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