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Broadside ballad entitled 'William Burke's Murders in the Westport'


Verse 1 begins: 'People of Scotland give an ear in this sad tale, / It will make your hearts burn, and your faces turn pale, / Concerning a deed which has lately been done, / The like was ne'er heard of since the world begun.'

There are many sheets held in the National Library of Scotland's collection which cover the murders and trials of the Williams Burke and Hare. Their content would suggest that there was great outrage and horror felt by the inhabitants of Edinburgh about the nature and details of these crimes. It is curious to note that although Hare confessed to his part in the crimes, he turned King's Witness and so was immune from prosecution. As a result, in the literature of the time, the murders are referred to as Burke's! There is also very little mention made of the surgeons who bought the bodies, despite the fact that they suffered attacks and abuse in Edinburgh at the time.

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 vulnerable or solitary 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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Probable date published: 1829   shelfmark: Ry.III.a.6(035)
Broadside ballad entitled 'William Burke's Murders in the Westport'
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