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Broadside ballad entitled 'William Burke's Confession'


Verse 1 begins: 'Ye people of this nation, come listen unto me, / To young and old I will unfold this horrid trudge'. The woodcut, included above the title, depicts two men, one is possibly a boy, building a scarecrow in a field. There are no publication details attached to this sheet.

It is not all that unusual for the woodcut illustration to be unrelated to the story it is sold with. Woodcut blocks were expensive to buy and so recoup the outlay they were printed on as many sheets as possible. Its inclusion would have increased the perceived value of the sheet. The depiction of the two men, however, may have added another dimension of understanding to this sheet about William Burke. Burke and was convicted of serial murder, in and around Edinburgh's Canongate area, so that he could profit by selling the bodies for medical dissection. His accomplice, Hare, on the other hand, escaped punishment and Burke was hanged on 28th January 1829 for his crimes.

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(036)
Broadside ballad entitled 'William Burke's Confession'
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