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Broadside concerning the execution of William Burke


This report begins: 'An account of the Last Moments and Execution of William Burke, at Edinburgh, for the West Post Murders. This day, Wednesday 28th Jan. 1829. William Burke underwent the last sentence of the law, for the murder of Mrs Docherty, one of the victims of the West Port Tragedies.' The broadside does not carry the name of the publisher or location of publication.

William Burke and William Hare are among the most notorious criminals in Scotland's history. Having moved to Scotland from Ireland to work as labourers on the Grand Union canal, they began grave-robbing to provide anatomy lecturers with bodies for medical research and demonstration. Subsequently they turned to murder to acquire bodies, and were arrested only after they had killed sixteen times. Hare was spared the gallows by agreeing to give evidence against Burke, whose execution is described vividly in this broadside. The infamy of the case ensured that many broadsides covering it were produced, and the National Library holds several different examples.

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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Date of publication: 1829   shelfmark: L.C.Fol.74(093)
Broadside concerning the execution of William Burke
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