Bones Unearthed in Edinburgh Garden Serve as a Grave Reminder of the Murderous Days of Burke and Hare
Bones discovered in a shallow grave in the garden of a Scottish townhouse are being linked to the crimes of 19th century resurrection men.
The remains of five bodies, found by construction workers in September 2012 at a house in Edinburgh’s Grove Street in the Haymarket area of the city, has led archaeologists and researchers to believe that the skeletons may belong to victims of Edinburgh’s nefarious bodysnatching trade.
Experts have determined that the approximately sixty bones that were unearthed are those of four adults and at least one child and that they date from the early 1800’s, a time when Scotland’s capital was a world leader in the study of anatomy. Consequently, there was a high demand for cadavers for the purpose of dissection and as demand outweighed supply the result was a thriving trade in illegally obtained bodies supplied by body snatchers or ‘resurrection men’ as they were also known. As the problem escalated, the method of obtaining cadavers for dissection took a more sinister turn, most notably in 1828 when Irish immigrants William Burke and William Hare embarked on a murder spree to satisfy the demand for cadavers, selling the corpses of their sixteen victims for profit.
Why the skeletons discovered at the Grove street property should have ended up buried in the garden remains a mystery but an examination of the bones, which revealed holes in them to cater for the wires used to display anatomical specimens, has led experts to conclude that they were indeed used for the purpose of teaching anatomy students. Who exactly was responsible for them being there remains unclear but the grisly find highlights the dark and dangerous days of early medical science.
Leona Tyrie, producer of ‘The Body Merchants: The Shocking Truth About Anatomy Murder’, a documentary focusing on the illegal body trade of the 19th century and those involved in it, said: “There is no actual evidence that Burke and Hare were in any way connected with the bodies that have been found at the Grove Street residence but the discovery of these skeletons serves as a reminder of one of the most fascinating periods of our history, which was not only confined to Edinburgh but which affected many areas of the United Kingdom. Of course, of all persons who are known to have supplied medical schools of the time with anatomical specimens, Burke and Hare are the most well known. This is partly because of the notoriety that attached to William Burke and William Hare due to the fact that the cadavers which they turned over to the anatomists had not been snatched from graves, as was commonly the practice, but were in fact the victims of murder, which caused a sensation at the time. However, as is revealed in the documentary, the crimes of William Burke and William Hare were not an isolated case; there were others who also decided to spare themselves the labour of digging up corpses by instead taking the lives of vulnerable people in exchange for payment for freshly, deceased bodies. What distinguishes Burke and Hare is the sheer number of bodies which are known to have been supplied by them.”
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