Image of the death mask of William Burke (L) and the life mask of William Hare®.
The death mask was cast immediately after Burke was hanged and the life mask cast when Hare was on trial. Both masks are kept at Inveraray jail museum but are not presently on display. I was lucky to get access to them when working on a commission for the museum.
The Burke and Hare murders (also known as the West Port murders) were serial murders perpetrated in Edinburgh, in 1827 and 1828. The killings were attributed to Irish immigrants William Burke and William Hare, who sold the corpses of their 17 victims to the Edinburgh Medical College for dissection. Their principal customer was Doctor Robert Knox, and their accomplices included Burke’s mistress, Helen MacDougal, and Hare’s wife, Margaret. From their infamous method of killing their victims has come the word “burking”, meaning to purposefully smother and compress the chest of a victim.
The evidence against the pair was not overwhelming, so Lord Advocate Sir William Rae offered Hare immunity from prosecution if he confessed and agreed to testify against Burke. Hare’s testimony led to Burke’s death sentence in December 1828. He was hanged on 28 January 1829, after which he was publicly dissected at the Edinburgh Medical College. Hare was released in February 1829, and many popular tales tell of him as a blind beggar on the streets of London, having been mobbed and thrown in a lime pit. However, none of these reports was ever confirmed. The last known sighting of him was in the English town of Carlisle.
The Scotsman newspaper account of Burkes execution can be found here:
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Longline Studio. A wee bit of Scottish Spirit
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