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Grave Robbers.docx

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University of Guelph
HIST 3130
Ashley Mathisen

Grave Robbers, Corpses and anatomists: the trial of burke and hare .committed their crimes for financial gain by murdering people and selling their bodies to medical places The crimes: .16 murders between November 1827-october 1828. 17 bodies were sold to medical practitioners, 16 of these bodies were murdered in Edinburgh. Crimes uncovered in 1828 when the neighbours noticed the suspicious disappearance of the last person. Burke and hare arrested in 1828, hare gave evidence against burke and was set free, burke executed (jan 24, 1829) .edinburgh developed on a separate trajectory from London (post-1707 union with England) as a result the two regions enjoyed similar demographics and comparable level of industrialization but different laws and culture. Edinburgh population increased by 45% between 1801 and 1831. Little attention was paid to the overcrowded conditions of the poor until the cholera epidemic (1832). No poor law in scotland which was managed by private charities so the poor were better off in london than Edinburgh. The poor were separated by geography from the rich. In 1707 edinburgh was little more than the royal mile (street that ran from Edinburgh castle to holyrood house) during that time everyone lived together. In 1752 the Edinburgh town council introduced plans for the new town (largest urban development project of its time) the creation of the new town led to a stark divide between the rich and the poor. People living in the oldtown crowded into narrow wynds which ran down from the royal mile creating a population of poor people with no friends for burke and hare to prey on. Edinburgh enlightenment was making it better but the burke and hare murders shocked people as they thought that type of thing was in the past. .edinburgh was the centre of the 18 -century medical world. Medical students were provided with clinical experience by having access to bodies, most other universities didn’t have any bodies to give people a complete medical education through dissection. Edinburgh boasted the most extensive selection of medical lectures in Britain (until London began to overtake it in the second half of the eighteenth century. .anatomy was crucial by the late 18 century with the shift from humoural medicine to pathological anatomy (Greater emphasis on organs and tissues than on the body as a holistic unit). The problem of acquiring bodies for dissection had been an issue since ancient rome. .medical men in Edinburgh struggled to find cadavers to distinguish themselves alexander monro came from a dynasty of medical men. Alexander munro primus, alexander munro secundus, alexander munro teitus. Munro teritus gained a monopoly on cadavers in Edinburgh, this increased competition amongst other medical practioners in Edinburgh. Causing a huge illicit trade in dead bodies. Cadavers weren’t considered property so people could sell them but stealing a body from a churchyard it was considered to be sacred and a crime. Body snatching became a huge problem which caused people to keep watch or to build iron boxes around tombs to stop the stealing, anxiety emerged around this. By the 1820s body snatching was professionalized, lucrative and widespread. The resurrection men formed a network for digging up bodies and exuming them, most would arrive in a brutal state if shipped so they tried to sell them locally (London, Manchester, Dublin, Edinburgh). However discovery of body snatching was rare because they were often involved with government and medical professionals. .body snatching arose controversy because it made a corpse a commodity and created anxiety about the sanctity of the grave. Crowds objected to body snatchers because they defied funerary custom (fear that on judgement day it would cause problems or denial to heaven if your body was dissected) and because there were larger objections to living in a capitalist society (poor were the ones who had to endure this practice). Medical ethics were in their infancy so there was no real regulations on what to do with a corpse. By the mid1820s paris passed a law saying that people who died in hospital without being claimed can be used as cadavers making them the top medical place and increasing demand in Edinburgh to compete. Growing crisis in 1820s as surgeons became associated with body snatchers. William burke (1792-1829) . born in Ireland. worked as a servant, baker, weaver, soldier, labourer and shoemaker. Emigrated to Scotland in 181. Lived in Edinburgh with Helen mcdougal. Lost everything in a fire in 1827. Moved in with hare and his wife Margaret William hare .born in Ireland. In the coal trade in Edinburgh by the 1820s. married Margaret logue. Met burke around 1827. Owned an inn that burke lived in whe
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