British Executions

William Burke

Age: unknown

Sex: male

Crime: murder

Date Of Execution: 28 Jan 1829

Crime Location:

Execution Place: Edinburgh

Method: hanging

Executioner: unknown


Murderer BURKE & HARE

from 'The Word On The Street ref


A Full and True Account of the Last Speech and Dying Declaration of WILLIAM BURKE, who was Executed at Edinburgh this morn- ing, for Murder, and his body given for dissection ; also of his conduct and behaviour since his condemnation, and on the Scaffold.

Edinburgh, 28th January, 1829.

About nine o'clock this morning, WILLIAM BURKE, the wretched miscreant, who had occupied so much of public attention since his condemnation, on account of the unheard of atrocities disclosed at his trial, suffered the penalty of the law due for the commission of such barbarous and enormous crimes, at the head of Libberton Wynd, Lawnmarket, in the presence of an immense multitude of spectators, many of whom came from a great distance.

The indictment charged Burke and M' Dougal, his reputed wife, but to whom he was not married, with three different acts of deli- berate murder, between the 7th April, and 31st October last, viz..... Mary Paterson or Mitchell, James Wilson, alias Daft Jamie, and Marjory Campbell or Docherty. The trial then proceeded for the murder of Docherty only, to which they both pied not Guilty. William Hare and Margaret Laird, his wife, accomplices in the murders, were admitted King's evidence.

After a long and very interesting trial, which lasted nearly twenty four hours, and which excited the strongest sensations of horror and disgust in the minds of all present, the jury' found William Burke Guilty, and the libel not proven against M' Dougal ; upon hearing this, Burke turned round to his paramour, and coolly exclaimed, " Nelly, your are out of the scrape." After a few obser- vatioas by Lord Meadowbank, in which Lord M' Kenzie concur- red, the Lord Justice Clerk addressed Burke, in a most impressive manner, setting forth in the strongest language, the enormity of the crime of which he was now convicted ; " a crime, more atrocious, a more cold-blooded, deliberate, and systematic preparation for murder, and the motives so paltry, (said his Lordship,) was really unexampled in the annals of the country," and assuring him that his sentence would most positively be carried into execution; and solemnly warning him to prepare his mind in the most suitable manner to appear before the Throne of Almighty God to answer for his crimes. He was then sentenced to be executed on Wednes- day morning, the 28th January, 1829, between the hours of eight and ten o'clock, and his body to be given for dissection.

Since his condemnation this unhappy man was perfectly peni- tent and resigned to his fate. He never deluded himself with any hopes of escape or of mercy ; and accordingly, he immediately prepared himself for confession and for receiving absolution, by a perusal of such books as his spiritual guides had put into-his hands, and by listening with the most devout attention to their re- ligious instructions. He fully acknowledged the justice of his sen- tence ; nay, he considered it in some measure as a blessing, the certainty of his approaching fare having brought back his mind to a true sense of religion, from which it had been long estranged, and he wished to die at peace with all men. He made a full confession of all the murders he was guilty of, condescending on no less than sixteen persons, beginning with Old Abigail Simpson, from Loan- head, and ending with Marjory Campbell or Docherty, and all with- in the short space of nine months ; mentioning their names, sex, and age, in so far as he knew them, and the dates at which they were dispatched, which was generally by suffocation, as well as to whom sold, and the price received for the bodies. He said they all made very little resistance, being generally, if not always, very much in- toxicated with spirits. What induced him to commence this hor- rible traffic in blood, was, he said, Hare and him having received L. 7, 10s. for the body of an old Pensioner who died in Hare's house, and which, at Hare's suggestion, they took to Surgeons Square,

Accordingly, about eight this morning, he was waited upon by the officiating Magistrates at the Lock-up-house, where he had previously been brought from Jail, and soon after proceeded to the scaffold up Libberton Wynd, attended by two Catholic Clergymen. After some time spent in prayer kneeling, he mounted the fatal drop, (after shaking hands with those around him,) the rope being then adjust- ed, and the cap drawn over his face, he in a few moments gave the signal, and was instantly launched into eternity. After hanging the usual time he was cut down, and sent to the College for dissection.


This account begins: 'A Full and True Account of the Last Speech and Dying Declaration of WILLIAM BURKE, who was Executed at Edinburgh this morning, for Murder, and his body given for dissection ; also of his conduct and behaviour since his condemnation, and on the Scaffold.' This broadside sold for a penny and was published on the day of Burke's execution, Wednesday, 28th January 1829.

Although Burke and Hare are often referred to as body-snatchers they were not in actual fact grave robbers, as this report proves. They did, however, commit a great many murders, and sell the bodies to Dr Knox at Edinburgh Medical School for dissection in his anatomy classes. Hare escaped trial by giving evidence against Burke, who was hanged on 16 counts of murder. Burke was denied the right to a burial, and his skeleton can still be seen hanging in the Medical School.