Portraits of William Burke (1792-1829) and Helen McDougal (b. c. 1795), on trial in Edinburgh in 1828 for the West Port murders. Coloured etching, c. 1829.

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William Burke and William Hare carried out murders in the West Port area of Edinburgh, 1827-1828, and sold the bodies of their victims to the anatomy school of Dr Robert Knox. Hare and his wife turned King's evidence in exchange for immunity while Burke and his lover, Helen McDougal, stood trial in December 1828. McDougal was found not guilty but Burke was sentenced to death and it was ordered that his body be publicly dissected. This took place on 28 January 1829 with Alexander Monro III (1773-1859) carrying out the anatomy. The trial caused a great sensation and led to the promulgation of the Anatomy Act in 1832. For a contemporary reflection of the case in a political caricature, see William Heath's satire in this catalogue, no. 12222i

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1 print : etching, with watercolour


Helen McDougal, The associate of Burke ; William Burke, The murderer.


Wellcome Collection 25731i



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