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Specimen jar containing piece of William Burke's brain

Science Museum, London

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Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0)

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Credit: Specimen jar containing piece of William Burke's brain. Credit: Science Museum, London. Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0)


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Sealed in this small glass specimen jar is said to be a piece of the brain of William Burke (1792-1829). He was one half of the infamous Edinburgh body snatchers known as Burke and Hare. Burke was executed in 1829 and museum records state it was, “presented by the doctor who used Burke’s body for anatomical purposes, in a sealed glass tube 3” long”. Burke and his accomplice William Hare murdered at least 16 people. They delivered the bodies to anatomy teacher Dr Robert Knox. The pair taking advantage of the lack of available cadavers for anatomical classes in Edinburgh and the high prices paid for those that were presented. The two body snatchers were eventually caught. Limited evidence saw Hare offered immunity from prosecution if he testified against Burke. This he did, and Burke was hung on 28 January, 1829. His body was publicly dissected at the Edinburgh Medical College – the same institution to which he delivered his victims. maker: Unknown maker Place made: United Kingdom



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