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Scottish Body-Snatchers

All Edinburgh is alarmed by a very odd and horrid discovery. Some Irish people have been for some time in the habit of decoying into secret places and murdering such wretches as they thought would be least missed for the sole purpose of selling their bodies for dissection and it would seem that the Anatomists have been in the habit of giving them from £7 to £10 for any corpse whatever, no questions asked, and, what seems shocking, that they
saw marks of violence on the bodies without being startled or making enquiry how the party came to his end. It is supposed that upwards of twenty persons have perished in this most miserable manner. But it is certain that three cases can he distinctly proved against Burke and his wife who kept a subterranean cellar in the Grassmarket where this horrid trade was driven.

Their usual mode was to intoxicate the poor creatures and so strangle or smother them. But the fate of a poor idiot well known by the name of daft Jamie was particularly shocking. Having in that respect more wit than wiser folks he refused the liquor which they tried to force upon him and after a desperate defence was subdued arid strangled. The trial comes on Monday. I am sorry I cannot be there. The murderers are all Irish of the lowest ranks. There is a generall terror among the servant maids who think their pretty persons are especially aimed at. And two of Glengarry’s savage Highlanders were so completely cowed that they dared
not stir out after sunset for fear of being caught up and dissected. They keep the thing as quiet as they can for fear of riot but if I were a Doctor I would be afraid of my windows on Monday and well if they got off with a pebbling. I was shockd in the midst of all this by receipt of a very polite card from the Medical Society inviting me to dine with them.

Sir Walter Scott (1771—1832), letter to his son Charles, December 1828. Burke was executed in 1829, and his body was sent to the anatomy school. The Edinburgh mob threatened to burst in, and eventually the naked corpse, on a black marble table, was publicly exhibited to some 25,000 spectators.

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