In 2016 I wrote a book on William Burke, the provider of bodies for medical teaching in 1828. I am based in Edinburgh where tales of Burke and Hare are everywhere and tourists have easy access to various versions of the truth.
That was the main driver to get the research done and get as close to the real story out there for people to read.
Since 2016 I have been speaking at various events, turning up on TV screens and been in receipt of various documents that continue the story of Burke and Hare.
Late in 2021 I discovered that the cell that held Burke after his conviction was still in existence. Its not open to the public but it is preserved under the courts in Edinburgh.
I was lucky enough to go down there – it is tiny. We know that Burke complained that he couldn’t see the sky from his cell because of the height of the buildings behind the court. The window is 75 inches from the floor, so quite high up anyway and if the sky couldn’t be seen then there wouldn’t be a lot of light getting in there. The door is solid metal with a tiny peep hole. The cell would have been in almost complete darkness. The room itself is 63 inches by 61 inches. We know from the skeleton that Burke was 5 foot four so it would have been impossible for him to lay down in the cell apart from on the diagonal and you have to assume there would have been some sort of furniture in there if even just a cot and some straw. Obviously prisoner comfort was not a priority in those days but I’d like you to take a moment to compare it with the cells other people were held in – pictured below and now full of cabinets.
When I asked why there was such a difference, my guide suggested that they just didn’t like what Burke had been up to and they were just being mean. He lived in that cell for 1 month.
The court where the case was heard is also still around, now a library for advocates. The second picture shows the windows of the court room from the cowgate. Not quite sure how a crowd gathered under these windows to hear the court case – I may need to go back and look at plans to understand if there were more windows.