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Specimen jar containing piece of William Burke's brain, United Kingdom, 1821-1870

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.

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Glossary: human remains

term created as part of the NMSI human remains policy (from April 2007); Other terms used are 'blood' and 'human hair'

Glossary: anatomy

A branch of medical science concerned with the structure of living organisms.

Glossary: post mortem

A medical procedure that consists of an examination to discover the cause and manner of a death.

Glossary: capital punishment

No description.

Glossary: display bottle

Used to describe a bottle containing a substance, used for display or storage