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Robert Knox

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Lymph nodes

Lymph nodes

The adult lymph nodes with the external iliac artery and vein showing tuberculosis. Knox Collection GC 687

Lung

Lung

Segment of a lung between parallel sections 15mm apart showing bronchopneumonia. Knox Collection GC 1123 Segment of a lung between parallel sections 15mm apart showing bronchopneumonia. Knoc Collection GC 1123

Ovary and dermoid cyst

Ovary and dermoid cyst

Ovary with rest of uterine appendages showing a dermoid cyst which contained sebaceous matter, hair and teeth. Dermoid cysts are caused by the growth of unused stem cells. They often show hair and teeth within the sac of the cyst and can grow in men or women. Knox Collection GC 1214

Hip joint

Hip joint

Left femur showing changes due to chronic arthritis. Knox Collection GC 1122

Hip joint

Hip joint

Proximal portion of a right femur showing changes due to chronic arthritis. Knox Collection GC 1120

Death mask of William Burke

Death mask of William Burke

Knox’s career as a successful anatomist and lecturer and his notable contribution as conservator of the museum has always been overshadowed by his involvement in the Burke and Hare murders. The development of anatomy teaching in Edinburgh in the early 19th century led to an unprecedented demand for ‘fresh’bodies for dissection by the anatomy schools. In 1827, William Burke and William Hare responded to this need by resorting to murder. By the time they were caught in November 1828 they had murdered at least 16 people and delivered their victim’s bodies to Robert Knox’s dissection room at Surgeons’ Square. Although Knox was never charged with any crime, debate surrounded his knowledge of how these human ‘subjects’ had met their deaths. Burke, after Hare gave testimony against him, was hung for murder in January 1829.

Execution of William Burke

Execution of William Burke

Printed copy of the 'broadcast' of the execution of William Burke, 28th January 1828.

Plaster cast of the head of John Brogan

Plaster cast of the head of John Brogan

Plaster cast of the head and neck of John Brogan, a companion of Burke and Hare who assisted in conveying bodies to Dr Knox’s School of anatomy. Brogan had been seriously burnt around the neck and chin in childhood and the contractures caused by the healing of the wounds produced the deformities shown in the cast. One of the Burke and Hare murders took place in Brogan’s house.

Caricature of Robert Knox

Caricature of Robert Knox

For 180 years Knox has endured as an enigmatic, but often sinister figure in popular culture: from street rhymes, lampooning cartoons and books to plays and films. The dramatic fascination with Knox’s character shows no sign of waning. Most recently Ian Rankin’s 'The Falls' (2001), Nicola Morgan’s 'Fleshmarket' (2003), a film to be directed by John Landis, and a new screenplay penned by Irvine Welsh, 'The Meat Trade', look set to propel Knox well into his third century.

Pocketbook made from Burke's skin

Pocketbook made from Burke's skin

Pocketbook reputedly made from the skin of William Burke following his execution and the public dissection performed by Professor Alexander Monro tertius. The interior of the pocketbook holds a pencil and on the back cover the date of execution of 28 January 1829 is inscribed.

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