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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.

Death mask of William Burke
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