Happy Valentine's Day, Dr. Knox


The case of Burke and Hare did not end on January 24 when William Burke was executed. Throughout February, 1829, Edinburgh was repeatedly in an uproar: when a civil case was brought against William Hare, only to be dismissed; when first Helen M'Dougal, then Margaret Hare, then William Hare, required a police escort to protect them from angry citizens as they left the city; when William Burke's Confessions were printed, divulging the number of murders and the impoverished, helpless condition of the victims.

But the most damaging information to emerge from the revelations of February was the extent of Dr. Robert Knox's involvement. As Burke's confessions made clear -- abundantly clear -- Dr. Knox had "asked no questions", leading the Scotsman to state, pointedly, that
 while we made ample allowance for professional zeal, rivalry, and esprit de corps, previously to the disclosures brought out by these judicial proceedings, it was impossible afterwards to allow the interests of medical science to be put in competition for one moment with the security of individual existence.
Nay, the Scotsman went further, demanding that:
 thenceforward no anatomist, or teacher of surgery, would be justified in accepting a body from any one, without being satisfied, not merely from appearances, but from inquiry and from moral, if not judicial evidence, that it had not been criminally deprived of life.
That the cadaver, as the coroner of the Munchkins might have sung, was
morally, ethic'lly
Spiritually, physically
Positively, absolutely
Undeniably and reliably Dead...
Of natural causes.

The Scotsmen would have had its readers believe that some anatomists might have been opposed to such a proceeding, and perhaps that was a contributing factor to what happened, as the newspaper related, on the afternoon of February 14, 1829:
A number of young men assembled on the Calton-hill, and proceeded to equip a large effigy of an Anatomist who has been rendered very obnoxious 
Note the pun on "knox"
to the public by recent events. The figure was dressed in a black coat, raised aloft on a pole, and had a label attached to its back, naming the person intended to be represented. 
Mindful of the libel laws, the Scotsman did not itself name the person, but none of its readers would have found it difficult to make the identification. The police were alerted, but still
the mob, with the figure "high in air," proceeded without molestation, shouting, cheering, and increasing in numbers, til the whole southern suburbs seemed in motion.
   They made it to Knox's house in the middle-class suburb of Newington,
and a number of lads deliberately proceeded to "Burke" the effigy, amid loud huzzas. Having squeezed and throttled the figure for some time, they tied a rope about its neck, and suspended it from a small tree in the shrubbery before the house, but the branches giving way, the effigy was pulled, battered, and tossed about, and latterly thrown on the top of the tree preparatory to immolation.
By that time the police had arrived, though, and they put a stop to the fire; they were not however, able to stop the rioters from from taking advantage of the "road being newly metalled in the neighbourhood, and using "such a timely supply of ammunition" to smash the windows in Dr. Knox's house and, it was later said, in several surrounding houses.

Dr. Knox and his family were not at home, for he had prudently moved to the seaside resort of Portobello during the trial and its aftermath. We have no record of his feelings, then or later, when he, his wife, children, and sister, returned to clean up the debris and replace the windows.
Such exhibitions can serve no good purpose, and they are at once hurtful and disgraceful to the character of the city,
the Scotsman wrote,  but of course, they made them all the more useful for selling newspapers.

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