Specimen jar containing piece of William Burke's brain

1821-1870 in United Kingdom

Small sealed specimen jar containing piece of brain of Burke the Edinburgh body-snatcher executed in 1829, jar made in Great Britain

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.

On display

Science Museum: Medicine: The Wellcome Galleries

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Related people


Anatomy & Pathology
Object Number:
glass, stopper, cork and stopper, wax
specimen jar
Wellcome Trust

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