Monday, May 11, 2009


The man in the wonderful image at the top is Scottish anatomist Dr. Robert Knox (1791-1862). He was a popular lecturer in anatomy in Edinburgh before getting caught up in the body-snatching scandal of the time. He received and paid for bodies to be used for his dissection demonstrations without asking questions. His colleagues did the same, but the freshness of the corpses that Dr. Knox accepted indicated that they were not stolen from the grave, but were murder victims. In fact, they had been killed by the notorious William Burke and William Hare. After 16 murders, Burke and Hare were caught and arrested, but only Burke paid the ultimate price for the crimes. Hare was granted immunity for his testimony, and there was not enough evidence to charge Dr. Knox. Hare lived the rest of his life in obscurity and Dr. Knox never dissected another human cadaver again. "Burking" entered the lexicon and the following rhyme entered popular culture:
The second image depicts Alexander Monro tertius (1773-1859) - third generation anatomist at Edinburgh University. He was a rival of Dr. Knox, but was no equal in the lecture hall or anatomy theater. When Charles Darwin (1809-1882) attended lectures in 1825, he commented that the lectures were as dull as the man himself, and was disgusted that Monro arrived still bloodied from the dissecting room.

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