Wednesday, February 1, 2017

From Bukhara to Burke and Hare



William Burke and William Hare

William Burke was born in 1792 in Urney, County Tyrone, Ulster, one of two sons to middle-class parents.[18] Burke, along with his brother, Constantine, had a comfortable upbringing, and both joined the army as teenagers. Burke served in the Donegal Militia, until he met and married a woman from County Mayo, where they later settled. The marriage was short-lived; in 1818, after an argument with his father-in-law over land ownership, Burke deserted his wife and family. He moved to Scotland and became a labourer, working on the Union Canal.[19] He settled in the small village of Maddiston near Falkirk, and set up home with Helen McDougal, whom he affectionately nicknamed Nelly; she became his second wife.[20] After a few years, and when the works on the canal were finished, the couple moved to Tanners Close, Edinburgh, in November 1827.[21] They became hawkers, selling second-hand clothes to impoverished locals. Burke then became a cobbler, a trade in which he experienced some success, earning upwards of £1 a week. He became known locally as an industrious and good-humoured man who often entertained his clients by singing and dancing to them on their doorsteps while plying his trade. Although raised as a Roman Catholic, Burke became a regular worshiper at Presbyterian religious meetings held in Grassmarket; he was seldom seen without a bible.[20]

William Hare was probably born in County Armagh, County Londonderry or in Newry. His age and year of birth are unknown; when arrested in 1828 he gave his age as 21, but one source states that he was born between 1792 and 1804.[18][22] Information on his earlier life is scant, although it is possible that he worked in Ireland as an agricultural labourer before travelling to Britain. He worked on the Union Canal for seven years before moving to Edinburgh in the mid-1820s, where he worked as a coal man's assistant.[18][22] He lodged at Tanner's Close, in the house of a man named Logue and his wife, Margaret Laird, in the nearby West Port area of the town. When Logue died in 1826, Hare may have married Margaret.[a] Based on contemporary accounts, Brian Bailey in his history of the murders describes Hare as "illiterate and uncouth—a lean, quarrelsome, violent and amoral character with the scars from old wounds about his head and brow".[2] Bailey describes Margaret, who was also an Irish immigrant, as a hard-featured and debauched virago".[23]

In 1827 Burke and McDougal went to Penicuik in Midlothian to work on the harvest, where they met Hare. The men became friends; when Burke and McDougal returned to Edinburgh, they moved into Hare's Tanner's Close lodging house where the two couples soon acquired a reputation for hard drinking and boisterous behaviour.[18]