Burkism

On Saturday, a man applied at one of the Scotch sailing vessels, opposite the North Wall, Dublin, and offered a large parcel directed for Greenock. He stated that the parcel was a set of books, but the foul smell proceeding from it excited suspicion, and it was opened by the mate, who found that it contained a body, wrapt in oil-cloth, and over that a thin matting, the entire contained in a bag.

The body was that of a boy, about 13 years of age, tightly corded, and doubled up. The bones of the legs and arms were broken, and blood flowing from the mouth and nose. This gave rise to a suspicion, that the boy had met a violent death.

Many persons exclaimed “this is Burkism“, “seize the villain” &c. Such was the excitation of the multitude, that it was only by the intervention of some of the police, that the fellow who brought the parcel was saved from destruction. He and the body was taken to the Police-office, where the latter remains for inquest, and the former in custody to abide the result of the inquiry. Several of the Faculty that examined the body, have given their opinion that death came by disease, the legs being dropsical. The prisoner says his name is M’Dowell.

Drogheda Journal, or Meath & Louth Advertiser 18 February 1829

From the BNA

 

Notes

On 28 February 1829 the Leeds Patriot and Yorkshire Advertiser carried a longer report, which it said it had taken from the Dublin Morning Post; it did not give the date of the Post issue.

This report said that a boy spotted a cart coming down Eden Quay to the North Wall. He recognised the man sitting on the cart’s shafts as a resurrectionist and told the mate of the ship to “have an eye” to him. That was why the mate was suspicious enough to open the parcel.

The report added some more gruesome details about the body. It said that, although the man gave his name as M’Dowel, he was found to be John Cadwell, from Longford. After he was taken into custody by peace-officer Gilloghly and police constable Paine from the Henry-street office, he said that he had been given the body by a gentleman he met in Grafton-street and employed to put it on board the vessel. The body was taken to Tucker’s-row watch-house for inspection, identification and inquest.

The boy appears to have been somewhat about 12 or 13 years of age, soft and full countenance, with a profusion of extremely fine light-brown hair, and looking remarkably fresh.

The Tipperary Free Press of 18 February 1829 gave the man’s real name as John Caldwell; it said that he had been taken up on suspicion of murdering the boy to sell his body to the “Scotch surgeons”. However, “After an examination before the Coroner, it appears that the boy was not murdered” although Caldwell could not account for his possession of the body.

The Clonmel Herald of 25 February 1829 gave a longer report of the inquest, taken from the Dublin Morning Post “of Tuesday”. It was less information about the specifics of the case than about what seemed to be a lively trade. It said that the vessel in question was the Scotia steamer, not a sailing vessel, and there was a strong suggestion that the mate was concerned in the trade, having investigated the parcel only when it became impossible to avoid investigating the parcel.

Caldwell himself said that he had delivered two or three similar parcels to the Scotia within the past fortnight but he did not name their senders; he did not know the Grafton-street gentleman’s name and had never carried parcels for him before, but had accepted half a crown to carry this one. He did not know a “medical man named Rea”.

James Killin, a ship labourer, said that Caldwell had taken two or three similar packages down the quay on the previous Saturday; Killin seems to have known that they contained bodies:

The witness then gave an account of dead bodies that had been discovered to have been shipped on board the same vessel, by the prisoner on the Saturday week preceding.

One of the jurors said that the body looked like those prepared for dissection; another said that

[…] he had heard a gentleman say that day that he had within the present season cleared £220 by the exportation of subjects.

He said that an Edinburgh surgeon had offered an Irish resurrectionist £10 per body plus post and packing.

There was no funding to pay a member of the profession to examine the body in such cases and the coroner said that he was unable to afford to pay for one out of his own remuneration, so the jury was unable to decide on the cause of death. The body was sent to Surgeons’ Hall for examination and Caldwell was remanded in custody.

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