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Burke and Hare: A new body of evidence

posted 23 Sep 2009, 17:12 by David Rintoul   [ updated 29 Oct 2009, 11:59 ]

She was a voluptuous beauty whose body was for sale. For a few coins, Mary Patterson would hitch up her skirt in the shadows of Edinburgh's Canongate, a practice for which she had earned many admirers.

In the spring of 1828, in a wood-panelled room, under the flicker of candlelight, she gave her final performance. She lay naked, her head carefully turned towards the surrounding voyeurs, a white sheet draped teasingly over her calves. For a few minutes, a common street whore was elevated to an artist's muse, an Auld Reekie Venus for the budding Botticelli. But on this night she lacked the vigour for which she had become renowned: Mary Patterson, lying so seductively on that couch, was quite dead.

But despite being dead, her body was still for sale – and the price was much greater than she had ever earned for a quick fumble. Dr Robert Knox, the Scottish surgeon and anatomist paid an average of £7 10 shillings for each fresh corpse delivered to his school on Surgeon's Square. But when two men, who had over the past few months delivered four other corpses, arrived with the body of an attractive young lady, he did what he had never done before: he decided to pose her naked and have an artist sketch her form.


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