Deacon Brodie is one of Edinburgh’s most infamous villains. A respected cabinet-maker (furniture maker) with a well-to-do clientele in 1780s Edinburgh, Brodie turned to burglary to support a lavish lifestyle. He and his gang copied keys to public buildings and plundered them under cover of darkness. Brodie was caught, sentenced to death, and was hanged near St Giles Kirk on the Royal Mile.
The Writers’ Museum has on display a wardrobe made by Deacon Brodie and owned by Robert Louis Stevenson, who used Brodie as an inspiration for Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde.
The infamous ‘body-snatchers’ William Burke and William Hare terrorised Edinburgh, carrying out a series of murders between 1827 and 1828. The bodies of their 17 victims were sold to Dr Robert Knox, a private anatomy lecturer in the City who needed specimens for his students to dissect.
When Burke and Hare were eventually found out, Hare testified against his friend, and was released. Burke was hanged for his crimes, before having his body publicly dissected at the Edinburgh Medical College.
The City Art Centre holds a series of engravings by an unknown artist showing Burke, Hare, Knox, and some of the victims. These works, and others in the collection, show the hold of these gruesome stories over the public imagination.
More information about Burke and Hare and relevant works held in the collection can be found on Capital Collections, Edinburgh Libraries and Museums and Galleries online image library.