Notorious Murders, Black Lanterns, and Moveable Goods
Transformation of Edinburgh's Underworld in the Early Nineteeth Century
Publication Year: 2006
Published by: The University of Akron Press
Title page, Copyright, Dedication
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This book began when I read William Roughead’s The Murderer’s Companion, because I wanted to read about nineteenth-century Edinburgh after working in earlier Scottish records for many years. I knew the streets where his Scots murderers had lived; I had lived in the neighborhood in the 1970s, before the coal soot on the buildings was...
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After dark on a spring evening in 1828, three people equipped with a “dark lantern” and some skeleton keys broke into a storage cellar in Whiskey Row, in an old street called the Cowgate in Edinburgh’s Old Town. The thieves were looking for tea but had to content themselves with hams, double Gloucestershire cheeses, raisins, orange...
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1828 might seem an inauspicious year to choose as the basis of a discussion of anything so grand as a transformation, which certainly implies that something very old has been markedly superseded. There were no great acts of Parliament, no treaties, no great riots or famines in 1828. No European wars began or ended. Yet the larger world...
1. The Notorious Murders in the West Port in 1828
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Edinburgh’s West Port, a neighborhood outside the old west gate of the city, was the home of the murderers. It extended west from a part of the old city known as the Grassmarket, which in 1828 was a warren of tenements and closes (alleys) surrounding a large central square. The Grassmarket and the neighboring closes running off the High...
2. Common Thievery in the Old Town in 1828
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Lucky Log stopped the Grays on their way to the police, and consequently knew just as much as M’Dougal about the trouble ahead. It is inconceivable that she would not have urged Hare to see where their self-interest lay, and urged him to join her in turning king’s evidence once all four had been jailed. Log lived in a neighborhood, or...
3. The Spectacular “Burke mania” Trial
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The public frenzy that ensued after that Sunday in 1828 when the Grays reported Docherty’s murder had much to do with the history of spectacular criminal trials and popular fascination with the criminal underworld. But many citizens in Edinburgh saw, or believed they were seeing, a new kind of crime that shocked them deeply. So it...
4. The Criminal Household
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The household of Burke, Log, Hare, and M’Dougal was as makeshift as the neighborhood that housed them, and it is with that neighborhood that we will begin. The West Port, bordering the old western entrance to the city, was a newer addition to Edinburgh’s Old Town, separated from the Grassmarket by a few yards and three hundred years. Early...
5. The Transformation of the Shadow Economy
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The editor went on to discuss “the regular system of murder” that was “organised” by Burke, Hare, Log, and M’Dougal, finally calling it “wholly without example.” One suspects that, coming on the first page of a hurriedly written popular tract, this was no great insight, but a reflection of one aspect of common discussion in early...
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Page Count: 167
Illustrations: 1 line drawing, 1 graph, 10 photos
Publication Year: 2006