NT2573 : Arthur's Seat coffins, Chambers Street

taken 7 years ago, near to Edinburgh, Great Britain

Arthur's Seat coffins, Chambers Street
Arthur's Seat coffins, Chambers Street
Miniature coffins containing small wooden figures (95mm in length), found in a cave on Arthur's Seat by five boys out rabbiting in 1836. Their purpose is a complete mystery. Contemporaries believed that they were made for witchcraft. Others have linked them to the West Port murders of Burke and Hare, for which Burke was hanged in 1829. The snag is that the numbers do not add up. The serial killers were known to have murdered 16 victims, whereas there are 17 coffins in all. They were, however, found arranged between three tiers of slates, comprising two tiers of eight coffins with a solitary coffin placed above. Could the single figure have been intended to represent the executed Burke?

GEOGRAPH WORLD EXCLUSIVE SCOOP! (1st Jan. 2013) - Remember, you read it here first.

Since writing the above, the penny has suddenly dropped. I was creating a new Burke and Hare page on Wikipedia and, since the details of the murders can be tricky to remember, wanted to provide an overview at a glance. So I drew up a list based on Burke's confessions from his condemned cell: one to judicial officers and one to the Edinburgh Evening Courant newspaper. However, I knew when it was finished that something was not quite right, and realised a day or two later that it must have something to do with Burke having given slightly differing details in his two accounts. I did a careful check and spotted the anomaly straight away: the first victim sold "to the doctors" had died of natural causes, but I had misidentified him as a murder victim, which meant I now had only 15 murders listed. So where was No.16? Then I spotted that in one of the accounts Burke had mentioned, almost in passing, a victim I had missed. That changed the list to a total of 1+16 murders. I think, therefore, that some kindly soul back in time decided that Burke and Hare's victims had to be given a decent burial, if only by proxy. There are now two possible explanations for the number of coffins: either they represent the 16 murder victims and the lodger who died naturally, or the 16 bodies sold to the doctors together with the final victim, Mrs. Docherty. She was still unburied at the time of the duo's arrest, but I suspect that, as a destitute beggar, she too probably ended up dissected (again=17). The coincidence in number is simply too strong for it not to be the case that the coffins were indeed linked to the West Port murders. In the immortal words of Michael Caine, "Not a lot of people know that". LinkExternal link

NT2573 : Arthur's Seat coffins, Chambers Street
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NT2573, 5289 images   (more nearby )
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Date Taken
Sunday, 10 April, 2011   (more nearby)
Saturday, 23 July, 2011
Geographical Context
Educational sites 
Subject Location
OSGB36: geotagged! NT 25 73 [1000m precision]
WGS84: 55:56.9242N 3:11.6713W
Camera Location
OSGB36: geotagged! NT 2573 7328
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