The day a baying mob of 20,000 razed the ‘Burking house’ in Aberdeen’s bodysnatcher riot

It was a time when the people of Aberdeen lived in terror of bodysnatchers – the grave robbers who would dig up your recently deceased loved ones to be dissected at the hands of anatomists and medical students.

Added in to this febrile atmosphere, 190 years ago, was the national revulsion at Burke and Hare, convicted of murdering 16 people in Edinburgh and selling their corpses to the resurrection men.

Not, you might think, the best time to be making plans to open your own anatomy room in the Granite City – a place where students were already being chased and attacked as “Burkers”.

But, undaunted, famed doctor, Dr Andrew Moir pressed ahead with his vision to teach and show the workings of the human body, opening his Anatomical Theatre in 1831 on St Andrew’s Street, an imposing building with blacked-out windows, where the Sandman Signature Hotel now stands.

Dr Andrew Moir.


A month later, a furious baying mob set it ablaze, wrecked it and almost succeeded in demolishing it in a riot involving possibly as many as 20,000 angry citizens, enraged after a dog dug up human bones behind the grim building.

Dr Moir and his students fled for their lives and the medic was forced to flee the city for a while, reviled by the citizens of Aberdeen. Continue reading