Two stories of burkers being fought off when trying to take Travellers.
Many of the Travellers' stories about burkers are true. Doctors used to need bodies, and no one bothered if Travellers or people sleeping rough went missing. When John Stewart's mother was small, her mother, Beryl Reid, was camping in a wood with Beryl's Uncle Rob and her disabled aunt, Big Dummy. John describes how they tethered their cuddy [donkey], put up their bow tent and brewed tea. Lights approached and they could see a coach and two horses. Rob tramped out the fire and broke the neck of their dog in case it barked. He lifted Big Dummy onto his back and they all fled to a mail-house. The man there told them the burkers came round that way every other night. The coach came past and the men, dressed in lum hats [top hats] and cloaks like Dr Crippen, got out. The mail-house man shot the burkers' dog. Next morning when the Travellers went back to their camp they found it destroyed and the donkey hanging from a tree, disembowelled. John Stewart's mother often told this story, which is true.
The Travellers went to Deeside, where they camped beside a man and his pregnant wife. The burkers seized the pregnant woman one day when she was coming back from the well. She screamed, and the Traveller men ran out and beat off the burkers with sticks. The burkers had the woman tied up in a woolsack, with a plaster [chloroform pad] over her mouth. They threw her out of the coach onto the road, and she was in hospital for a long time.
The term 'burker' comes from William Burke, of Burke and Hare, who was hanged in 1829 for the murder of a number of people in order to sell their bodies for dissection. Dr Crippen was another famous murderer, hanged in 1910.