WHEN the resurrection craze was at its height, the
Ramshorn and Cathedral churchyards were being robbed of their silent
inhabitants almost nightly, and the greatest excitement prevailed, in
consequence, throughout the city. Two deaths from what were considered
peculiar causes occurred in Glasgow about the beginning of December, 1813.
On the afternoon of the 13th of that month both the bodies were interred,
one in the Ramshorn and the other in the Cathedral
churchyard. The expedition to the Cathedral was highly successful, for, in
addition to the corpse they went specially for, the young anatomists put
another in their sacks, and made a safe journey to their rooms.
In the case of the Ramshorn yard, however, the work had
been gone about rather noisily, and the attention of a policeman stationed
in the vicinity having been attracted, he raised the alarm. The students
escaped, but they were seen to disappear in the neighbourhood of the
College. The search was stopped for the night, but next day the news
spread throughout the whole community. Intense alarm prevailed, and the
chief constable, James Mitchell, was besieged with enquiries. Many persons
visited the graves of their friends to see if all were right.
The brother, or some other relative of the woman—Mrs.
M’Allister by name—who had been lifted from the Rams-horn, quickly found
that her body had been stolen. No sooner was this discovery made than a
large crowd rushed to the College, and gave vent to their feelings by
breaking the windows of the house occupied by Dr. James Jeffrey, then
professor of anatomy in the University. The police had to be called to
suppress the tumult. At last the magistrates, forced to action by the
strength of public opinion, issued a search-warrant empowering the
officers of the law to enter, by force if necessary, every suspected
place, in order to find the body of Mrs. M’Allister, or of any other
The officers were accompanied by Mr. James Alexander,
surgeon-dentist, who had attended the lady on the day of her death, and
also by two of her most intimate friends. In the course of their search
they visited the rooms of Dr. Pattison, in College Street, where they
found the doctor and several of his assistants. They were shown over the
apartments with all apparent freedom, but they discovered nothing. They
had left the house, when Mr. Alexander thought they should have examined a
tub, seemingly filled with water, which stood in the middle of the floor
of one of the rooms. They returned accordingly, and the water was emptied
out. At the bottom of the tub were found a jawbone, with several teeth
attached, some fingers, and other parts of a human body. The dentist
identified the teeth as those he had himself fitted into Mrs. M’Allister’s
mouth, and one of the relatives picked out a finger which he said was the
very finger on which Mrs. M’Allister wore her wedding ring. Dr. Pattison
and his companions were immediately taken into custody.
They were removed to jail amid the execrations of the
mob, who were with difficulty restrained from executing summary vengeance
upon them. This done, the officers dug up the flooring of the rooms, and
underneath they found the remains of several bodies, among them portions
of what was believed to be the corpse of Mrs. M’Allister. The parts were
carefully sealed up in glass receptacles for preservation as productions
against the accused at their trial.
On Monday, 6th June, 1814, Dr. Granville Sharp Pattison,
Andrew Russell, his lecturer on surgery, and Messrs. Robert Munro and John
M’Lean, students, were arraigned before Lord Justice Boyle, and Lords
Harmand, Meadowbank, Gillies, and Pitmilly, in the High Court of
Justiciary, Edinburgh, charged under an indictment which set forth,
particularly, that the grave of Mrs. M’Allister, in the Ramshorn
churchyard, Glasgow, "had been ruthlessly or feloniously violated by the
prisoners, and her body taken to their dissecting rooms, where it was
found and identified."
The prisoners were defended by two eminent men, John
Clerk and Henry Cockburn. The evidence of the prosecution was clearly
against the accused, but the counsel of the defence brought forward proof
which as clearly showed that some mistake had been made with the
productions. They proved to the satisfaction of the law, at least, that
the body, or portions of the body, produced in court, and which were
libelled in the indictment, ‘were not portions of the body of Mrs.
M’Allister. This lady had been married and borne children; the productions
were portions of the body of a woman who had never borne children. The
result was an acquittal. So strong, however, did public feeling run, that
Dr. Pattison had to emigrate to America, where he attained to an eminence
his abilities deserved. This put an end, for a time, to the
resurrectionist fever in Glasgow.