The ‘Ghost’ of Merry Andrew

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Life mask of William Hare & death mask of William Burke,
Edinburgh’s most notorious ‘bodysnatchers’ via The
Burke and Hare weren’t the only ‘bodysnatchers’ operating in Edinburgh. A quite different gang were also busy supplying the anatomy schools of Edinburgh with a fresh corpse or two. The head of this gang was the tall, thin Andrew Merrilees, or Merry Andrew, who  had a tendency to jerk when he walked, which subsequently made his face twitch.

The other gang members included:

Spoon/’Spune’: a deaf mute, so called due to his ability of getting bodies from their coffins, although some accounts say it is because of the shape of his spade.

Mouldiwarp/Mowdiewarp (Mole) : so called because he did most of the digging.

Praying Howard: often found giving comfort and saying prayers to mourners. He would then pass on information on where the grave was, how the deceased died etc.

And finally, Screw. Not much is known about Screw, who appears only once or twice in the published stories about the gang. However, there is a tale of a resurrectionist employed to dig up a body in Buccleuch graveyard who also has this pseudonym, and I suspect that they are one and the same.

The latter two men were employed on an adhoc basis, with Merry Andrew, Spoon and Mouldiwarp being the main members of the gang. Mouldiwarp was responsible for the digging, Spoon for the actual extraction of the corpse and Merry Andrew for everything else. Like many of the gangs that operated throughout England and Scotland, arguments occurred, often centering around money and Merry Andrew’s gang was no different.

After one particular spat, over a pound (some accounts say 10 shillings) both Spoon and Mouldiwarp decided to get revenge on Merry Andrew after they saw him walking across Surgeons’ Square.

St Mungo’s Penicuik,

Merry Andrew had a sister who resided in Penicuik, or rather had resided in Penicuik, for she had recently died and was soon to be buried in the parish church yard. Wishing to get their revenge, Spoon and Mouldiwarp decided that they would dig up Merry Andrew’s sister and sell her to the surgeons.

Hiring a cart from David Cameron (I kid you not) the pair drove to Penicuik on the night of the funeral, arriving outside the church shortly after midnight.

After digging for a time, the pair laid the body of Merry Andrew’s sister on the ground, next to her now empty grave. As they were preparing to back fill the grave, they were suddenly startled by a noise behind them. Spoon and Mouldiwarp quickly spun round to see a figure appearing from behind a nearby gravestone.

Fearing for their lives, the pair of bodysnatchers made a hasty retreat, just as the figure let out a ghostly cry.

The hard work already done, the ‘ghost’ picked up his sister (for the ‘ghost’ was non other than Merry Andrew himself) and threw her over his shoulders ready to take her to the surgeons. On his way from the graveyard, he caught up with Spoon and Mouldiwarp who, on being startled by noises behind them, once again fled the scene for a final time leaving their horse and cart behind.

Merry Andrew made his way through the night on the abandoned cart arriving at Surgeons’ Square in the early hours of the morning, selling his sister to the surgeons for £10.

One rumor linked to this story states that before tying his sister up in the sack, Merry Andrew smoothed back the hair from her face and gave her a kiss on the lips goodbye…

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