Media release: Showtime for Burke & Hare at Inveraray Jail

THE life and death masks of famous 19th century serial killers, William Burke and William Hare, are now on show at Scotland’s ‘spookiest prison’, Inveraray Jail, in time for Halloween weekend.

The two plaster head masks, along with a hangman’s noose, were discovered at the jail last year following the clear out of an old store room.

However, how they got there and why still remains a mystery.

The new addition to the visitor attraction and museum’s exhibition comes as Hollywood film, Burke & Hare, starring Simon Pegg and Isla Fisher, hits UK cinemas on Friday 29th October.

Says a spokesperson: “Burke & Hare are said to have murdered at least 16 people, possibly up to 30, in Scotland’s capital city of Edinburgh.

“The infamous criminal pair sold the corpses of their innocent victims to anatomy professor and lecturer at the University of Edinburgh, Dr Robert Knox, who used them for dissection and research.

“Their chilling crimes in the gothic city ended 181 years ago when Burke was found guilty and publicly executed. Hare escaped the hangman after giving evidence against his partner in crime.”

The spokesperson added: “The story of how the two heads and the hangman’s noose ended up at Inveraray Jail, in the west of Scotland, remains unexplained since neither Burke nor Hare were ever held at the prison.

“A life mask is thought to have been made of Hare during the trial whilst Burke’s shaven head was cast following his public hanging. A handful of masks are known to exist with one in the USA, Swansea and St Andrews and Edinburgh Universities.:

Gavin Dick, prison governor for Inveraray Jail, said: “Unfortunately, we have never been able to find out how they came to be here at the jail. It may be due to a new ‘science’ called phrenology which was popular at that time.

“It was believed the shape and contours of a person’s head could dictate their personality and ‘experts’ held talks across the country using casts of the heads of infamous criminals to illustrate their point.”

He added: “It was a very exciting find for us indeed. With the increased awareness of Burke & Hare generated from the release of the new movie this weekend, it is a very relevant time to finally put them on display. We are looking forward to sharing the fascinating artefacts with our visitors this weekend and plan to keep them on display going forward.”

The spokesperson continued: “With its gruesome history and haunting tales, Inveraray Jail is getting into the Halloween spirit this weekend.

“Two late night ghost hunts, which are now fully booked, are taking place on Saturday and Sunday night. Unexplained sightings and unusual activity recorded by visitors, staff and paranormal investigators suggest that the establishment is haunted.

“Meanwhile, the jail’s real life characters are ready to share with visitors how prisoners were treated in the 19th century. Six thousand men, women and children were tried and served sentences in the jail between 1820 and 1889. The jail features in popular TV programme, Most Haunted Series 13, which was released on DVD last week.:

Get into the Halloween spirit this weekend at Inveraray Jail, once the courthouse and prison serving Argyll. Real life warders, matrons and prisoners bring the 19th century prison alive.

Visitors can try out prison beds and hammocks in the old and new prisons, sit in on a trial in the spectacular courtroom, sample the brutal 19th century prison punishments and search through prison records for their naughty ancestors.

The privately-run attraction is open all year round. For more information on Inveraray Jail, please visit the jail website on or call 01499 302381. 


For more information, please contact:

Pauline Foster

PR account manager – Inveraray Jail

Pure Shores PR – Oban

+ 44 (0)1631 569 651

+ 44 (0)7791573247

Notes for editors:

Inveraray Jail:

  • Inveraray Jail is a superb visitor attraction with interest and excitement for all ages. Visitors can tour at their own leisure. There are also great family deals and concessions for seniors and groups.
  • The Royal Burgh of Inveraray lies on the beautiful banks of Loch Fyne in Argyll.  From Glasgow take the A82 North along Loch Lomond to Tarbet and then take the A83 round the head of Loch Fyne to Inveraray. Allow one-and-a-half hours.

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Contact: Pauline Foster