Monthly Archives: March 2016

Light Painting Edinburgh Historical Figures

The city of Edinburgh has a long and rich history. And some of it is rather gruesome. If you are in Scotland’s capital and would like to learn about the city’s past, I would highly recommend you stop by the City of Edinburgh tours’ police box on the Royal Mile.

Their guides dress as some of Edinburgh’s infamous historical characters, and their tours are very entertaining.

I was asked to do some light paintings of their guides dressed in their costumes, as this lighting technique is particularly suited to this type of photographic subject. The light painting look would also help City of Edinburgh Tours differentiate themselves from the other tour companies in Edinburgh.

James Douglas, 3rd Marquess of Queensberry (1697 – 1715), known until 1711 as James Douglas, Earl of Drumlanrig is an infamous cannibal. According to Wikipedia, the violently insane James was kept under lock and key from childhood at Queensberry House in Edinburgh. In 1707, when his father and other members of the household were out celebrating the treaty that brought England and Scotland together, James somehow managed to escape. He then killed a young kitchen boy, roasted him on a spit and began to eat the poor creature before he was discovered.

Light painting of the cannibal James Douglas, Earl of Drumlanrig

The cannibal James Douglas, Earl of Drumlanrig photographed in the Canongate Kirk cemetery

William Burke and William Hare may be the best known amongst all the infamous characters having lived in Edinburgh. They committed a series of murders over a period of about ten months in 1828.

Before 1832, there was a shortage of human cadavers for the study and teaching of anatomy at British medical schools. Burke and Hare saw a macabre business opportunity. When one of Burke’s tenant died of natural causes owing £4 in rent, Burke decided to recoup the money by taking the cadaver to Edinburgh University, looking for a purchaser. It didn’t stop there. Their first murder victim was a sick tenant, and when they ran out of tenants of ill health, they resorted to luring people from the street. They sold the corpses of their 16 victims to Dr Robert Knox.

Light painting of infamous Edinburgh murderers William Burke and William Hare in the vaults

William Burke and William Hare in Edinburgh’s haunted underground vaults.

Robert Knox (1791 – 1862) was a very popular lecturer on anatomy, but is now best remembered for his role in the Burke and Hare murders.

Light painting of Dr Robert Knox in Edinburgh vaults, with floating keys and ladder

Dr Robert Knox, Scottish anatomist, zoologist, ethnologist and doctor.

The fourth guide is dressed as Jessie King, the last woman executed in Edinburgh. She was hanged on March 11, 1889, after being convicted of taking money to adopt illegitimate babies, and then killing them. Many believe she was a vulnerable scapegoat, and that the mastermind of the scheme was her partner Thomas Pearson. Jessie was uneducated, penniless and heavily pregnant when she fell under the spell of Pearson, who was some thirty years older than her.

Light painting of Jessie King, the last woman hanged in Edinburgh

Jessie King, the last woman executed in Edinburgh