Tim Bugler’s moving article (25 March) about the planned re-interment of the remains of the late Stephen Williamson – whose skeletal remains had been the subject of a violation of a sepulchre in an East Neuk graveyard earlier this month – was harrowing, but at the same time uplifting, when one considers how his relatives from all over the globe, who could not have known the man, still felt the need to attend and honour their ancestor.
However, the article was spoiled, for me at least, by likening it to a “21st-century act of Burke and Hare”.
By far the best-known grave robber, in my opinion, was Thomas, the 7th Earl of Elgin, who at the beginning of the 19th century conducted grave robbing on an industrial scale in Greece when he was ambassador to the Porte (Turkish ruler) who occupied the country at that time.
On his return to London Elgin petitioned parliament to buy his collection of grave-robbery artefacts as well as the Parthenon marbles but while the government bought the latter they baulked at the former which, in his catalogue, included “some hundreds of large and small earthenware urns or vases discovered in digging in the ancient sepulchres round Athens”.
In addition, his catalogue contained details of dozens of stele (grave markers), some of which have recently been bought from the Elgins by the John Paul Getty Museum for huge sums, and other sacrilegious plunder including altars.
So the two Irish Williams were but mere amateurs compared with our own Scottish, grand master grave robber.