Famous People

There’s no doubt that we Burkes have had a great impact on the world having been part of some historic occasions down through the centuries – here’s a look at some of the famous (and infamous!) Burkes who have graced the world their presence:


Robert O'Hara Burke

Robert O'Hara Burke (courtesey of vrroom.naa.gov.au)

Robert O'Hara Burke (6 May 1820 or 1821– c.28 June 1861) was an Irish soldier and police officer, who achieved fame as an Australian explorer. He was the leader of the ill-fated Burke and Wills expedition, which was the first expedition to cross Australia from south to north, finding a route across the continent from the settled areas of Victoria to the Gulf of Carpentaria. The expedition party was well-equipped, but Burke was not experienced in bushcraft and his leadership is often blamed for the failure of the project and deaths of seven people in the party.

Early years

Burke was born in County Galway, Ireland in February 1821. He was the second of three sons of James Hardiman Burke (1788-January 1854), an officer in the British army 7th Royal Fusiliers, and Anne Louisa Burke nee O'Hara.

In 1860–61, Robert O'Hara Burke and William John Wills led an expedition of 19 men with the intention of crossing Australia from Melbourne in the south to the Gulf of Carpentaria in the north, a distance of around 3,250 kilometres (approximately 2,000 miles). At that time most of the inland of Australia had not been explored by non-indigenous people and was completely unknown to the European settlers.

The south-north leg was successfully completed (except that they were stopped by swampland 5 kilometres (3.1 mi) from the northern coastline), but owing to poor leadership and bad luck, both of the expedition's leaders died on the return journey. Altogether, seven men lost their lives, and only one man, John King, crossed the continent with the expedition and returned alive to Melbourne.


Augustus Nicholas Burke:

Augustus Joseph Nicholas Burke (July 28, 1838 – 1891) was an artist and a member of the Royal Hibernian Academy (RHA).

The work of painter, Augustus Burke (courtesey of Wikipedia)


Burke was born into the Galway Burkes of Glinsk and was the sixth son of William Burke of Knocknagur, Tuam, Co. Galway. He was born at Waterslade House in the town. One of his brothers was Theobald Hubert Burke, 13th Baronet of Glinsk, while another brother was Thomas Henry Burke, Permanent Under Secretary at the Irish Office. He showed an early interest in drawing, displaying a love for depicting the people and land of Connemara. His career in the arts was initiated at the Royal Academy in London. He would exhibit at the Royal Academy and the Royal Hibernian Academy, from 1863 until his death, where he was also Professor of Painting. From 1870 to 1872 he resided in the Netherlands where he illustrated a handful of Dutch scenes. One of the earliest Irish artists to travel to Brittany, Burke exhibited fifteen Breton scenes at the Royal Hibernian Academy between 1876 and 1878. He painted further in his native Ireland, as well as Scotland and England. The 1880's brought Burke to Walberswick in Suffolk to an artist's colony created by Philip Wilson Steer. A student of Burke, Walter Osborne, painted with him here.

A grieving Augustus, overcome with grief by his brother Thomas' murder during the Phoenix Park Murders in 1882, left his post at the Royal Hibernian Academy where he was Professor of Painting. He moved with the remaining members of his family first to England and then to Italy.

Two of his most famous paintings, Connemara Girl and A Connemara Landscape hang at the National Gallery of Ireland. His work is relatively rare, mainly because the contents of his studio were destroyed during the fire that engulfed the Abbey Street buildings of the RHA in 1916. Furthermore, many of the paintings lay hidden in a cellar for over ninety years until their recent discovery.

Sourced – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Augustus_Nicholas_Burke


William Burke (of Burke and Hare):

On Monday, November 3, 1828, Edinburgh awoke to the horrifying news that the most atrocious murders of the decade -- of the century -- had been committed in the West Port district of the Old Town. William Burke and William Hare, together with Helen M'Dougal and Margaret Hare, were accused of killing 16 people over the course of 12 months, in order to sell their cadavers as "subjects" for dissection.

William Burke - infamous member of Burke & Hare

Their purchaser was Dr. Robert Knox, a well-regarded anatomical lecturer with a flourishing dissecting establishment in Surgeon's Square. The ensuing criminal investigation and trial raised troubling questions about the common practices by which medical men obtained cadavers, about the lives of the poor in Edinburgh's back alleys, about the ability of the police to protect the public from deliberate, unprovoked murder for gain.

The murders were discovered when two of Burke's lodgers, Ann and James Gray, grew suspicious about the unexpected disappearance of a visitor, Madgy Docherty, whom they had met in Burke's house the night before. They found her dead body under the bed and went for the police.

Burke, M'Dougal, and William and Margaret Hare were arrested for Docherty's murder. William and Margaret Hare turned King's witnesses, that is, witnesses for the prosecution, in return for immunity. Burke and M'Dougal were tried for murder on December 24, 1828. M'Dougal was acquitted with the distinctively Scots verdict, Not Proven. Burke was convicted and sentenced to death. He was executed on January 28, 1829. His body was dissected and publicly exhibited. Their preferred method of murder, suffocation by leaning on and compressing the chest, has been known ever since as "burking."

The story of Burke and Hare has made its way into popular culture through Edinburgh's Blackwood's Magazine, through Robert Louis Stevenson, and through Gil Grissom of CSI. Popular movie versions include Robert Wise's The Body Snatcher, with Bela Lugosi and Boris Karloff, Freddie Francis's The Doctor and the Devils, with Timothy Dalton and Jonathan Pryce, and John Landis's Burke and Hare, with Simon Pegg and Andy Serkis.

Sourced – http://burkeandhare.com/



Mary Robinson (née Bourke):

Mary Therese Winifred Robinson (née Bourke) served as the seventh, and first female, President of Ireland from 1990 to 1997, and the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, from 1997 to 2002. She first rose to prominence as an academic, barrister, campaigner and member of the Irish Senate (1969–1989). She defeated Fianna Fáil's Brian Lenihan and Fine Gael's Austin Currie in the 1990 presidential election becoming, as an Independent candidate nominated by the Labour Party, the Workers' Party and independent senators, the first elected president in the office's history not to have had the support of Fianna Fáil.

Mary Robinson (nee Bourke) - former Irish President

She is widely regarded as a transformative figure in the presidency of Ireland, who revitalised and liberalised a previously conservative, low-profile political office. She resigned the presidency two months ahead of the end of her term of office to take up her post in the United Nations. Robinson has been Honorary President of Oxfam International since 2002 and of the European Inter-University Centre for Human Rights and Democratisation EIUC since 2005, she is Chair of the International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED) and is also a founding member and Chair of the Council of Women World Leaders. Robinson is also one of the European members of the Trilateral Commission.

After leaving the UN in 2002, Robinson formed Realizing Rights: the Ethical Globalization Initiative, which came to a planned end at the end of 2010. Its core activities were 1) fostering equitable trade and decent work, 2) promoting the right to health and more humane migration policies, and 3) working to strengthen women's leadership and encourage corporate responsibility. The organisation also supported capacity building and good governance in developing countries. Robinson returned to live in Ireland at the end of 2010, and has set up The Mary Robinson Foundation - Climate Justice, which aims to be 'a centre for thought leadership, education and advocacy on the struggle to secure global justice for those many victims of climate change who are usually forgotten - the poor, the disempowered and the marginalised across the world.'

Robinson is Chair of the Institute for Human Rights and Business and Chancellor of the University of Dublin. Since 2004, she has also been Professor of Practice in International Affairs at Columbia University, where she teaches international human rights. Robinson also visits other colleges and universities where she lectures on human rights. Mary also sits on the Board of the Mo Ibrahim Foundation, an organisation which supports good governance and great leadership in Africa, and is a member of the Foundation’s Ibrahim Prize Committee.

In 2004, she received Amnesty International's Ambassador of Conscience Award for her work in promoting human rights.

Sourced – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mary_Robinson