The Foxearth and District Local History Society

The Hysterical Hystorian

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Sunday, January 02, 2005

A 'Detestable Outrage'

We've now come across another dipping pf a witch in the 1776 Ipswich journal. it was new to us and has now appeared in the Newspaper Archives

July 20th 1776

At Farnham, Suffolk on Monday last a poor man suspected of being a wizard was swam (as tis called) in the river Deben in the presence of a great number of spectators who had assembled from different parts of the county of Suffolk on the occasion, he was put upon his watery trial about 7 in the evening with his feet and hands tied but to the surprise of the whole company he sunk to the bottom and had it not been for the assistance of a humane spectator the experiment would have terminated in a manner shockingly to it's protectors, mortified and disappointed the company soon dispersed, ashamed of themselves and angry at their own weakness and credulity.

By coincidence, we came across more details of the Tring dipping of a witch in April 1751, which was reported in the 'Gentleman's Magazine', and seems to have been the last recorded fatality through dipping.

The landlord of an inn who claimed "that he was bewitched by one Osborne and his wife, harmless people above 70, had it cried at several market towns that they were to be tried by ducking that day, which occasioned a vast concourse. The parish officers having removed the old couple from the Workhouse into the Church for security, the mob missing them, broke the Workhouse windows, pulled down the pales, and demolished part of the house; and, seizing the Governor threatened to drown him and fire the town, having straw in their hands for the purpose.

"The poor wretches were at length, for public safety, delivered up, stript stark naked by the mob, their thumbs tied to their toes, then dragged two miles, and thrown into a muddy stream. After much ducking and ill-usage, the old woman was thrown quite naked on the bank, almost choked with mud, and expired in a few minutes, being kicked and beat with sticks even after she was dead; and the man lies dangerously ill of his bruises."

Another report estimates the mob as numbering 5,000 and says that they wound up the incident by putting Luke Osborne to bed with the corpse of his wife and that "only one person was hanged for this detestable outrage".

Davies E.T. Four Crenturies of Witch-beliefs Methuen and co Ltd. London 1947)

A more detailed account is contained in The Newgate Calander Thomas Colley and a fine piece of local history work at HERTFORDSHIRE’S LAST WITCH HUNTwhich gives a masterly analysis of the incident.

The actual perpetrators were never caught, having crossed the county boundary so that the Parish Constables could not apprehend them. Colley, the "only one person was hanged for this detestable outrage" was not mentioned in the Tring riot or the dragging of the old couple to the ducking place, and probably had little hand in the affair. He was in fact the local chimney sweep. Encouraged by the mob, he went into the pond and turned Ruth Osbourne over a number of times, which probably caused her death. What did for him was his foolishness in collecting a few coppers from the onlookers for the pleasure he had given them.


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