The Foxearth and District Local History Society

The Hysterical Hystorian

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Sunday, January 30, 2005

A mortification not to be accounted for....

If ever one is inclined to feel sorry for oneself, one should remember the ghastly fate of a poor family from Wattisham whose story is told in the The Parish register for 1762, and whose memorial is a stone tablet on the wall, which contains the sombre and mysterious message "This inscription serves to authenticate the truth of a singular calamity which suddenly happened to a poor family in this parish, of which six persons lost their feet by a mortification not to be accounted for." One can only wonder at the medical cause of the horrible fate of this poor family and imagine the distress of this small community when it all happened. To quote from the Parish Register...

"On Sunday, January 10th 1762, Mary, daughter of John Weatherset, alias Downing, aged 16 years, was taken with a pain in her left leg, which in an hour or two sunk into her foot and toes. The next day her toes were much swelled, and black spots appeared upon them: by degrees the whole foot became swelled and black; the pain, which was by now chiefly in her toes, was, she said, as if dogs were gnawing them; the blackness and swelling increased upwards by slow degrees, till it came near the knee, when the flesh of her leg putrified and came off at the ankle with the foot, leaving the leg bones bare. The other leg and foot were affected in a few days and decayed nearly by the same degrees and manner; both her thighs became swelled.
"The surgeon, seeing no perfect separation did, on the 17th April following, attempt to take off one of the limbs near the knee, just above the corrupted flesh, but such an effusion of blood issued as to stop his attempt. He afterwards took off both of her legs near the knee. Mary lived on for many weeks but then sadly died.
"The mother, also named Mary, was taken with the very same kind of pain under her left foot very soon after her daughter. She sometimes said in her left leg her toes, foot and leg were affected in the same manner as her daughter's; in a few days her other foot and leg also. Both feet came off at the ankle, and the flesh rotted from the leg bones, which continued bare about three months, and then rotted off. Her hands and arms are benumbed, and her fingers contracted, but not black; she is now almost well and likely to live many years.
"Elizabeth, the next daughter, aged 14 years, was, on the next day, viz., Monday January 1 lth 1762, seized only in one leg and foot, which she could not set on the floor for three weeks, but stood all that time upon the other leaning against the chimney; after which being taken in the same manner in her other foot, she laid down. One foot mortified and came off at the ankle, the other leg near the knee.
"Sarah, the next child, aged 10, was taken on the same day as her sister Elizabeth in one foot, which mortified and came off above the ankle; the toes of the other were affected and broke, but healed again.
"Robert, aged 7 years, was taken on the Tuesday or Wednesday following, in both legs, which came off at the knee.
"Edward, aged 4 years, was at the same time taken in both feet, which rotted off a little above the ankles.
'An infant, aged 2 months, was taken from the mother's breast as soon as she was seized with that disorder. It was put out to nurse but died within 2 months. When dead its feet and hands turned black.
"John, the father of this unhappy family, was seized with the same disorder about 3 weeks after the first was taken, in both his hands. His fingers became benumbed, contracted and black. The nails of some came off, and two of them broke, but healed again. He complained much of darting pains in his hands, arms, legs and back.
"The singularity of the calamity and the smallness of the parish moved many worthy gentlemen to make collection for the immediate relief and future maintenance of the family. The sum of £500 was presently collected, out of which a life annuity of 3s per week each has been purchased for the 2 surviving girls, Elizabeth and Sarah."


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