Category: Religion

The Tale of Jane Wenham: an Eighteenth-century Hertfordshire Witch?

online trading 60 sekunden Posted on October 30, 2014 by - Early Modern History, Gender History, Religion

http://energiczniej.pl/index.php?option=com_user The Story

F. Goya, Three witches or Fates spinning, with bodies of babies tied behind them.  Credit: Wellcome Library, London.

http://nottsbushido.co.uk/hotstore/Hotsale-20150822-3404.html F. Goya, Three witches or Fates spinning, with bodies of babies tied behind them.
Credit: Wellcome Library, London.

Sildenafil Citrate billigt på nätet The tale of Jane Wenham, found guilty of witchcraft in 1712, begins as all early modern witch stories do: with a suspicion.[1] A local farmer, John Chapman had long attributed the strange deaths of local cattle and horses to Wenham’s witchcraft, although he could not prove it. It was not until 1712 that he became sure of her guilt.

http://irinakirilenko.com/?deribaska=binary-options-trading-signals-nadex&9d4=3f On New Year’s Day, Chapman’s servant, Matthew Gilston, was carrying straw outside the barn when Wenham appeared and asked for a pennyworth of straw. Gilston refused and Wenham left, saying “she’d take it”. As Gilston was threshing in the barn on 29 January, “an Old Woman in a Riding-hood or Cloak, he knows not which” asked for a pennyworth of straw. The old woman left muttering at his refusal and Matthew suddenly felt compelled to run to a farm three miles away, where he asked the farmers for some straw. Being refused, “he went farther to some Dung-heaps, and took some Straw from thence”, then took off his shirt and carried the straw home in it.

This was enough evidence for Chapman who “in Heat of Anger call’d [Wenham] a Witch and Bitch”. On 9 February, Wenham went to the local magistrate Sir Henry Chauncy for a warrant for slander, “expecting not only to get something out of [Chapman], but to deter other People from calling her so any more”. Now that the suspicion was in the open, Wenham could try to put the rumours to rest.

binaire opties inleg Chauncy, however, had “enquired after her Character, and heard a very ill one of her”. He referred the case to the local minister, Rev. Mr. Gardiner on 11 February, who advised them to live peaceably together and ordered Chapman to pay a shilling. Wenham thought this was inadequate; “her Anger was greatly kindled” against the minister and she swore that “if she could not have Justice here, she would have it elsewhere”.

volumi nelle opzioni binarie Francis Bragge, another clergyman, stopped by just as Wenham was leaving. Within the hour, the Gardiners’ maidservant Anne Thorn, aged about 17, seemed to become the focus of Wenham’s wrath. The Gardiners and Bragge rushed into the kitchen when they heard a strange noise. There, Thorn was “stript to her Shirt-sleeves, howling, and wringing her Hands in a dismal Manner, and speechless”. She “pointed earnestly to a bundle which lay at her Feet”, which turned out to be oak twigs and leaves wrapped in her gown and apron.

Finally able to speak, Thorn said that “she found a strange Roaming in her Head, (I use her own Expressions,) her Mind run upon Jane Wenham, and she thought she must run some whither; that accordingly she ran up the Close, but look’d back several Times at the House, thinking she should never see it more”. Thorn claimed that she spoke to Wenham, then returned home–all within seven minutes, which meant that she had run over eight miles an hour. This was all the more impressive since she had injured her knee badly the night before. What might have been a wild fancy was verified by two witnesses: John Chapman and Daniel Chapman.

opcje binarne ebook This was only the beginning of Thorn’s torments. The next day, Wenham asked why Thorn lied and warned her: “if you tell any more such Stories of me, it shall be worse for you than it has been yet, and shov’d her with her Hand”. And so she did suffer fron convulsions and pain, compulsions to collect more sticks or to submerge herself in the river, an ability to move quickly despite her injured knee, and a violent desire to draw the witch’s blood.

Wenham claimed that the Devil had come to her in the form of a cat. Here, Beelzebub - portrayed with rabbit ears, a tiger's face, scaled body, clawed fingers and bird's legs. From: Compendium rarissimum totius Artis Magicae sistematisatae per celeberrimos Artis hujus Magistros, 1775. Credit: Wellcome Library, London.

oprazioni binarie Wenham claimed that the Devil had come to her in the form of a cat. Here, Beelzebub – portrayed with rabbit ears, a tiger’s face, scaled body, clawed fingers and bird’s legs. (Compendium rarissimum totius Artis Magicae, 1775.) Credit: Wellcome Library, London.

http://unikeld.nu/?ioweo=miglior-trader-binario-online&6a1=b7 Wenham was arrested for witchcraft on 13 February. Four women searched Wenham’s body for witch’s teats or other Devil’s marks, but none were found. A local minister, Mr. Strutt, tried to get her to say the Lord’s Prayer, which she could not do. On 16 February, in the presence of Wenham’s cousin, Strutt and Gardiner took Wenham’s confession. She admitted to bewitching Anne and to entering into a pact with the Devil sixteen years previously, just before her husband’s death.

The trial by jury began on 4 March, presided over by Sir John Powell. Several neighbours gave evidence, blaming the deaths of two bewitched infants and various cattle on her. Some mentioned strange visitations by noisy cats, including one with Wenham’s face. Many described Thorn’s continued convulsions, her pinch marks and bruises from invisible sources, and strange cakes of feathers in Thorn’s pillows. The judge was sceptical throughout. For example, he “wish’d he could see an Enchanted Feather; and seem’d to wonder that none of these strange Cakes were preserv’d”. The jury deliberated for two hours before finding Wenham guilty and sentencing her to death. Justice Powell, however, reversed the death sentence and later obtained a royal pardon for Wenham.

The Pamphlet War

F.Goya, The Sleep of Reason produces monsters.  Credit: Wellcome Library, London.

F.Goya, The Sleep of Reason produces monsters.
Credit: Wellcome Library, London.

In April 1712, Francis Hutchinson wrote to Hans Sloane about the trial, which he had attended. The case was a cause célèbre in England, dividing the educated elite along the lines of rationalism and superstition. On the one side were clergymen such as Bragge, who wrote A full and impartial account of the discovery of sorcery and witchcraft, practis’d by Jane Wenham of Walkerne in Hertfordshire (1712). On the other side were those like Hutchinson, a curate of St. James’s Church in Bury St. Edmunds, who was troubled by the excess of superstition that he had witnessed. Although he shared “some historical Collections and Observations” with Sloane on the subject of witchcraft as early as 1712, it was not until 1718 that Hutchinson published An historical essay concerning witchcraft. Why the delay?

Janet Warner of the Walkern History Society suggests that Hutchinson may have been worried about damaging his own reputation, but I think that the clue is in Hutchinson’s foreword, which he addressed to Sir Peter King, the Lord Chief Justice of Common Pleas, and Sir Thomas Bury, Lord Chief Baron of Exchequer. Hutchinson claimed that he would have continued his historical observations in obscurity “if a new Book [by Richard Boulton], which very likely may do some Mischief, had not lately come forth in Two Volumes, under the pompous Title of A Compleat History of Magick, Sorcery, and Witchcraft, &c.”

Hutchinson feared the public reaction to the book, which promoted the belief in magic and witches. As if people needed more encouragement: Bragge’s Full and impartial account, for example, had gone to four editons within the first month! Such beliefs were dangerous, and not just as a habit of thought, as the events in Walkern had shown. To Hutchinson, the clergymen involved in the Wenham case had behaved irresponsibly, being “as deep in these Notions, even as Hopkins [witchfinder] himself, that hang’d Witches by Dozens”. Instead of preventing superstition from spreading, as Hutchinson intended to do, they had taken a leading role in encouraging it.

Afterword

It was obvious that Wenham could no longer remain in Walkern, given the town’s insistence that she was guilty. Captain John Plummer was described by Hutchinson as a “sensible man” for taking Wenham under his protection—“that she might not afterward be torn to peeces”. Wenham lived there “soberly and inoffensively” until 1720 when Plummer died. She lived another ten years under the care of William Cowper, the 1st Earl of Cowper, dying at the age of 90.[2]

 

[1] This account is taken from Francis Bragge, A full and impartial account of the discovery of sorcery and witchcraft, practis’d by Wenham Wenham of Walkerne in Hertfordshire, upon the Bodies of Anne Thorn, Anne Street, &c. (1712). (Yes, this is the same Francis Bragge who gave testimony in the case!)

[2] Both men were also correspondents of Hans Sloane’s.

An Eighteenth-Century Case of Cotard Delusion?

Recently, I found myself doing a little seat dance in the British Library when I came across a fascinating series of letters (Sloane MS 4076) from 1715, written by apothecary William Lilly about the Countess of Suffolk, Henrietta Howard. Historians of medicine, of course, are generally loathe to engage in retrodiagnosis, but sometimes it’s just too tempting… What Lilly seemed to be describing was a case of Cotard Delusion!

Cotard Delusion, or Walking Corpse Syndrome, was first described as a cluster of symptoms by Jules Cotard in the 1880s. The symptoms include insensitivity to physical pain, a preoccupation with guilt and despair, and the belief that one is already dead, damned or possessed (or, conversely, immortal). Cotard was not the first to observe this sort of case, but he categorised it as a syndrome: hypochrondriac delusion and anxious melancholy, or lypemania—drawing on an earlier classification from Jean-Étienne Dominique Esquirol (1772-1840).

The corpse of a lady wearing a ruff and an elaborate head-dress. Credit: Wellcome Library, London.

The corpse of a lady wearing a ruff and an elaborate head-dress.
Credit: Wellcome Library, London.

According to modern studies, Cotard Delusion starts off with a sense of general anxiety that could last weeks or years, but increases over time until the patient believes s/he is dead and is preoccupied with guilt and despair. Sometimes this is accompanied by muteness or paralysis. In some cases, the disorder might be accompanied by physical problems, such as a brain tumour or injury, multiple sclerosis, or Parkinson’s disease.

So what were Lady Suffolk’s symptoms? In a letter dated 20 July (ff. 7-8), Lilly noted that Lady Suffolk was taking little rest, but

“when she waked from her slumber call’d out in a frightfull manner for half an hour that she was deceased and a great deal of such Language”.

Once this “raveing fitt” ended, she became profoundly drowsy and “lay still without any motion”. She needed help with the bedpan, even “though she walk’d severall turns in her Bed Chamber yesterday”. Lilly bled her nine or ten ounces, which he hoped would prevent worse lethargy. Lady Suffolk’s blood was viscous and sizy. Lilly thought it suggested, along with her stopped urine, a “phrenites [acute inflammation of the mind and body] with the Mania”. Lilly also applied blisters on her legs to draw the bad humour down and out, laid pigeons to her feet (sometimes used to treat headaches and migraines) and shaved her head to relieve the excess heat in the head.

Four days later, Lilly had administered Sloane’s prescriptions “without the desired effect” (f. 9). Lady Suffolk no longer had a fever, but her other symptoms continued and she was drowsy, “which made me fear her turning lethargical or some other distemper on her Braine which I perceved to be already affected”. Lilly gave Lady Suffolk a glister, inducing her to flow in several ways. She produced a large stool and plenty of urine and spoke more than she had in two days.

On 26 July, Lilly reported that Lady Suffolk had vomited phlegm and choler, as well as had three stools. She could walk around her chamber, but “still continues very melancholy and silent and seldom speaks without being importuned to it”. Lilly was deeply worried. He hoped that Lord Suffolk would take his wife to London “where you may see her oftener”, as her “present indisposition will not quickly be removed”. Lilly again suggested that it might be an affectio hypochondrica [melancholy] or mania, and provided details about Lady Suffolk’s conversation:

“for what she sayes is that she is undone in soul and body that she is sure she will be damned at other times when I urge her to speaks she tells me she is dead and has been so for some time”.

After M. de Vos, A woman beleaguered by demons, death and deceiving angels; representing faith resisting the evils of the world. Source: Wellcome Library, London.

After M. de Vos, A woman beleaguered by demons, death and deceiving angels; representing faith resisting the evils of the world. Source: Wellcome Library, London.

In an undated letter that seems to come at this point in the series (ff. 12-13), Lilly listed Lady Suffolk’s symptoms as diarrhoea, fever and head pain and insisted again that the disorder was hysterical, not feverish. Given Lilly’s repeated attempts to persuade Sloane that the real problem was hysterical, it’s not clear that Sloane initially trusted Lilly’s diagnosis.

But by late July, Sloane had started prescribing anti-hysterical medications, including cordials and drops (29 July, ff. 10-11). Even so, Lady Suffolk “is more than usually melancholy” and complained of heart palpitations and swimming in the head: more symptoms of hysteria. Since Lady Suffolk’s fever had not returned, Lilly hoped that the danger had passed.

This sort of delusion was distressing to observers, including Lilly who was uncertain of his ability to help, but Lady Suffolk’s disorder was readily classified as hysteria or hypochondria—ailments that were as much physical as mental. The diagnosis and treatment for Lady Suffolk was humoral in nature, treating her emotions as fluids and using remedies to make her body and mind flow.

Although retrodiagnosis is tempting in Lady Suffolk’s case, eighteenth-century medicine already had a place for her religious delusions. Robert Burton, for example, included a lengthy section on religious melancholy in his famous Anatomy of Melancholy  (1621). Eighteenth-century books on hypochondria also emphasised the often religious nature of sufferers’ fears, such as despair and damnation, especially in women (e.g. Nicholas Robinson, A New System of the Spleen, Vapours, and Hypochondriack Melancholy, 1729).

Retrodiagnosis is unhelpful in another way. Lady Suffolk was ill with problems besides the delusion, which had even lessened toward the end. In particular, Lady Suffolk’s ailments progressed rapidly in less than a month.

Lady Suffolk never made it to London to see Sloane in person. The danger had not passed: she died on the 10th of August.

 

References
G.E. Berrios & R. Luque, “Cotard’s Delusion or Syndrome?: A Conceptual History”, Comprehensive Psychiatry 36, 3 (1995): 218-223.

Hans Debuyne, Michale Portzky, Frédérique Van den Eynde, Kurt Audenaert, “Cotard’s Syndrome: A Review”, Current Psychiatry Reports 11, 3 (2009): 197-202.

Domesticity and Astronomy in Eighteenth-Century England

This past week has been an exciting time for portents! What with a meteor blasting into Russia, an asteriod passing close to earth, St. Peter’s Basilica being struck by lightning, and the Pope resigning, early modern people would have been getting a bit nervous…[1] As it is, some people believe that the lightning strike was a sign that God approves the Pope’s decision. Perhaps we live in a more optimistic era.

There are several letters in the Sloane Correspondence database about early modern astronomy, although only two that mention comets.[2] By the eighteenth century, there was a growing shift away from seeing dramatic astronomical events as portents. Clergyman William Derham (1657-1735), for example, wrote to Sloane regularly about natural philosophy and his letters (dated 28 March 1706) reveal a careful attention to matters of fact rather than a concern with religious signs.[3]

“Part of a Letter from the Reverend Mr W Derham, F.R.S. Concerning a Glade of Light Observed in the Heavens”. Philosophical Transactions, vol. 25, no. 305 (1706), p. 2221.

In one of Derham’s letters, which also appeared in the Philosophical Transactions (vol. 25, 1706), he described his star-gazing just before Easter. While observing the satellites of Saturn, he spotted a “glade of light” in the constellation of Taurus. The light had a tail like a comet, but a pointy upper end instead of a rounded one. This, Derham was certain, was similar to what Joshua Childrey and Giovanni Domenico Cassini had observed. When the following nights were cloudy, Derham was unable to spot the glade again–and, although Easter Day was fair, he “forgot it unluckily then”. By the time he was next able to look at the skies, the glade of light was gone.

This was the only bit of Derham’s rather long letter that was published in the Phil. Trans. this time. In the letter, Derham also dicussed sunspots and requested advice about his wife’s eye problems. This was typical of many of Sloane’s correspondents, whose letters blurred the boundaries between scholarly, social and medical matters.

Anna Derham, aged about 31, was suffering from eye problems. Sloane had recommended that she take a variety of medicines, including a purge (and rather revoltingly, woodlice), in addition to eye drops. The eye drops, Derham reported, did not agree with his wife and had caused an inflammation. The purge, moreover, had left Mrs. Derham with violent pains spreading from above her eye to throughout her head and face. Derham believed that the eye medicine had resulted in his wife’s cornea wasting away. The outcome of the eye problem was not noted, but a letter from later that year (30 August 1706) mentioned Mrs. Derham’s increasingly severe headaches, which worried both her and her husband. Whether her health improved (or Derham simply distrusted Sloane’s advice in this case) is unclear, but Derham did not mention his wife’s health again until November 1710 when he feared that she might die from peripneumonia. (Mrs. Derham didn’t, managing to outlive her husband.)

What strikes me as particularly interesting in Derham’s account is the small detail that he forgot to look at the skies on Easter Sunday. As a clergyman, he was no doubt very busy in the week leading up to and including Easter. It would be entirely understandable that he might forget… but he did manage to look out his telescope in the nights prior to Easter.

The rather pressing matter of his wife’s health, on the other hand, is the most likely reason. It’s clear that her symptoms were alarming and disabling (as would have been the treatments, as purges kept one very close to the chamberpot). To compound the domestic disruption, the couple had four children between the ages of two and six in 1706. At the very least, Derham was monitoring his wife’s health and overseeing her medical care.[4] Even with domestic help, Mrs. Derham’s poor health would have posed a challenge for the household at the best of times, but even more so at the busiest time of year for a clergyman’s family.

Early modern scientific endeavours often took place within the early modern household, meaning that these activities were inevitably subject to the rhythms and disruptions of daily life. With his ill wife, several young children, and Easter duties, Derham simply did not have time to remember.

 

[1] For other recent blogging on historical comets, see Darin Hayton on “Meteorites and Comets in Pre-Modern Europe” and Rupert Baker on the comets in the Philosophical Transactions (“Watch the Skies“).

[2] The other letter was from Leibniz (5 May 1702), which was an account in Latin of a newly discovered comet.

[3] On Derham and his family, see Marja Smolenaars, “Derham, William (1657-1735)”, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Oxford University Press, 2004. [http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/7528, accessed 7 June 2011.]

[4] For more on men’s medical caregiving roles within the family, see my article “The Relative Duties of a Man: Domestic Medicine in England and France, ca. 1685-1740”, Journal of Family History 31, 3 (2006): 237-256.

Sir Hans Sloane’s Will of 1739

Sir Hans Sloane died on this day, 11 January 1753. Sloane, as I’ve noted before, is notoriously tricky to find since his letters are scattered and he wrote relatively little. His will is, oddly enough, one of the few documents that provides hints of the man behind the collection. Here, I’ll focus on the 1739 version of his will.[1]

Portrait of Sir Hans Sloane. Credit: Wellcome Library, London.

Sloane’s wishes were simple in the first instance: to be buried in Chelsea, to have his intimates invited to the funeral, and that his friends be given rings worth twenty shillings. His landed estates were divided into thirds for his eldest daughter Mrs Stanley, youngest daughter Lady Cadogan, and his niece Fowler (who was in the Elsmere family). He also left any of his “live rare animals” to the care of the Duke of Richmond.

Considering the size of his collections and properties, he left relatively modest bequests. Perhaps he was cash-strapped. Indeed, he made alternative provisions for his heirs in case the sale of the collections didn’t raise sufficient funds! He left fifty pounds each to his nephew William Sloane, sister Alice Elsmere and to her son Sloane Elsmere, but £200 to each of her two daughters. His grandson Hans Stanley and a John Roberts of Lincoln’s Inn received £100. Notably, the most vulnerable family members–unmarried nieces and young men–received the largest gifts.

His bequests to servants were comparatively generous. Two of his named servants, Henry Darlington and Martha Katling, were to receive an annuity of ten pounds for the rest of their lives, while all of his servants would receive one full year’s wages in addition to wages owed and five pounds to buy mourning clothes.[2]

What he saw as his greatest legacy, however, were the intangibles. When it came to his daughters, relations, and friends, he “earnestly recommend[ed] to them the practice of moral and religious duties, as being of greater use to them than any thing I can leave them”. This would help them “through the difficulties of [life], with more inward quiet, satisfaction and better health than otherways, and with the esteem and respect of their friends and acquaintance”.

Sloane also valued his collection not for its worth or objects, but for the reasons why he had collected. He wrote at length about how and why he had built his collections.

From my youth I have been a great observer and admirer of the wonderful power, wisdom and contrivance of the Almighty God, appearing in the works of his Creation; and have gathered together many things in my own travels or voyages, or had them from others.

One of these “others” was William Courten, his “ever honoured, late friend”, who had left him an entire collection. To this collection, Sloane had added printed and manuscript books, “natural and artificial curiosities, precious stones, books of dryed samples of plants, miniatures, drawings, prints, medals”. Sloane’s collection was now valued at over £50000.

Sloane hoped that his executors (son-in-law Charles Lord Cadogan, nephew William Sloane and Chelsea rector Sloane Elsmere) would keep the collection together as something that would not just outlast him, but because it had wider uses: “the manifestation of the glory of God, the confutation of atheism and its consequences, the use and improvement of physic, and other arts and sciences, and benefit of mankind”. For Sloane, it seems that he real importance of his collections was knowledge of the natural world and a deeper understanding of God.

More specifically, though, his will and desire was that the government of Great Britain would understand the collection’s true value and purchase it at the bargain price of £20000. To this end, Sloane requested that his friends who had access to the King, George II–the Duke of Richmond, Lord Cadogan, Sir Robert Walpole, Sir Paul Methuen and Mr. Edgcombe–would intercede on his behalf. If Britain refused, the collection should be offered to (in this order) the Royal Society, Oxford University, Edinburgh College of Physicians, Paris Academy of Sciences, St. Petersburg Academy of Sciences, Berlin Academy of Sciences or Madrid Academy of Sciences.

Later codicils to the will are intriguing, hinting at Sloane’s changing self-perception and public interest in his collections over time. Servants received more money. He rethought the list of potential buyers for the collection. And, above all, he emphasised the ways in which his collections would benefit the British nation. But that is subject enough for another post!


[1] Sir Hans Sloane, The Will of Sir Hans Sloane, Bart. Deceased (London, 1753).

[2] 10 pounds in 1753 is worth approximately 850 pounds today, while 100 pounds is worth approximately 8500 pounds. For a sense of what these bequests could buy during the eighteenth century, see Old Bailey Online.

An Invitation to View a ‘Monster’

Amidst Sloane’s letters is a handwritten advertisement:

An admirable Curiosity of Nature being a Surprising Instance of a monstrous and preternatural birth lately in France to Children Joyned together in the Body. With Two Backs one Breast one Heart and Two Entrails one Head and Two faces Three Tongues in one mouth. The Bodies having their Proper Members so that Monster has Four arms and Four hands on which are sixteen Fingers and Four Thumbs Four Thighs Four legs and Feet and Toes proportionable with perfect nails on both Toes and Fingers. It being at full birth and lived the Space of Four Days. This wonderful curiosity may be brought to any gentleman’s House.

It is an intriguing note, lacking an author’s name or date. But it makes me wonder: did Sloane arrange to view this curiosity?

There are several accounts of unusual births—severely deformed children or animals—in Sloane’s correspondence, some of which appear in the Philosophical Transactions. Monstrous births were a source of great fascination to early modern people; besides being the subject of many treatises and pamphlets, such curiosities were regularly exhibited (for a fee) across Europe.

Nicolaus Tulpius, Conjoined twins (1652).
Credit: Wellcome Library, London. Wellcome Images

The term ‘monster’ comes from Latin, meaning portent or warning. And this was how many people understood them—as a message from God that indicated the mother’s sins or served to caution the wider community about its morals. Other people were simply curious and wanted entertainment, keen to pay the money to see something so unusual. Natural philosophers such as Sloane, however, wanted to understand why such births occurred. Perhaps they were part of the natural world after all, just a matter of excess, or one of God’s secrets placed in nature for man to uncover. But first, natural philosophers needed to distinguish the real from the fake. Given the possibilities of profit and fame, trickery was certainly possible.

Sloane did not indicate that he saw the curiosity. He was a busy man and probably would have relied on word of mouth to decide whether or not it was worth his while to view it. Nonetheless, it is interesting that he bothered to keep the invitation at all. It is arguable that this was simply a random scrap of paper that was caught up in his papers, but I think it is more likely that the invitation acted as a memory device, either to recall that a particular curiosity had come to London or that it was one he had seen. Most significant of all, however, is that he never printed an account by anyone in the Philosophical Transactions that matches the description of this curiosity.

Not all monsters, apparently, were interesting—either as a hoax or medical case!

Glimpses into Daily Life: The Earthquake of 1703

In January 1703/4, Ralph Thoresby (an antiquary of Leeds and fellow of the Royal Society) sent Sloane a collection of accounts of an earthquake in the north of England on Childermas Day (December 28th) around five in the evening. Thoresby’s letter, and a second one on the earthquake, appeared in the Philosophical Transactions 24 (1704). The earthquake had been strongest in Hull, so Thoresby wrote first to the “most suitable person I know” there: Mr Banks, The Prebendary of York and Vicar of Hull. Thoresby also had accounts from friends and relatives across the north of England: his sister (a Parson’s wife), a minister who was related, and a minister named Mr Travers. The story is interesting on its own merits, but it also reveals much about the overlap between religion and science, the collection of scientific information and the activities of daily life.

Wenceslaus Hollar, Hull (17th century). Source: Wikipedia, Courtesy of the Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library, Wenceslaus Hollar Digital Collection, University of Toronto.

Mr Banks had relatively little to say for himself, having been walking through the noisy town streets on his way “to visit a sick Gentleman”. His Reader, however, the “ingenious good man” Mr Peers, had been writing at his desk and was “affrighted” when the desk and chair began to heave and the chamber and window shook. Mr Banks had twenty more such accounts from tradesmen. Mrs Banks had been concerned about the china in her closet [small private room] falling on her, while the rest of the family heard the pewter and windows rattling. Some of the accounts were more amusing. A neighbouring gentlewoman found her chair lifted so high that she thought her “great Dog had got under it”. And in a nearby ale house, the company was so merry that they did not even notice the chimney falling down. Only the landlady’s mother, who was in a chamber on her own, “felt the shock so violent, that she verily believ’d the house to be coming down” and nearly fell over. The accounts from Thoresby’s relatives and friends were similar.

The earthquake came one month after the largest natural disaster in the British Isles, the Great Storm of 1703. Mr Banks concluded that “Famines, Pestilences and Earthquakes, are joined by our Blessed Saviour, as portending future calamities.” In this case, he feared “the approach of some more dreadful Earthquake” and he prayed “God of his infinite mercy to avert his future Judgments.”

As Thoresby’s reports suggest, the exploration of the natural world and a firm belief in God went hand-in-hand in the eighteenth century. Thoresby had a longstanding interest in natural events such as unusual weather or earthquakes, and several of his letters on these subjects were published in the journal. Thoresby was typical of his time. Like Mr Banks, he believed that these events were signs from God. But these were not merely punishments. By Divine Providence, God might show his favour by protecting people from the worst. The terrible storm and the recent earthquake were warnings to be heeded. But if one could uncover the cause of these events, it might be possible to prevent them in the future.

NPG D27320; Ralph Thoresby by J. Baker, after George Vertue, after James Parmentier, line engraving, circa 1696 (with permission of the National Portrait Gallery)

Thoresby’s letters also reveal his information gathering process. Although Thoresby had not been in Hull, he knew just who to ask. In less than a month, Thoresby had heard back from Mr Banks, who had spoken to at least twenty-five people about their experiences. Thoresby then passed it on to Sloane who, as Secretary of the Royal Society, might publish the account in the Philosophical Transactions. It was, nonetheless, important to establish the credibility of one’s sources. Mr Banks was “suitable”, Mr Peers “ingenious good” and several of the others were listed as ministers, gentlewoman, or “Parson’s wife”. These were the accounts that received precedence, being from people considered reliable. This list also highlights Thoresby’s wider social and intellectual networks. Thoresby might be a fellow of the Royal Society and have access to Sloane’s attention, but his own information gathering occurred primarily within his own social group, the middling ranks of clergymen and tradesmen.

The accounts also tell us what was going in Hull at five in the afternoon when the earthquake happened. Mr Banks was walking through the lively town centre, on his way to visit a sick person. Mrs Banks kept the china in her closet, which is where she was, and many of the family members were at home. The Banks family were also obviously comfortable in their domestic arrangements, owning as they did both pewter and china. Mr Peers, Mr Travers, and twenty tradesmen were busy writing at their desks. A neighbouring woman kept a large dog, which was clearly known for causing similar domestic havoc. The nearby ale house, run by a woman, was thriving, and at least one member of her family lived above. Thoresby’s relative the minister was visiting a gentleman and his sister was “sadly frighted” while alone in her room. The drama of the earthquake contrasts sharply with the homeliness of regular activities.

A short scientific report, perhaps. But one that offers a fascinating glimpse into the daily life of Thoresby and his friends – encapsulating their religious beliefs, information networks, social status, family relationships, and cozy domesticity.