« PreviousContinue »
through the streets of Paisley in charge of the common hangman, and to be by him publicly whipped on the bare back at four places, all duly yet inhumanly set forth in the deliverance-ten lashes at the Townhead, ten at the head of the New Street, ten at the foot of the New Street, and a final ten lashes at the Cross, after being marched down the Causeyside and up Saint Mirren's Wynd, with her hands tied, as they had been all through her dismal progress. This terrible sentence, it is to be recollected, stands recorded not as witnessing against a distant age or a savage race-not in Dahomey or among black people at all, but at home, in a community reputed to be civilised, and near enough our own time to have been witnessed by the fathers of the present generation. From the fact of Jean Montgomery being described as a married woman, wife of John Storie, weaver, there is a presumption that she must at some time of her life have received in a kind of way the benefit of clergy, yet no voice is raised for mercy on her behalf in pulpit or on platform. Even the members for the county and burgh of Renfrew sit dumb in parliament, and this at a time when the one was represented by a gentleman so well known as Wm. M‘Dowall of Castlesemple, and the other (embraced in the Glasgow group) by an official of such eminence as Lord Frederick Campbell, third son of John, fourth Duke of Argyll, afterwards a most efficient Lord Clerk-Register, and much talked of even earlier, from his marriage with the widow of that Laurence Farl Ferrers, executed at Tyburn for the murder of his land-steward. Had such a sentence stood on record against either man or woman in the time of the Persecutionsay for “rabbling" some poor indulged curate or the like-there is no end to the illustrations it would have furnished the Kirk with of the patience manifested by the Covenanted opponents of a system only possible to be upheld by “the Boot” of Lauderdale and the sword of Dundee. Even in Boston at the time, where the struggle for independence was just assuming precise form, a mere black slave, George by name, for half-murdering a white man in his own house, and then tarring and feathering him, received only two years' imprisonment with the addition of forty stripes save one of the number meted out to poor Jean
Montgomery for her alleged guilt in stealing a cut of a piece of lawn. In Hogarth's Bridewell scene, the uplifted cane of old Inspector Suspercoll has sometimes been described as out of place; but there Kate is tightly laced up, and in the newspapers of the day special mention is made that Mary Moffat, the type in her “Progress" of many a Hackabout, was then in confinement, “ beating hemp in a gown very richly laced with silver.” The only alleviating circumstance in the Paisley case is that the sentence might not, or could not, be carried into effect. Mr. Hector, it is but right to state, gives no indication of this being possible, and rather leaves the reader to infer that such an outrage as the sentence indicates was not perpetrated. He writes of the deliverance as being a disgrace to “our” records and to all concerned in carrying it out; and so in every sense it is, but we fear that “our” records may be designed to indicate a wider area than Renfrewshire. There is no reason we know of for believing the people of Paisley to have been more blood-thirsty than their neighbours, or their rulers to have been more Draconian. What occurred in Paisley a century since need not be considered exceptional so far as Scotland is concerned. The fact of the flogging may be a matter of certain and easy proof. Whipping half-naked women through the streets, under form of law, could never be so common even in Paisley but that it must have fixed itself in the memory of some inhabitants likely to speak of the fact to many still living. No doubt there were other important matters exciting discussion in the burgh that week—the trial, among others, of Mungo Campbell for shedding in a poaching squabble the blood of another Montgomery, Alexander, tenth Earl of Eglinton. But even he had such a measure of fairness shown to him in the Justiciary Court that it could not altogether blot out of memory this humiliating case of Jean Montgomery or Storie. Some countenance is given to the merciful theory here suggested as to its being a mere formal sentence from the circumstance that in May, 1735, a certain infirm old Mary Black and her daughter, for what was described as “accession to fire-raising" in a stackyard, were sentenced in the same county to be banished the district, but previously to suffer twelve months' imprisonment, and every fourteen days each of them was to be taken from prison, stripped naked to the waist, and flogged by the common hangman at five different places, all duly set forth, in the streets of Paisley, the younger prisoner in addition to be burnt on the face. The flogging in this case was officially authorised to be administered with "a lash of small cords, consisting of five lashes knit at the ends." For the sake of humanity, one is glad to be able to state that not even a hangman could be found to carry out the merciless decree, and the prisoners were liberated on promising to banish themselves from the county. Thanks to that progress of knowledge based on experience which has led in modern times to the necessity of tempering justice with mercy and punishment with decency, it is no longer necessary to rely on the sensitive feelings of the common executioner for avoiding such outrages on nature.
THE RENFREWSHIRE WITCHES.
In his now forgotten play of “The Drummer," Addison unconsciously anticipates by way of a joke a sentiment which a few years later than his time continued to be widely and sincerely entertained. When Truman explains that poor Dobbin is bewitched neither by Goody Crouch nor Goody Flye, “Then, exclaims the coachman, it must be by Goody Gurton, for she is the next oldest woman in the parish.” The great humourist makes Sir Roger himself a sort of half believer in the popular superstition. He would apparently have committed Mother White for trial had his chaplain not been present, and though he openly acquitted her of any concern in the wind which blew down his barn a month after her death, he still betrayed by his manner a lurking suspicion that it was she after all who brewed the blast. The reprint of a once popular West Country tract (Gardner, 1877) affords an excuse for referring to a tragedy in which it is hard to say whether superstition or imposture played the most prominent part. A small old mansion in Erskine parish, known as Bargarran, has earned the evil reputation of being the scene of one of the maddest of all the mad delusions concerning witchcraft which stain the judicial annals of Scotland. At Bargarran, in the summer of 1696, resided John Shaw, a man of moderate landed estate, with his wife and a few young children-one in particular, Christian by name, being noticed as of an unusual lively and open disposition. While the “True Narrative of the Sufferings and Relief” of this young girl makes reference to occurrences in August of the above year, its composition is of date many months subsequent, and among the few really contemporary documents bearing on the case which have been saved, it is satisfactory to find a series of minutes so complete and official as is furnished by the records of the local Presbytery. The Kirk, as was usual in such cases, took the earliest steps to set the civil law in motion. The first note sounded openly in the case came from the Rev. Andrew Turner, minister of Erskine parish, who at Paisley, on the 30th December, 1696, represented to the Presbytery the “deplorable case” of Christian Shaw, with details so minute as almost to supersede the necessity of referring to the pretended experiences of the girl herself as made in the so-called “Narrative.” Since the beginning of September last (it was reported) she had been under a very sore and unnatural distemper, “frequently seized with strange fits, sometimes blind, sometimes deaf and dumb, the several parts of her body sometimes violently extended, and other parts as violently contracted, and for several weeks past she hath disgorged a considerable quantity of hair, folded up straw, unclean hay, wild-fowl feathers, with divers kinds of bones of fowls and others, together with a number of coal cinders burning hot, candle grease, gravel stones, &c., all which she puts forth during the forementioned fits, and in the intervals of them is in perfect health, wherein she gives an account of several persons—both men and women--that appear to her in her fits tormenting her, all which began with her upon the back of one Kathrine Campbell, her cursing of her; and though her father hath called physicians of the best note to her during her trouble, yet the application of medicine to her hath proven ineffectual, either for better or worse, and that they (the Presbytery) are ready to declare that they look upon this distemper as toto-genere preternatural.” Failing the powers of physicians to do anything in the way of alleviating the “distressed damsel,” fasting and prayer was now enjoined by the Presbytery; and with a view of ulterior proceedings, a deputation was appointed on the same day to proceed to Edinburgh, in order that the whole affair might be laid before the Lords of His Majesty's Privy Council. Soon after this date a portion of Christian Shaw's “Narrative " is likely to have been put together; but whatever she may have said was shaped and influenced so much by different members of Presbytery, that it may be said to be rather the production of the reverend court than a genuine account of personal experiences. In due course the Privy Council granted a Commission to Lord Blantyre and other gentlemen in the neighbourhood for the taking of evidence, and so preparing matters that a formal trial, if necessary, might be made of any alleged to be concerned in the mysterious visitation. In the course of their sittings at Renfrew during February, 1697, the Commissioners obtained the “confession” of three people-two lads named Lindsay and an Elizabeth Anderson--as accessories with at least seven others in the bewitching of Christian Shaw. The Lindsays, who testified against their grandmother, were only striplings of twelve or fourteen years of age, while Anderson, who implicated her own father, was but seventeen. The testimony of these witnesses was judged to be of such importance that on the last day of meeting the Commissioners desired they should be severally kept by turns in the houses of members of Presbytery, that the ministers might have an opportunity of dealing with their conscience till further steps could be taken by the authority. A report, to be afterwards referred to, was presented to the Privy Council, and a commission appointed for trial in March. Meanwhile spiritual efforts were not neglected. On the 24th of that month the Presbytery of Paisley, “considering the great rage of Satan in this corner of the land, and