The Country Vicar's Fire Side.

The Eccentric Lincolnshire Vicar who keeps on giving

We have written about Samuel Oliver on a several previous occasions and as I keep saying, ‘he just keeps on giving’. Following on from how popular his comments were in the last article regarding the burial of his parishioners, here we go again with some more notes I have just found that were filling the empty pages of the baptism, marriage and burial registers for the parish of Whaplode, in rural Lincolnshire. If you wish to read the images more clearly, just click on them.

Quite a risky thing to do, but we begin with his justification for keeping notes about his parishioners – he thought they would be helpful to future incumbents of his post! I wonder if they were, of whether they were more a reflection on his personality.

The Church of St Mary, Whaplode. The east end of the church. © Copyright Dave Hitchborne (Geograph) and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.
The Church of St Mary, Whaplode. The east end of the church. © Copyright Dave Hitchborne (Geograph) and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.

He clearly didn’t approve of the school teacher’s morals, describing him as an infidel, so much so that Samuel felt the need to take over the running of the school himself. 

Sunday November 8th, 1818

In the afternoon of this day, during the time of divine service, Joseph Blacksmith (Farmer of the great Tythes) and William Heeley (acting overseer of the poor); grossly insulted me, whilst officiating afterwards, Heeley annoyed some of the congregation. But on Wednesday Mr Blacksmith came to me with much apparent contrition and gave me five pounds as a commutation for punishment, which I sent immediately to the Society for promoting Christian knowledge. Heeley also came the same day, but without any appearance of penitence, and gave me seven pounds, which I have appropriated, wholly, to the Poor of this Parish. Dec 2nd, 1818.

Fenland Scene by J. Lamnier. (c) Rossendale Museum; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation
Fenland Scene by J. Lamnier. (c) Rossendale Museum; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

The saga didn’t end there though:

On Sunday, December 20th, 1818, Jane Blacksmith, the mother and Staveley Blacksmith, the brother of the above named Joseph Blacksmith; grossly insulted me, the moment I came out of the church, without any provocation or shadow of reason. This I reported to the Arch Deacon, who sent a severe monition to the Church Wardens, which threw the whole parish into consternation; and at two Vestry meetings, after Staveley Blacksmith, Thomas Allen and John Burton, had affirmed the grossest falsehoods, which Blacksmith ad Burton acknowledged themselves to swear in court. After bringing a Holbeach attorney into the vestry to intimidate me, they all to a man promised to protect me from all insult in future. Staveley Blacksmith declared he never thought of insulting me in his life!!! This was the consequence of truth and resolution on my part. Sam’l Oliver, Curate.

or even here:

Thursday October 7th, 1819

This day the aforesaid Joseph Blacksmith came to my house and with much fulsome compliment and pretended penitence for his improper conduct on the 8th November last, he sat and drank some ale; also about half a bottle of wine. When, upon going away, finding no person in the kitchen, he deliberately set fire to some linen which was upon the clothes horse, before the kitchen fire and then endeavouring to run off! But the kitchen door (going into the porch) being difficult for him to get open, and the servant maid coming suddenly upon him; he could not escape, without detection and his diabolical purpose of involving the premises in flames, proved abortive! – Thus was my family miraculously preserved. Sam’l Oliver, Curate.

Thursday July 20th, 1820

This day at the funeral of the widow Delia Rose, the aforesaid Joseph Blacksmith came into the church, walked in a becoming manner up the middle aisle, he passed the pulpit, entered his pew and sat down., but whilst I was reading the lesson he bawled out, in a hoarse voice, ‘aren’t I to speak‘, and shortly after, before the lesson was ended, he said something else, which I could not correctly understand, but he said it in a manner which evidently conveyed an idea of intentional insult. He then followed me to the grave of the said Delia Rose, where he twice attempted to push me down whilst performing the ceremony, by throwing himself with violence against the portable shed under which I stood, made an inarticulate noise to burlesque the service, placing himself before me with a horsewhip in his hand, which he has been in the habit of using upon other people very dexterously and therefore I felt myself extremely apprehensive of experiencing its effects upon my own shoulders, before I could finish the service and make my escape.

I will leave you read in his own hand, Samuel Oliver’ final thoughts on his parish!!!

The Country Vicar's Fire Side.

An eccentric Lincolnshire vicar

This is a man who just keeps on giving! We have previously looked at Samuel Oliver, the vicar of Whaplode church in Lincolnshire when Jo discovered his weather reports jotted down in the parish registers, then I found myself back there whilst researching The Regency Poisoning of Mary Biggadike and was fascinated and slightly amused and slightly shocked by some of his comments in the burial registers from 1812 onward.

Country Characters. Thomas Rowlandson. MetMuseum
Country Characters. Thomas Rowlandson. MetMuseum

For any genealogist who searches through burial registers, you will no doubt be aware that many simply have the basic information, name and possibly their age.

Samuel Oliver’s registers were far more detailed, whilst providing the basics he also gave their address and next of kin/family, occupation, then any comments he wanted to share within the confines of the register. Little did he know that centuries later they would be viewed by all and sundry!

The Church of St Mary, Whaplode. The east end of the church. © Copyright Dave Hitchborne (Geograph) and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.

They were too good not to share with you. We gain a real insight into what he thought of his flock, in his colourful descriptions.  Clearly, once they died he felt free to make his views known in the burial register I wonder if the grieving family knew what he thought?

So here we go:

Sarah, illegitimate daughter of Mary Roe, or Rose buried 24th March 1814.

This corpse remained nearby for a fortnight unburied, through the obstinacy of its mother and her friends.

John Rose, a pauper. Buried February 4th, 1817.

This immoral young man, after dissipating a handsome property, lived miserable and dyed (sic) wretched.

Ambrose Edward Lunn, Yeoman. 5th September 1821.

This man was for many years the officiating parish schoolmaster ‘till compelled to decline teaching!!! As he lived, so he died!!! in ethnicism

A Country Burial Lewis Walpole Library
A Country Burial. Lewis Walpole Library

Edward Palmer. Buried 14th December 1818.

This man has been, for several years, the longest inhabitant in the parish, but one; i.e. about 50 years resident.

Elizabeth Hardy, a blind pauper of the workhouse buried 19th January 1817.

This unfortunate young woman attempting to play with John Palin, a poor deranged man in the workhouse, he suddenly plunged a knife into her throat which entering under one ear end coming out under the other, caused her instant death.

Sarah Cooke, buried 5th March 1827.

She had been the mother of twenty children.

George Nutt, a farmer, buried 16th July 1816.

This man, a few years ago, out of frolic, took a half hogshead cask full of ale, in his hands, lifted it up to his head, and drunk out of the bung hole!!! He has left two sons, each of them able to do the same thing!!!  (a hogshead barrel contained 64 gallons of beer).

Henry son of Dorothy Copeland (widow), buried aged 5 on 13th September 1826.

The Copeland family is now extinct, in this parish! Sec commands exemplified????

John Barker, pauper. Buried 6th April 1829.  A worthy pious Christian

Joseph Culy, yeoman. Buried 6th October 1821.

I’m not quite sure of the translation of the Latin phrase, but roughly, I believe it’s describing him in not very complimentary terms as a wretch in death. If anyone is able to translate the phrase, we would love to hear from you.

Robert Collins Fisher, living in the workhouse. Buried 21st September 1829.

An audacious abandoned reprobate. This burial was conducted by Rev. N. Cogswell, but the footnote is clearly an addition!

Stephen Richardson. Buried 26th September 1827.

A poor ignorant profligate wretch; pretending to be an infidel!!!

Theophilus Thomas Smith. 30th March 1828.

An ignorant, presumptuous, profligate infidel.

And … finally, we have

John Limbard, a gardener, buried 31st December 1833.

A drunken, scurrilous blasphemer completely worn out with dissipation and immorality.

The Country Vicar's Fire Side.
The Country Vicar’s Fire Side. © The Trustees of the British Museum
Drainage mills in the Fens, John Sell Cottman

The Regency poisoning of Mary Biggadike

Mary Biggadike was born May 1801 and baptised in the parish church, of Whaplode, a village in Lincolnshire, by the somewhat forthright vicar, Samuel Oliver.

In early 1818 she found herself pregnant and so, doing the right thing, James Cawthorn, a labourer of Whaplode walked her up the aisle her in August of that year. In due course, she gave birth to a daughter, Marian, who tragically survived for only a few months.

Two years later the couple had another child, a son, James, but by this time their marriage was well and truly ‘on the rocks’ and in March 1821, James clearly needed to find a way of extricating himself from the marriage as he had found a new love.

James found his means of escaping the relationship – but it was to come at the highest price of all, for in August 1821, he found himself indicted for the wilful murder of his wife on 23rd March 1821.

The indictment was that he

wilfully, feloniously, and of malice aforethought, did secretly mix and mingle with milk, flour and sugar, a certain deadly poison, viz. one drachm of arsenic, which he knowing it to be poison, did give to his wife of the 19th March 1821, intending that she should drink it.

He was also charged with assaulting Mary on the day of her death by strangling her.

Mr Franklin representing James wanted him to be charged on only one count, which eventually the prosecution agreed to and it was the charge of poisoning that they proceeded with. The first witness, John Smith who lived close by and knew the family well, he confirmed that he had seen Mary on Monday 19th and she appeared fit and well. He then saw her on Thursday 22nd, when she appeared extremely unwell, her face was swollen and her eyes black and bulging. His wife who also saw her said she thought that Mary had been beaten. At six o’clock the next day he heard that she had died in great agony.

Mary’s mother lived a mere 200 yards from her daughter and when called to give evidence, she said that the young couple had not been getting along well for six months prior to her daughter’s death.  She also confirmed that she saw her daughter every day from Sunday 18th March to Thursday 22nd March and that her daughter had been taken ill on the Monday. Mary’s sister Elizabeth had called upon her on Tuesday and at which time Mary was very sick and complaining of stomach pains.

Mary was convinced she was dying and told Mrs Smith that when her husband returned on the Monday he told her that he felt unwell and asked her to make him some ‘thickened milk’ and having eaten part of it, he asked her to go to the public-house and fetch him a pint of ale, leaving him alone in the house. On her return, he said he had eaten enough and that she should finish the remainder, which she did, and it was then that she was taken ill.

Next to be called to give evidence was Mr Franklin, a surgeon, of Holbeach, who said that Mary had a purple hue on her face, purple spots on her body and a small wound on her leg and internally she showed signs of inflammation. Franklin attempted to carry out tests on her body but was unable to prove conclusively that she had been poisoned.

Mary Sindall was called in to lay out the deceased and she confirmed that the prisoner had followed her upstairs and taking hold of Mary’s cold hand, said ‘Bless you! I little thought your death so nigh’.

Robert Collins, the constable of Whaplode, received James into his custody to take him to Lincoln Castle on the Coroner’s warrant, but just before setting out from Whaplode, James, who up to this point had remained calm, asked to hold his son before they left, at which point he broke down in tears at leaving his only child and as if he knew he would never be returning.

Landscape with a Stagecoach c1840. Metropolitan Museum
Landscape with a Stagecoach c1840. Metropolitan Museum

The carriage took them on to Spalding and when they arrived at the White Lion, James asked permission to write a letter. This letter was to the love of his life, Charlotte Tomlinson, a girl from the same village.  James asked the constable to deliver the letter to her, but instead, Collins kept it as evidence. James continually declared himself innocent of the crime and said in court that he was forced to write the letter, which was vehemently denied by the constable.

The letter was produced in court.

March 26th, 1821

Dear Charlotte – I for the love of you a desolate death must go through. I hope you will have a good Christian heart in you for to come up this afternoon, my dear, and let me bid you adieu. Love don’t feel yourself unhappy, I pay the debt for you. Come up today, love, for I am sure to be put to death. O! Charlotte, what must I go through.

James Cawthorn

It took the jury just minutes to find James guilty of murder and Mr Justice Park pronounced the sentence of death. He confirmed that James was to be executed on Thursday at midday and his body was to be delivered for dissection.  James remained unmoved.

The night before his sentence was to be carried out he made a full confession saying that he could not suffer enough for what he had done. He acknowledged that her murder was carried out by putting poison in the milk.  Having been used to church music, at his request, a psalm was sung at the preaching of the condemned sermon, and he took a part in the melody.

Mary was buried March 26th, 1821 at Whaplode church, aged just 20. Samuel Oliver, who baptised and married her, now buried her, with a note in the register (as he frequently did!) stating that she was

murdered by her husband in the night in a most deliberate manner! The inquest continued for three days!

The love of his life, Charlotte Tomlinson went on to marry in Whaplode, three years later.  The child James went on to have three children of his own who were baptised at Spalding – John, Elizabeth and Mary Ann Biggadike Cawthorn.

UPDATE

Following questions raised by one of our lovely readers I did some more digging and have just discovered this letter which James sent to Charlotte two days after the previous one above, which, it could be argued raises some doubt as to his guilt.

Featured Image

Drainage mills in the Fens, John Sell Cottman. Yale Center for British Art. Paul Mellon Collection.