Witchcraft at Ashburton

In: Recent cases of supposed witchcraft in Devonshire.
Transactions of the Devonshire Association, 1875, Vol VII, pp. 261-262.


Paul Q. Karkeek

Provided by Michael Steer

The paper was presented at the Association’s Torrington meeting in July 1875. This short article formed the first part of the author’s presentation. The witchcraft theme was developed to include cases from Exeter and Newton Abbot. His intend was to provide evidence that belief in witchcraft was still alive in rural Devon at that time. The article, from a copy of a rare and much sought-after journal can be downloaded from the Internet Archive. Google has sponsored the digitisation of books from several libraries. These books, on which copyright has expired, are available for free educational and research use, both as individual books and as full collections to aid researchers.

During the discussion which followed on the reading of my paper, “Devonshire Witches” at Teignmouth last year, a member of the Association said that the belief was fast dying out. The following cases are now brought forward by way of showing that there are not as yet any signs of such an event as the belief in witchcraft disappearing.

I have been referred by Mr. E. Vivian, J.P., to the magistrates' clerk at Torquay, and that gentleman (Mr. Hearder) gave me the particulars of an application for a warrant made to the bench in May, 1875, by a poor old woman living at Chelston, near Torquay, who believed that her husband had died from the effects of witchcraft. I need hardly say that the application was refused.

In July and August last year a curious case took place in the vicinity of Ashburton, all the facts of which are well known to a friend who related them to me. A man and his wife in easy circumstances had been suffering from some trivial ailment for a short time, and not getting any great amount of benefit from their own and their neighbours' attempts to cure, began to suspect that they were bewitched. After some little doubt and discussion, they decided to call to their aid the white witch of Exeter. This individual was no sooner invited than he came, and I need hardly say did not attempt to disabuse their minds of their suspicions. He carefully examined the patients, went through some hocus-pocus, and finally pronounced their case to be witchcraft. His fee was four guineas, and for one guinea more they could look in a crystal and see the face of the witch whose malevolence had done them so much harm. This brilliant offer was for certain reasons declined and neglected. The white witch then proceeded to give them some charms, which they were to repeat in a solemn manner, and at a prescribed moment; and finished up by saying that before twenty-four hours should elapse the witch should come and beg their pardon. This clever individual then departed, taking with him more money than his patients had ever paid a doctor in their lives, and which money, it is to be hoped, has acted according to the Irish proverb, "Ill got, ill gone." The couple, on being left to themselves, proceeded to carry out their instructions, which doubtless was done to the very letter. As usual, they retired to rest about nine o'clock, and in the fond hope that they should soon reap the benefit of the white witch's advice. They had hardly got into bed, when they heard someone knocking at the door; and the husband quickly opening the window, asked in an angry tone, “Who 's there?” A poor woman who lived close by, and who knew the man and his wife were poorly, had, on coming home from her work in the fields, looked round to enquire how they were; but on being spoken to thus sharply, she perceived that her neighbours had gone to bed, and did not wish to be disturbed; so naturally enough looked up at the man, and said very politely, "Oh, I leg your pardon" and went her way homeward. Here was the fulfilment of the white witch's prophecy. "Before twenty-four hours should elapse, the witch should come and beg their pardon” The next morning the neighbours were told of this, and the poor woman, who had simply performed a charitable action, found herself pointed at and abused, and but for the threatened interference of the police, would have been ill-treated. Doubtless the excitement on this occasion acted like a charm, for both husband and wife were cured, and hence were quite able to affirm that they haven't felt so well for years, and all through the white witch of Exeter.