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Oxenham Tombstone

Amery, PFS, Amery, John S & Rowe, J Brooking (Eds.). Devon Notes & Queries, Vol. 1 (1900) pp.194-195.

Provided by Mike Steer

The ancient Oxenham family resided in South Tawton from at least the time of Henry III, there occupying an eponymous manor. The most notable exemplar was Captain John Oxenham, a companion of Sir Francis Drake. An anonymous pamphlet appeared in London in 1642 with a title beginning A True Relation of an Apparition describing a peculiar circumstance that presaged the deaths in 1635 of four members of the Oxenham family living in the Devon village of Seal (later Zeal) Monachorum, a phenomenon subsequently referred to as the Oxenham omen. This note provides further evidence of the oman. The extract, from a copy of a rare and much sought-after journal can be downloaded from Google Books, with a search by either author or title, and also 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.


The following extract from Epistolse Ho-Elianae, The Familiar Letters of James Howell, 
may be of interest to readers of D.N.&Q. Can anyone say where the tombstone referred to is now ? W.L. 

"As I passed by St. Dunstans in Fleet-Street the last Saturday, I stepped into a lapidary or stone cutter's shop to treat with the master for a stone to be put upon my father's tomb ; and casting my eyes up and down, I might spy a huge marble with a large inscription upon't, which was thus to the best of my remembrance : 

Here lies JOHN OXENHAM a goodly young man, in whose Chamber as he was struggling with the pangs of death, a bird with a white breast was seen fluttering about his bed and so vanished. 

Here lies also MARY OXENHAM the sister of the said John who died the next day and the same apparition was seen in the room. 

Then another sister is spoke of. 

Then, Here lies hard by JAMES OXENHAM the son of the said John who died a child in his cradle a little after, and such bird was seen fluttering about his head, a little before he expired, which vanished afterwards. 

At the bottom of the stone there is : Here lies ELIZABETH OXENHAM the mother of the said John, who died sixteen years since, when such a bird with a white breast was seen about her bed before her death. 

To all these there be divers witnesses both squires and ladies, whose names are engraven upon the stone. This stone is to be sent to a town hard by Exeter, where this happened. 

Were you here, I could raise a choice discourse with you hereupon So hoping to see you the next term to requite some of your favours, I rest your true friend to serve you. J.H. 

Westminster 3 July 1632. 

[The question of the whereabouts of the stone seen by Howell has been often discussed. See Notes and Queries at various times Devon Assoc. Trans., vol. xiv, 1882, p. 221 ; vol. xxvni, p. go ; vol. xxxii, p. 85. We insert the note of W.L. in the hope that some of our readers may be able to help. EDS.]