A Visitation from God for a sin of a Singular and Awful Nature
If any of the visitors to this site have shied away from immersing themselves in the transcriptions of the newspapers, then I urge them to get stuck into doing so, because they show starkly how much has changed in our culture and how much has stayed the same. Right the way back to the earliest newspapers, there is a thread of common humanity, decency and neighbourliness, which contrasts with the wild fluctuations in superstition, belief, attitude, prejudice and fantasy
Here is the story of a man whose fate 'was decreed by an all wise Providence', to be struck down by a 'visitation of God' for the sin 'of a singular and awful nature', that of gathering wood from the local hedges and coppices. God, at the time, seems to have been on the side of the farmers!
December 19th 1821
On Saturday last an inquest was held at the house of Mr Robert Lanchester at Foxearth by Orbell Hustler, Coroner of the Duchy of Lanchester within Essex on the body of William Clark aged 75. It appeared that deceased was a pauper of Glemsford adjoining the parish of Foxearth and that about seven in the evening on the 5th inst he left his house in good health with the intention of stealing wood. Not returning home during the night a search was made the following morning and in a field in the parish of Foxearth he was discovered lying upon a bank, quite dead. No marks of violence appearing on his person. The jury retuned a verdict of died by the visitation of God.
A circumstance of a singular and awful nature was disclosed on the examination of one of the witnesses who stated that deceased had been in the habit during the greater part of his life of trespassing upon the property of the farmers in the neighbourhood and cropping their trees, cutting up their hedges and stealing their wood; but on being remonstrated by the witness only a few days before his death upon the impropriety of such conduct, he apparently became sensible of the heinousness of his offence and declared that if ever he went out again in the night for the purpose of stealing wood, he hoped he would not return home alive. It appeared however that he soon forsook his good resolution and again left his house for the same object, but it was decreed by an all wise Providence that it should be his last attempt to rob his neighbours, being found the next morning as above stated, a lifeless corpse with the wood that he had stolen lying by his side. The relatives of the deceased requested that his body might be laid by the side of his wife at Glemsford but not being able to afford to pay 20 shillings for its removal he was buried in the village where he was found by the parish officers. On Tuesday night following he was disinterred by a party of his neighbours and a grave being prepared, he was deposited in the desired spot at Glemsford.