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July 30.

Sts. Abden and Sennen, A.D. 250. St. Julitta, A.D. 303.


On Tuesday, the 30th of July, 1751, Thomas Colley, William Humbles, and Charles Young, otherwise Lee, otherwise Red Beard, were tried at Hertford for the murder of Ruth Osborne, by drowning her in a pond at Marlston-green, in the parish of Tring. The trial is exceedingly curious. It appeared that William Dell, the town crier of Hamel-Hempstead, on the 18th of April preceding, was desired by one Nichols, who gave him a piece of paper and fourpence, to cry the words at the market-place that were wrote thereon, which he accordingly did. The paper was as follows:—"This is to give notice, that on Monday next, a man and woman are to be publicly ducked at Tring, in the county, for their wicked crimes."

Matthew Baron, the overseer of Tring, on hearing that this had been cried at Winslow, Leighton-Buzzard, and Hamel-Hempstead, in order to prevent the outrage, and believing them to be very honest people, sent them into the workhouse. On the Monday, a large mob of 5,000 people and more, assembled at Tring; but Jonathan Tomkins, master of the workhouse, in the middle of the night, had removed them into the vestry-room adjoining the church. The mob rushed in and ransacked the workhouse, and all the closets, boxes, and trunks; they pulled down a wall, and also pulled out the windows and window-frames. Some of the mob perceiving straw near at hand said, let us get the straw, and set fire to the house, and burn it down. Some cried out and swore, that they would not only burn the workhouse down, but the whole town of Tring to ashes. Tomkins being apprehensive that they would do so told them where the two unhappy people were, they immediately went to the vestry-room, broke it open, and took the two people away in great triumph.

John Holmes deposed, that the man and woman were separately tied up in a cloth or sheet; that a rope was tied under the arm-pits of the deceased, and two men dragged her into the pond; that the men were one on one side of the pond, and the other on the other; and they dragged her sheer through the pond several times; and that Colley, having a stick in his hand, went into the pond, and turned the deceased up and down several times.

John Humphries deposed, that Colley turned her over and over several times with the stick; that after the mob had ducked her several times, they brought her to the shore, and set her by the pond side, and then dragged the old man in and ducked him; that after they had brought him to shore, and set him by the pond side, they dragged the deceased in a second time; and that Colley went again into the pond, and turned and pushed the deceased about with his stick as before; that then she being brought to shore again, the man was also a second time dragged in, and underwent the same discipline as he had before; and being brought to shore, the deceased was a third time dragged into the pond; that Colley went into the pond again, and took hold of the cloth or sheet in which she was wrapt, and pulled her up and down the pond till the same came from off her, and then she appeared naked; that then Colley pushed her on the breast with his stick, which she endeavoured with her left hand to catch hold of, but he pulled it away, and that was the last time life was in her. He also deposed, that after Colley came out of the pond, he went round among the people who were the spectators of this tragedy, and collected money of them as a reward for the great pains he had taken in showing them sport in ducking the old witch, as he then called the deceased.

The jury found the prisoner Colley—guilty.

The reporter of the trial states, from the mouth of John Osborne, the following particulars not deposed to in court, namely: that as soon as the mob entered the vestry-room, they seized him and his wife, and Red Beard carried her across his shoulders, like a calf, upwards of two miles, to a place called Gubblecut; where not finding a pond they thought convenient, they then carried them to Marlston-green, and put them into separate rooms in a house there; that they there stripped him naked, and crossed his legs and arms, and bent his body so, that his right thumb came down to his right great toe, and his left thumb to his left great toe, and then tied each thumb and great toe together; that after they had so done, they got a cloth, or an old sheet, and wrapped round him, and then carried him to the Mere on the green, where he underwent the discipline as has been related in the course of the trial. What they did with his wife he could not say, but he supposed they had stripped her, and tied her in the same manner as himself, as she appeared naked in the pond when the sheet was drawn from off her, and her thumbs and toes tied as his were. After the mob found the woman was dead, they carried him to a house, and put him into a bed, and laid his dead wife by his side; all which he said he was insensible of, having been so ill-used in the pond, as not to have any sense of the world for some time; but that he was well assured it was soon, a number of people since informing him of it who were present. His wife, if she had lived till Michaelmas, would have been seventy years of age; he himself was but fifty-six.

The infatuation of the people in those parts of Hertfordshire was so great, in thinking that these people were a witch and a vizard, that when any cattle died, it was always said that Osborne and his deceased wife had bewitched them. And even after the trial, a great number of people in that part of the country thought the man a vizard, and that he could cast up pins as fast as he pleased. Though a stout able man of his age, and ready and willing to work, yet none of the farmers thereabouts would employ him, ridiculously believing him to be a vizard, so that the parish of Tring were obliged to support him in their workhouse after his wife's death.

So far is reported by the editor of the trial.

On the 24th of August, 1751, Colley was hung at Gubblecut-cross, and afterwards in chains. Multitudes would not be spectators of his death; yet "many thousands stood at a distance to see him die, muttering that it was a hard case to hang a man for destroying an old wicked that had done so much mischief by her withcraft." [sic] Yet Colley himself had signed a public declaration the day before, wherein he affirmed his conviction as a dying man, that there was no such a thing as a witch, and prayed that the "good people" might refrain from thinking that they had any right to persecute a fellow-creature, as he had done, through a vain imagination, and under the influence of liquor: he acknowledged his cruelty, and the justice of his sentence.*[1]

The pond wherein this poor creature lost her life was in mud and water together not quite two feet and a half in depth, and yet her not sinking was deemed "confirmation strong as proof of holy writ" that she was a witch. Ignorance is mental blindness.


White Mullen. Verbuscum Lychnitis.
Dedicated to St. Julitta.


Notes [all notes are Hone's unless otherwise indicated]:

1. Gent. Mag. xxi. 378. [return]