Insanity mixed in with WitchCraft

On February 17th 1831 there was a trial in London concerning a man named William Clark. William’s crime was shooting at the door of Elizabeth Gulliver with intention of shooting her. Why he would do this is the real question of the case. Elizabeth had seen William pass her door in previous years before at random times so she recognized him. Before the shooting incident he came to her door demanding in a crazed way “to see a woman in [Elizabeth’s] back kitchen.” After Elizabeth showed him by lighting up the house that no one was there he responded in an aggressive way saying that he would have his revenge and then left after Elizabeth’s daughter called down to her. Elizabeth knew that he had lived next to her for about 6 weeks and had seen nothing else strange so she sort of brushed it off until he returned again the following Saturday, January 8th. He knocked and as soon as Elizabeth came to the door he silently aimed his gun and shot, missing Elizabeth but hitting the door. Elizabeth was shocked and William ran away. She was confused because she had literally never spoken to him before that previous Wednesday and was completely puzzled as to why he would want to kill her for no apparent reason. After the police came to his house and witnesses confirmed it what had happened the next step was to finding out exactly why William was so perplexed with Elizabeth Gulliver and what he was trying to accomplish with the gun. The answer was not completely clear but it was apparent that William Clark was a very disturbed and psychologically confused man. In court he gave a completely crazed story about how his family was apart of royal ancestry and continued to babble on about a royal woman going into the house next door and causing a great noise (explaining why he had confronted Elizabeth asking to see who was in the back of her house.) The night after hearing the noise he saw a great fire coming from the house. After he went to Elizabeth’s house to confront her, he claimed that an intense heat had been held over his head and concluded that it must had been from her. After doing a few more crazed steps he went to her house and attempted to shoot her, so that he could end the “heat.” After the prisoner in custody gave his statement his sister immediate claimed that her brother had sent her a letter that was filled with claims of witchcraft and other sorcery declarations. The letter also explained how he had an “onnexion with wizards, and the influence they had over him, and a long history of gipseys.” The letter was referencing from was dating back to 1829, so it was obvious Mr. Clark had been dealing with this delusion for several years.  Even a surgeon of that time named MR. McMurdo claimed that he saw the prisoner as being completely insane, just like his sister suggested. In the end William Clark was not charged with attempted murder, but instead found Not Guilty on the grounds of insanity.

            This particular case was interesting because Mr. Clark was an insane man obsessed with witchcraft and sorcery in a way that resulted in insanity. I am glad to see that people involved in this case could separate the false accusations from the situations and prosecute William Clark for what he was: insane. Sorcery and witchcraft had been around ever since the beginning of time and this trial was just one example of how it’s evil’s had apparently consumed one man. In H. Lewis’ Scaife’s book True Ghost Story, he gives a brief view of superstition and where it originated in the first few pages. One statement that stood out to me while reading was the quote mention by Lord Kelvin saying that, “One-half of hypnotism and clairvoyance is fraud and the other half is bad observation.” I think this statement could also include what witchcraft and sorcery is also. In a sad serious of events Mr. Clark must have been swept into a delusion of simple “bad observation” from his own mind that basically drove him completely insane. Society’s view on witchcraft has changed so much in the past centuries that I feel like it is one of the main themes that we see throughout in the Enlightenment period. The severity of it was constantly changing in people’s minds and its transformation has come a very long way.  In Bengt Ankarloo and Stuart Clark’s work, Witchcraft and Magic in Europe: The Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries we get a taste of what many philosophical figures thought of the phase of witchcraft and superstition during the period of the Enlightenment. In the book, Thomas Hobbes gives his blunt opinion by stating “As for witches, I think not that their witchcraft is any real power.” Saying this though, he believed in punishing the ones that claimed to practice witchcraft because he claimed, “that they can do such mischief.” This was just one of the many opinions that philosophers during this time. Some were more aggressive; some had more of a religious stance on the subject. Overall the entire period has seen to be somewhat of a ridiculous phase in history and as technology and knowledge has been enhanced, so has opinions of sorcery and witches. Nowadays people see it as nothing as a period in history or as something to tell others to purely scare them, but most do not still believe in it as intensely as most did in the 18th and 19th century.

-Madison Johnston

Works Cited:

Ankarloo, Bengt, and Stuart Clark. Witchcraft and Magic in Europe: The Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries. Vol. 5. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania, 1999. (read p. 197 to the bottom of p. 206.)

Old Bailey Proceedings Online (, version 7.0, 30 October 2013), December 1699, trial of Mary Poole (t16991213a-2).|witchcraft#highlight

Scaife, Hazel Lewis. A True Ghost Story, or Three Nights in a Haunted House and a Brief Sketch of Superstition. Louisville, KY: Press of R. H. Carothers, 1895. (p. 42-52).


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