1847: Hocus pocus evades the law


We (Keen's Bath Journal) lately published a short account of a person who has been pretending to work miraculous cures in the neighbourhood of Stroud. The following letter addressed by Mr Barber, of Staplefield, Sussex, to a London Journal, supplies further information of the gifted operator:


'As I see Couchman is carrying on his schemes in Gloucestershire, and as I live close to the scene of his late actions, it may not be amiss to detail to you what I have seen and heard here.


'About two years since a fanatic shoemaker wrote to Couchman to come down from Pluckley in Kent, where he then resided, to cure a woman who had lost the use of her limbs: this was given out; a motley group of invalids of every description met him; and immediately the most absurd stories of his pretended cures spread like wildfire over this neighbourhood.


300 a day, 50 carriages

'Cures were reported which for numbers threw all the miracles mentioned in scripture into the shade: it seemed as if the whole population had become mad; as many as three hundred persons have come to him in one day, and I have seen as many as 50 carriages, from Brighton only, at once at Warninglid, his principal head quarters. In vain was it said that if he had (as he pretended) a Divine mission, he would in no instance fail as he did in ninety-nine cases out of a hundred; neither reason nor ridicule had any force except to throw odium upon those who opposed him.


Thinking it time to stop the stupidity, I wrote to the clergyman of Pluckley, and he told

me what Couchman's character was; this latter I gave to the Inspector of Police, at Cuckfield but the magistrates could get no hold of him as he never charges, but takes whatever the faithful offer; indeed I believe one of the magistrates would have gone to be healed if be had not been afraid of ridicule.


'Couchman’s exchequer must have wonderfully improved; be no doubt netted several hundred pounds in a few weeks, and finding this so favourable a place, he moved to Warninglid, where be took a neat house and furnished it, and there he now lives. The fever is pretty much gone off here, the few that now

come are from long distances; lately there were some from London.


'He pretends that all diseases are occasioned by evil spirits, or, as he expresses it, by an evil spirit of disease. He does all in the name of Christ, whom he calls on to do as he bids him. If a disease is in any limb he proceeds to drive out the spirit or disease, at the extremities.


'Some of his attempts are of the most ridiculous nature. A respectable farmer, whose load joins mine, had tbs misfortune last winter to bare bis thumb cut off by a turnip machine, and having faith be applied to Couchman to put it on again; he did so, and he used a great deal of hocus pocus but without effect; the thumb corrupting, and of course doing harm, and retarding the cure.


'A poor man and his wife, close by, both ill, he with consumption and she with asthma, went to him, and were both promised a cure; the man has lately died, and the woman is no better; indeed, I know of no case where any pretended good is done that might not be ascribed to natural causes out of the hundreds that have been silly enough to go to him.


'Your giving publicity to this may, perhaps, put the good people of Stroud on their guard; though It is as impossible to stay fanaticism as to stop the ocean with a bullrush.'


Sources

Sydney Chronicle (NSW : 1846 - 1848), 20 Jan 1847, Page 4 https://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/article/31750822?searchTerm=Cuckfield


A quack surgeon of the 18th century, 1895-1896, Popular Science Monthly Volume 48, Wikimedia public domain image.


Contributed by Malcolm Davison.