Death from application of “Witches milk.” at Crossens 1852

Southport Visiter

July 2nd 1852

Death from application of “Witches milk.”

An inquest was held on Tuesday last at the Plough Inn, Crossens, before Mr Charles E. DRIFFIELD Esq, touching the death of John HESKETH, a fine boy, aged 8yrs, the son of a labourer who died at Crossens under the following circumstances.

It appeared from his mother’s evidence that on Saturday the 5th ultimo, the deceased left home in the morning in good health intending to go and weed a carrot field, he returned about noon. She observed her son cringing in the chair and asked what ailed him, to which he replied, his belly was ill. A neighbour came in and asked what was to do with John, she replied he complained of belly-ache, but his grandfather who was seated in the house observed that it was something lower.

Deceased then said that John PRESCOTT’S lad had thrown him down and Nathan SEDDON’S lad had rubbed some, “Witches milk” [milky fluid of the sea spurge Euphorbia paralia] on his person. She looked at the place and found a red spot, apparently a thumb mark, which from that day gradually enlarged and mortified resulting in the boys death.

He went to school after the occurrence, they didn’t find it necessary to send for medical assistance till the following Wednesday when Mr DOCKER of Southport was called and who continued to attend him till Saturday last the day of his death. Deceased never had a days illness in his life before the present occasion.

Mr W. DOCKER was called and gave evidence to the effect that when called he found the deceased suffering from inflammation and partial mortification of the organs of generation, as high as the umbilicus. They wer4e then in a high state of mortification and it was too late to discover whether it it had been caused by the application of a foreign substance.

He was told that the boys had applied “Witches milk”, he knew the plant so called, Euphorbia paralia, it was indigenous to the neighbourhood and grew on the sand hills. It was common for children to use it, it caused irritation to the skin. In this case mortification went on for several days, but, not to such an extent to induce him to suppose that life was in danger. He had not known death to ensue from such a cause, although he had, had similar cases under treatment.

Witness detailed findings of a post mortem examination which he made under instructions of Mr FANNIN and his opinion was that the deceased died from mortification of the private parts, but how it was occasioned he had no means of ascertaining except from the statement of the deceased. He thought that if medical assistance had been sought earlier the deceased may have recovered.

The Coroner called Nathan SEDDON father of the youngest accused, having ascertained that his boy was under 14yrs old, he informed the jury that the boy would not be punished for felony unless malice could be proved, he suggested he should call the boy as a witness in order that he might get the truth.

Nathan SEDDON one of the accused boys was brought in and after being told that there was no charge against him he desired to state all he knew of the affair, but firmly denied he knew anything about it.

Two or three female witnesses were called who were working in adjacent field at the time and one who was working in the same field as the deceased, but said they had neither saw nor heard anything of the conduct attributed to the boys.

Two other female witnesses heard John PRESCOTT admit he had held the deceased but did not say for what purpose. The only positive was that of a small boy the same age as the deceased who made a similar statement to that of the deceased.

The coroner summed up informing the jury, as the statement of the deceased was made when he was not in danger of death it would not be received as evidence, nor could that of the small boy, they must therefore come to the conclusion, “the deceased died from mortification of the private parts, but as to how it was occasioned, there was no evidence to show”. A verdict to that effect was then returned. Mr WHITEHEAD, Solicitor of this town attended to watch the case on behalf of the accused boys.


Copyright 2002 / To date