RELIGIOUS fanaticism has led, in all ages, to much mischief both private and public. In the early times of Christianity there arose a sect, the members of which went about murdering children, who had not obtained the age of seven years, believing it meritorious to send them to Heaven before they became responsible for their own actions. Doctrines so repugnant to human nature did not long find supporters; though fanaticism ever since has caused, in various ways, the shedding of blood. There seldom has occurred, however, an instance of religions delusion more gloomy than the one we are about to narrate.
Amy George, a young woman, nineteen years of age, resided in the house of her parents, at Redruth, in Cornwall. They were in humble circumstances, and of a religious turn. They belonged to the Methodist persuasion; and Amy, having attended one of their meetings called 'Revivals,' became considerably disturbed, and under the idea of securing the eternal happiness of her little brother, a boy under seven years of age, hanged him behind the door with a silk handkerchief, on the 4th of March, 1824. She did not attempt to conceal her crime; but went up stairs to the apartment of a fellow-lodger, and disclosed what she had done. She was instantly taken into custody, and brought to trial at the ensuing assizes, which took place at Launceston on the 1st of April. Several witnesses having deposed to the fact of the strangulation of the child, John Cocking, the constable of Redruth, gave the following testimony: I sat up with the prisoner at the bar on the night of the 4th of March. She told me her mind had been impressed, for some time, that she ought to commit a murder; and that on the Monday and Tuesday before she committed the act, her intention was to have murdered her mother, but she endeavoured to banish that idea from her mind, and prayed to the Lord to take the temptation from her; but that on the Thursday morning, while she was at work at the mine, the idea came upon her again with greater force than before. In the middle of the day, she went to get her dinner at the boiling house, where the girls generally dine. After she got to the boiling house, she recollected that she had seen a boy, a stranger, standing by the engine-house, near the shaft, or mouth of a pit, and she then regretted that she had not pushed that boy into the shaft. Returning home in the evening, a little before she came to a Methodist meeting, which stood in a back lane she saw two children before her at play, near another shaft alongside the road, but she could not get an opportunity of throwing one of them into the mine, as she had designed. She went to her own house, and found her mother was going to the meeting. On going in, her mother said, "Your supper is ready for you, Amy; you can take it, for I am going to the meeting, and little Benny will remain at home with you." The prisoner then told me she felt glad that she was going to be left alone with her brother, as she would thus be able to do the deed. She gave the child part of her supper, and said to him. "Should you like to go to heaven, dear?" She then rose from the place where she was . sitting, and went to a line that was hanging across the room, and took from it a black silk handkerchief, and coming towards the child, put it round his neck, tying it, as she thought, in a running knot. She said to her brother "Is it too tight, dear?" The child looked up in her face and smiled, and said "No." She left the handkerchief round his neck, and said, "Go for a drop of water for me, dear!" intending, while the child was gone to a pail in the room, and while his back was towards her, to take him up and hang him to a crook behind the door. The boy was rather quicker than she expected, and she meeting him took the water from him, drank a little of it, and put the cup on the table. She then took her brother up with one arm, and with the other hand put the handkerchief over the crook, looked him full in the face, and left the room. I know there are the several shafts which the prisoner spoke of. I am not a member of the Methodist Society, but I have attended a Revival meeting at Redruth, which commenced about three months since. A Revival is termed an "out-pouring of the spirit," and causes the congregation to cry aloud to the Lord for mercy. The Revival continued at Redruth for a month or six weeks. The Revivals are held in the stated places of worship of particular congregations, and sometimes continue open for three nights and days in succession. I have been at Revival; those who are "convinced of sin," as it is called, fall on their knees, and with uplifted hands, and their bodies working to and fro, call as loud as they are able to the Lord for help. Their ejaculations are such as, "Oh! Christ, pardon me my sins – Oh! Lord, give me grace!" and a variety of other expressions, adopted as the zeal of the moment may suggest. Their conduct was wild and extravagant, and altogether out of the mild and decent course of addressing the Almighty, usually observed in places of worship. It is generally called screeching for mercy. There was usually a preacher at the meetings, but not always. The Revival is open by night as well as day. There is no appointment when the Revival is to he held; a congregation may be met, and at prayers, when, perhaps, some member will fall on his knees and call aloud to heaven for mercy; when this happens, the other members are generally moved by the same spirit, and the Revival commences. This is called the "outpouring of the spirit," and continues till the preacher pronounces a benediction, and tells his flock, "the moment of conversion" is come, and they may expect "a ray of hope, of comfort, and joy." The moment of the coming of the "ray of hope" is uncertain, and the congregation continue their extravagant devotions till they are "convinced" or "converted." It is about ten years since there was a Revival at Redruth before the late one. The prisoner, in speaking of the child, generally called him the dear little Benny.
The unfortunate girl said nothing in her defence, but in proof of the aberration of her mind at the time she committed the miserable deed for which she stood indicted; her unhappy mother was called, and gave the following evidence:--
'My daughter attended a Methodist meeting at Redruth for about seven weeks before the death of my boy; she also attended the Revival. I went for her one night, about half-past ten o'clock, she having been there from two o'clock in the day. On going into the chapel, I found it extremely crowded. My daughter caught a sight of me, and immediately she lifted up both her arms, and called on her dear mother and father to pray to the Lord to help them, for that they could not see the danger they were in. I got her out of the meeting as soon as I could, but she had lost her cloak, bonnet, handkerchief, and pattens, and was extremely disordered in her dress. She had been moving from one part of the meeting to the other, and, in her unbounded zeal, had dropped her clothes, and they were trodden under foot. My daughter's conduct, after attending the Revival, was quite different to what it had usually been. This was about seven weeks before the dreadful act was done. On another occasion, she came home praying in a horrible manner for the conversion of her father and mother. She was then violently agitated. From the commencement of the Revival she never missed but one meeting. See also attended prayer meetings and class meetings before the death of my son, I apprehended my daughter would do me some violence. On the Monday preceding, she came home and sat by the fire, in a melancholy way, and said "Mother, I am going out of my mind." I spoke a few words to pacify her, and she went to bed. The next night she said she was better, but she appeared very low. On Wednesday night, on coming home, she said to me, "I am tempted to murder my mother!" I said I was surprised she should think of murdering me; and she said, "I do." After she had said this, she went to the Revival, and returned between nine and ten. From w hat she had said, I took the knives and hid them, to prevent her doing mischief to herself, me, or the family.
"These symptoms I observed on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday, and on the Thursday the child was killed."
At the close of the evidence the prisoner fainted, and was removed into the air. Being in strong convulsions her screams were heard for nearly a quarter of an hour. When she was re-conducted into court, the judge charged the jury, who immediately returned a verdict of -- Not Guilty, believing her to have been insane at the time of the murder. The Court ordered her to be detained in custody, but assured her friends that she would not be kept long from them.