The Newgate Calendar - THE REV. JOHN CARROLL

THE REV. JOHN CARROLL
Indicted for the Murder of a Child, but Found Insane.

            THE Roman Catholic Clergy among other absurdities, arrogate to themselves the power of working miracles; and about the period at which we are now arrived, there appeared in Germany a Reverend prince Hohonlohe, who, it was said, had performed some astonishing wonders by the force of his prayers. In England a Miss O'Connor, a nun, had been cured of a swelling in her arms, by the spiritual assistance of the prince, and some enthusiastic women in Ireland fancied that they were relieved by a similar process. One young lady was restored to her speech, having been previously dumb; and another literally took up her bed and walked.

            This German prince was either a fanatic or an impostor, but the Irish Catholics regarded him as a saint, and accordingly solicited the aid of his prayers on all possible occasions. Hundreds, who imagined themselves ill, were cured, and many even swore to the truth of the pretended miracles. The effect of all this might have been more deplorable, had not a melancholy event helped to open the eyes of the people. A priest named Carroll, who resided in the barony of Forth, County of Wexford, undertook to rival Hohenlohe, and was supposed to be endowed with the power of working miracles. The delusive doctrine of his church, operating on a predisposition to insanity, produced a diseased mind, and when in this state he killed a child named Catherine Sinnott, on the 9th of July, 1824, while performing what he called a miracle. For this offence he was indicted, at the Wexford assizes, on the 4th of the following August. A Catholic barrister, who acted as his counsel on the occasion, has inserted the following particulars of this man's case in one of the periodicals.

            'This unfortunate man (Carroll), for he deserves no harsher appellation, had from his childhood a strong predisposition to insanity. It was with great difficulty that he succeeded in obtaining ordination. His aberrations from reason, before they amounted to actual madness, were connected with the subject of exorcism; and although every person to whom he addressed his arguments in favour of the expulsion of devils, smiled at his extravagance, they still could not help acknowledging that he argued with subtlety upon wrong premises, and confessed that his applications on various passages in the holy writings were ingenious, however mistaken. It was in vain that Father Carroll was told that the power of Satan to possess himself of human bodies ceased with the revelation of Christian truth. He appealed to the Acts of the Apostles, and to incidents subsequent to the death of our Saviour, to establish his favourite speculation. A medical man, with whom he was intimate, perceived that the subject had laid such a hold upon his naturally excitable imagination, that he resorted to sedative medicines to avert the progress of an incipient malady, to which he had an organical predisposition. As long as he followed his physician's advice, he abstained from any acts of a very extravagant nature; but unhappily before the events took place, which formed the ground of a capital prosecution, he neglected to take his usual preventatives, and became utterly deranged. He suddenly fancied himself endowed with supernatural authority. This fantastic notion seized upon him in the midst of divine service; after the wild performance of which, he rushed into the public road that led from the chapel to his house, in search of an object for the manifestation of his miraculous powers. he was informed that a labourer of the name of Neill was confined by illness to his bed; and being convinced that he was possessed by an evil spirit, proceeded to effect the removal of the enemy. His singular demeanour attracted the attention of the passengers, who followed him to Neill's cottage; which he had no sooner entered, than he precipitated himself upon the sick man, and began his miraculous operations with marvellous vigour. A severe pommelling was the process of exorcism, which he regarded as most effectual. This he put into immediate and effectual practice. Neill did not attempt to resist this athletic antagonist of the devil. The unhappy gentleman had determined to take Beelzebub by storm. After a long assault, he succeeded in this strange achievement, and having informed the astonished by-standers that he had taken the enemy prisoner, announced that he should give him no quarter, but plunge him into the Red Sea. The manner of this aquatic ceremony was described by one of the witnesses, who endeavoured to illustrate it by his gesture. After uttering various cabalistic words, he whirled himself in a rapid rotation, with his arms outstretched, and then, suddenly pausing and raising himself into an attitude of importance befitting his new authority, advanced with one arm akimbo, and with the other extended, looking, as the witness expressed it, "as if he held the devil by the tail," and marched with a measured. pace and a mysterious aspect to a bridge upon the river Slaney, where he buried the captive demon in what he took for the Red Sea.

            'Not contented with this exploit, he exclaimed that Neill had seven more devils, which he was determined to expel from this peculiar object of diabolical predilection. The operation was accordingly repeated with such success, that Neill, after much strenuous expostulation, leaped out of his bed, and exclaimed that he was quite well. This circumstance produced a deep impression upon the crowd, amongst whom there were some Protestants; and two of the latter, a Mrs. Winter and her daughter, knelt down and called upon the Lord to assist Father Carroll in the perpetration of the next miracle, which, encouraged by their pious sympathies, he almost immediately proceeded to commit. A poor woman happened to pass along the road, whom he had no sooner observed, than he knocked her down, and pursued a mode of exorcism similar to that which I have described, with such effect, that one of the spectators cried out for the people to make way, "as he saw the devil coming out." This achievement only served to excite the wretched maniac, and impel him to another undertaking of the same kind. He insisted "that the devil had taken possession of Sinnott's child." The circumstances which I have detailed, and by no means endeavoured to exaggerate, would be merely ridiculous if they were not the result of a malady which humbles human nature: the incident by which they were succeeded ought to make Democritus shed tears. Sinnott had a child who had been affected by fits, and over whom the priest had been requested by its mother to say prayers. This was not only a natural, but I will add a reasonable application. It is not supposed by Roman Catholics that the prayers of a clergyman are endowed with any preternatural efficacy; but it is considered that praying over the sick is a pious and religious act. The recollection of this fatal request passed across the distempered mind of the madman, who hurried with an insane alacrity to Sinnott's cabin. It was composed of two rooms upon the ground-floor, in the smaller of which lay the little victim. It was indeed so contracted that it could not contain more than two or three persons. The crowd who followed the priest remained outside, and were utterly unconscious of what he was about to do. The father of the child was not in the house when Father Carroll entered it, and was prevented by the pressure in the exterior room from approaching him; and for some time after the death of the child was wholly unconscious of what had taken place.

            'No efforts whatever were made to prevent his interference. He was produced as a witness upon the trial, and swore that it did not enter his thoughts that Father Carroll intended to do the child the least harm. He could not, he said, even see the priest. It is enough to say, that after uttering a few feeble cries, and calling upon its "mammy," every sound became extinct. The madman had placed the child under a tub, and life was extinguished. It may well be imagined that the trial of this case excited a strong sensation in the county where the rebellion had raged with its most dangerous fury, and from which it will be long before its recollections will have entirely passed away. The Protestant party, forgetting that many of their own sect had taken a partial share in the proceedings, of which they had been at all events the passive witnesses, exhibited a proud and disdainful exultation, and effected a deep scorn for the intellectual debasement of which they alleged this event to be a manifest proof; while the Catholics disclosed a festered soreness upon an incident which, they could not fail to tell, was likely to expose them to much plausible imputation.'

            As these particulars, though somewhat extenuated, are pretty accurate, we shall only give the evidence of two of the witnesses on the trial.

            Philip Walsh, examined by Mr. Fox.-- Knows Sinnott; knew Catherine Sinnott the child; recollects seeing Father Carroll at Sinnott's house; went to the house after night-fall; thinks it might have been eleven o'clock when he went; went there and heard a noise inside, and then went in; the house was full of people; saw Father Carroll in the bed; did not see the child at that time; Carroll was sitting in the bed and was saying something; he then got up on his feet, and stood on the tub; heard the child cry, 'Mammy, mammy, save me;' saw the child, for the first time, next morning; the child was then dead; saw a tub in the room; was there before the tub was brought in; could not at that time get near the bed, the crowd was so great, but heard the people say the child was in it; heard Father Carroll call for some water; a bowl of water was then brought in, but the priest desired it to be taken away, and a tub of water to be brought. The tub was brought in by witness and James Devereux, one of the prisoners at the bar. Witness carried the tub close to where Father Carroll was, when the priest desired him to lift it on the bed. The priest was at this time standing on the bed; when the tub was settled on the bed, Father Carroll said some words over it, and threw some salt into the water; the priest then put his foot on the near handle of the tub, and upset the water, some part of it on his own feet, and the rest on the bed; the tub was turned upside down; the priest then said with a loud voice, 'Bury him, Jesus, in the depth of the Red Sea,' meaning, as witness believed, the devil; he said this, while he was overturning the tub; then the priest sat upon it, and afterwards stood and danced on it; the child all this time was under it; the priest stayed in the house till day-light. The priest ordered the people out of the room, and he, the witness, immediately went out; the priest desiring them in a loud voice not to touch his clothes, on which the people rushed out frightened, as they thought the devil was then escaping; saw the child s leg, and supposes the body was under the tub: saw the child dead in the morning; it was Sinnott's child; looked into the room after the priest turned the people out, and saw the priest sitting on the bed.

            Thomas Sinnott, the father of the child.-- Had a daughter named Catherine; she is dead; cannot recollect precisely the day on which she died; it was on the night that Father Carroll came to the house; the child was alive when Father Carroll arrived. When witness came into the house, he heard an unusual noise; he stopped and listened for a while, and heard the child crying. He made up to the child but was stopped; cannot say by whom he was stopped. Saw Father Carroll at the time; saw the head of the child; does not know at what hour the child's decease took place; did not see it but once; saw it dead in the bed. When he first came into the room, he saw the head of the child; thought the child was frightened by the noise. Some people desired him to kneel down, which he did; all the people knelt down and prayed; saw the priest in the room after the people had departed. The child was then dead; he took the child in his arms and showed it to the priest. Father Carroll desired him to lay it down on the bed. Did not ask the priest why he killed his child, as he thought he would return and bring it to life. At four o'clock in the morning the priest called him into the room, and he remained sitting with him on the bed for about five minutes. Father Carroll made no observation to him on the death of the child; but, said the witness, when I asked him what I was to do, he said, resign it to the will of God.

            Two physicians were examined for the defence, and it appearing that Carroll was insane at the time he committed the direful act, he was of course acquitted.

            Carroll's figure was tall and dignified. A large black cloak with a scarlet collar was fastened with a clasp round his neck, but not so closely as to conceal the ample chest, across which his arms were loosely and resignedly folded. His strong black hair was bound with a velvet band, to conceal the recent incisions made by the surgeon in his head. His countenance was smooth and finely chiselled; and it was observed by many that his features, which, though small, were marked, bore a miniature resemblance to Napoleon. His colour was dead and chalky, and it was impossible to perceive the least play or variety of emotion about the mouth, which continued open, and of the colour of ashes. On being called to plead, he remained silent. The Court was about to make an inquiry whether he was 'mute of malice,' when it was seen by a glance of his eye, that he was conscious of the purport of the question; and by the directions of his counsel he pleaded Not guilty. During the trial, which was conducted with the most exemplary moderation by the counsel for the crown, he retained his petrified and statute-like demeanour; and although the heat was most intense, the hue of his face and lips did not undergo the slightest change.

 

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