Friday, 18 June 2010
Rant For A Reverend
Whilst perusing our D10 collection, which is a box full of miscellaneous papers collected by a Kirkwall cabinet maker James Tait (yet another example of a useful collection pulled together by an amateur historian), I found a letter addressed to the Procurator Fiscal by a South Ronaldsay minister named John Gerard regarding the way that unwanted pregnancies were being dealt with in his parish.
Some of the ministers who we read about were very kind and understanding to unwed mothers in their Parish. Thomas Kay of North Ronaldsay, for example, allowed a young mother to baptise her illegitimate child in 1873 and persuaded the rest of the session that she was to be treated decently. Gerard, or "Old Gerard" as he was known begins his letter "Queen Anne put unmarried women to death who concealed their pregnancy - What is now the punishment, if any?"
Gerard was described as a passionate man, or, as my boss put it when I showed her the letter, 'crazy.' There is a lot of underlining and exclamation marks in the letter as he lists examples of abortions and illegitimate births in his Parish and tells of the young couples whom he has forced to marry, one girl whom he has dragged "politely"straight from her birthing bed.
There is one somewhat amusing tale of a girl who, Sonia-Eastenders-style did not realise that she was pregnant, took to her bed with pains, got up when the "curmurring in her guts" had stopped and then angrily demanded to know who had put a baby in her bed.
There are some very horrible tales within his letter, however, of infanticide and children being abandoned which I shall not share as they really are distressing. Gerard seems to have no sympathy for these girls who must have been terrified to find themselves in such a situation and whose fear of exposure drove them to terrible, previously unthinkable acts.