“Sir, When you can spare room in your Gazette, I think you will not be able to present your readers with an account so extraordinary and surprising, as the following.”
So began the letter, written to the Printer of the Bristol Gazette, from the Reverend William Robert Wake in the Summer of 1788. The account he wrote of was one of possession and exorcism that would spark a controversy and ignite bitter debate over belief versus non-belief, enlightenment versus superstition and materialism versus spiritual salvation. As the debates raged on, the facts fell by the wayside, leaving readers with a story of demonic possession or absurd playacting, depending on individual outlook.
Barry J. (2012) Methodism and Mummery: The Case of George Lukins. In: Witchcraft and Demonology in South-West England, 1640–1789. Palgrave Historical Studies in Witchcraft and Magic. Palgrave Macmillan, London
Grose, F. (1790) A Provincial Glossary With A Collection Of Local Proverbs And Popular Superstitions, S. Hooper, London
Norman, S. (1788) Authentic anecdotes of George Lukins, the Yatton doemoniac; with a view of the controversy, and a full refutation of the imposture, Bristol
Emory, J (1832) The Journal of the Reverend John Wesley: Sometime Fellow of Lincoln College, Oxford, Volume 2, J. Emory & B. Waugh, New York.
Young, F (2018) A History of Anglican Exorcism: Deliverance and Demonology in Church Ritual, I.B Tauris & Co. Ltd., London
R. W. Rev. (1792) A Narrative of the extraordinary case of George Lukins, of Yatton, Somersetshire: who was possessed of evil spirits, for near eighteen years. : Also an account of his remarkable deliverance, in the vestry-room of Temple Church, in the city of Bristol, extracted from the manuscripts of several persons who attended. : To which is prefixed, A letter from the Rev. W.R.W, Bristol.
Salisbury and Winchester Journal – Monday 23 June 1788, p.3
Stamford Mercury – Friday 04 July 1788. P.4
Tyne Mercury; Northumberland and Durham and Cumberland Gazette – Tuesday 19 February 1805 p.2
“Seizure Clusters.” Epilepsy Foundation, 10 May 2008, https://www.epilepsy.com/learn/professionals/refractory-seizures/potentially-remediable-causes/seizure-clusters.
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The Yatton Demoniac: George Lukins
“Sir, When you can spare room in your Gazette, I think you will not be able to present your readers with an account so extraordinary and surprising, as the following.”
So began the letter, written to the Printer of the Bristol Gazette, from the Reverend William Robert Wake in the Summer of 1788. The account he wrote of was one of possession and exorcism that would spark a controversy and ignite bitter debate over belief versus non-belief, enlightenment versus superstition and materialism versus spiritual salvation. As the debates raged on, the facts fell by the wayside, leaving readers with a story of demonic possession or absurd playacting, depending on individual outlook. This is Dark HIstories, where the facts are worse than fiction.
The 18th Century and George Lukins
The latter half of the 18th Century in England is a fascinating transitionary period in social history. Teetering on the edge of modern materialism and age-old superstition, belief flip flopped between rural and urban life, the rich and the poor and and those who felt dismay at the lack of spiritual well-being and those who found solace instead in the growing understanding of chemistry and the natural world. Although tempting, it is a period impossible to reduce to simple black and white belief systems, those who saw themselves as enlightened were often not as atheistic as one might imagine and those who were actively working within the church, were mired in just as many arguments concerning religious philosophy. The freedom of rational enquiry had tossed the century into a mish-mash of thoughts, theories and ideas.
Born in 1743, George Lukins lived in Yatton, a small Parish in the English county of Somerset, some 10 miles South-West from Bristol and 15 miles directly West of Bath.
In the latter half of the 18th Century, the entire Parish of Yatton housed a population of only around 3000 people, the main village rupturing from the sprawling green fields and hedgerows of rural, North Somerset. Lukins made his trade as a tailor in the village, well judged by the locals, he was a man of “extraordinary good character”, who had been a vigilant member of the churchgoing community for most of his life. Though technically he trained as a tailor, he was better known locally as a “mummer”, an actor in a local folk troupe who performed throughout the year, acting out both folk plays and Christmas nativities for the local church. His early life is more a less a mystery, a testament to the unspectacular nature of rural life for the average person, however, by 1769, things began to slide out of the realm of normalcy for George, as his life began trading away anonymity for a footnote in dusty regional texts and a story of the bizarre.
During the Christmas season of 1769, George lukins was performing the nativity for the local church with his troupe of mummers in the village of Yaton. One night, after performing for a local house owned by Mr Love, his acting group had chosen to drink with the host, engaging with his well known hospitality. The Loves enthusiasm for drink and good tidings was fairly extreme, as Lukins and the troupe reportedly got so drunk on the “strong bottled beer” that was offered up by Love that one member was taken home ill by 10pm. Later than night as they took to leave, Luskins fell over whilst trying to walk out of Mr Love’s house, knocking himself out cold. When he came to, he swore that he had been hit violently in the head and it was the blow that had sent him to the ground, rather than the drink. After he recovered he was escorted home by two of his neighbours, a Mr Avery and Mr Read, both of whom were also quite drunk by this point, and the three men drunkenly sang in the street all the way.
The next day, George Luskins awoke with what was probably a dreadful hangover, but much worse, he had seemingly taken to falling into fits. The fits would start with a violent shaking in his right hand that would spread to muscle spasms in his face and eventually, his whole body. It is at this point, things get a little weird.
“The influence of the fit has then commenced. He declares, in a roaring voice, that he is the devil, who with many execrations summons about him certain persons devoted to his will, and commands them to torture this unhappy patient with all the diabolical means in their power.”
If announcing oneself as the devil sounds strange, Luskins was just getting started. He would then burst into song, singing folk songs in both male and female voices, sing hymns of the Te Deum backwards, make various animal noises, including barking like a dog, violently contort his body and throws himself around the room, oftentimes hitting his head hard into the floor. When religious expressions or prayers are heard, Luskins would blurt out torrents of “blasphemy and outrage”, screaming as if in pain. In the various documents written by witnesses to these fits, several state that he appears driven to madness by any act of religion within his presence.
“The Demon then concludes the ceremony, by declaring his unalterable resolution to punish him for ever; and after breaking fiercely, and interspersing many assertions of his own diablocial dignity, the fit subsides into the same strong agitation of the hand that introduced it, and the patient recovers from its influence, utterly weakened and exhausted.”
These fits suffered by Luskins were not simple, quick affairs either. On average they tended to last around an hour each and he was witnessed as suffering from them up to seven times in a day, every day of the week and from 7am to 11pm. Eventually, assistants were brought in by the church to help him avoid injuring himself, holding him down while he attempted to throw himself into the floor, walls and furniture. Throughout the entire affair, his eyes remained closed, but he appeared fairly lucid, able to understand people who spoke to him and even on occasion responding to questions from curious onlookers.
Despite these fits, which continued for several years, George Luskins did somehow manage to continue a halfway normal existence, continuing to work in between bouts of fits, which would incapacitate him for several months at a time, then leave him for equal periods. Throughout the local church did attempt to help him with medical visits and eventually covered all fees and sent him to St Georges hospital in Middlesex, on 3rd May 1775 under the supervision of a Mr Avery, who attended him on the journey to ensure he did not hurt himself or fall to fits on the way. Lukins stayed in St George’s Hospital under close medical supervision until his discharge on 8th October of the same year. Whilst in hospital, a physician who visited him frequently claimed that he never once saw Lukins fall into fits and he was eventually diagnosed as a hypochondriac and dismissed as incurable. Later, in a letter written in reply to a sceptic who contacted the hospital to ask after Lukins’ time at St George’s, the hospital confirmed that although exact records were never kept of patients specific diagnoses, of the three members of staff who were working at the hospital during his stay, the Apothecary, chaplain and surgeon, none could remember seeing him fall into fits of any kind. Nevertheless, upon his return to Somerset, Lukins once again slipped into the familiar cycle of months with regular fits followed by periods of calm. The fits were getting no less bizarre, and still he would spend hours on end convulsing violently, swearing at religious figures and singing and talking in both male and female voices. The church continued their supply of care for the aggrieved Lukins, with doctors from Wrington, Bristol and Blackwell all attempting to cure his fits, one prescribing him heavy doses of Laudanum, to absolutely no beneficial effect. He bounced around homes within Yatton and the surrounding area, living for a time with his brother, who acted as assistant and carer until he was unable to handle the situation, promptly passing him off to the next in line. This may sound harsh, but it was, in fact, Lukins brother who was affording him such care in the first place. Well known and in good standing throughout the village of yatton, sympathy for George Lukins brother, who himself suffered due to his brothers condition, bought him a lot of patience and restraint from locals who perhaps saw his condition as little more than fakery. Throughout this period, Lukins began to blame witchcraft for his struggles, sure that some “Infirm old people” had bewitched him.
Eventually Lukins fits did begin to fade as the bouts of calm between periods of fitting gradually stretched out longer and longer until finally, he seemed to be clear from all of his past troubles for several years. Life almost seemed back to normal for George, but then, in 1787, his fits returned and this time, they came with a more assured self-diagnosis. Lukins was, he confidently told doctors and clergymen, possessed by seven demons, one of whom was the devil himself. Fortunately, this great insight into the fits for George also came with a cure, he needed to be visited by seven clergymen to cast out the demonic presence within him. Luckily for Lukins, there were people in the local area who were sympathetic to his plight and who were more than willing to exorcise the demonic presence that so plagued him.
The Exorcism of George Lukins
During the Spring of 1788, Lukins was living in Yatton, however his story was slowly spreading throughout the region. A member of the Temple Church in Bristol named Sarah Barber had come to know of his story through her husband, who had grown up in Yatton. Becoming aware that he was still suffering, she approached the vicar of the church, Reverend Joseph Easterbrook on 31st May, 1788, in order to seek his help in the matter and asked him to visit Yatton to see what he could do. Reverend Easterbook agreed to meet with Lukins,to determine the veracity of the possession claim. Whilst not overly keen to venture out to Yatton, Reverend Easterbrook instead agreed to house Lukins in Bristol, and so, on 7th June, 1788, Lukins travelled to Bristol, staying in Redcliffe Street with a Mr Jasper Westcote, under the care of Easterbrook, who on several occasions watched over his fits to determine whether or not he believed them to be demonic in nature, before eventually calling on a small group of local clergymen to determine their next move. He himself had decided that the case was fit for the church’s attention and so, he held a meeting in the Temple Church with three other priests, the Reverend Richard Symes, Rector of St. Westburgh, Reverend James Brown, Rector of Portishead and Reverend Dr Robins, the Precentor of Bristol Cathedral. The meeting did not go quite to plan, as though all three men agreed with Easterbrook that the affliction hanging over Lukins was of a supernatural nature, they declined to attend any meeting of prayer alongside Easterbrook in an attempt to cure the problem, essentially denying him any aid in an exorcism in the name of the Church of England.
Instead, Easterbrook contacted John Wesley of the Anglican church and one of the founders and leader of the Methodist movement in England. Whilst Wesley himself declined to participate in the planned exorcism, the exposure of the case in the local press and the perceived urgency from contacting Wesley, did conclude with the signing up of six other Methodist clergymen who agreed to partake in the ritual. Preparations were made within the methodist church and on on Friday 13th May, 1778, the seven priests gathered in the vestry room of the Temple Church in bristol to carry out their exorcism upon the demons that possessed Goerge Lukins. Alongside Reverend Joseph Easterbrook stood Reverend John Broadbent of Oxford, Reverend John Valton of Birstall, Revered Benjamin Rhodes of Keighley, Reverend Thomas McGeary of Bristol, Reverend Jeremiah Brettle of Lynn, and Reverend William Hunt of Westcote. The seven men were also joined by eight assistants, two of which were allotted the duty of holding down Lukins, should he fall into violent fits. It was 11am when the ritual finally got underway, and was prefaced by the singing of hymns thought proper for the situation.
“In a little time, the fit came out in the usual way, but his agitations, distortions, etc. grew stronger and stronger, till they became more dreadful than ever they appeared before. He was demanded by one of the ministers present, as the voice of them all, In the name of the Father, Son and the Holy Ghost, “Who he was?” but no reply. He was asked a second time, but no answer. It was urged again; he then grinned, and with a horrible voice exclaimed, “I am the Devil.” He was then asked, Why he tormented this man? He answered, “To shew my power among men.” Immediately on which he was strangely convulsed, and endeavoured to kick at a person who was near him, but was prevented by the exertions of two men, who were obliged to hold him during the time; he foamed at the mouth, his face was distorted to a degree beyond description, his body was thrown into different forms, and after some violent throws, he spake in a deep hjoarse hollow voice, calling the man to an account, and upbraiding him as a fool for bringing that silly company together; said it was to no purpose, and swore “By his infernal den,” that he would never quit his hold of him, but would torment him a thousand times worse for making this vain attempt.
“The voice of the demoniac was then compelled to sing in his usual manner; afterwards he blasphemed, boasted of his power, and vowed eternal vengeance on the miserable object, and on those present for daring to oppose him ; and commanded his “ faithful and obedient servants,” to appear and take their stations. He then spake in a female voice, very expressive of scorn and derision, and demanded to know “ Why the Tool had brought such a company there?” and swore “ By the Devil.” That he would not quit his hold of him, and bid defiance to, and cursed all who should attempt to rescue the miserable object from them. He then sung, in the same female voice a kind of love-song, at the conclusion of which he was violently tortured, and repeated most horrid imprecations. Another invisible agent came forth, assuming a different voice, but his manner much the same as the preceding one. A kind of dialogue was then sung in a hoarse and soft voice alternately, at the conclusion of which, as before, the man was thrown into violent agonies, and blasphemed in a manner too dreadful to be expressed. He then personated, and said, *f. I am the Devil and after much boasting of his power, and bidding defiance to all his opposers, sung a kind of hunting-song ; at the conclusion of which he was most violently tortured, so that it was with difficulty that two strong men could hold him, though he is but a small man and very weak in constitution.
Sometimes he would set up a hideous laugh, and at other times bark in a manner indescribably horrid. After this he summoned the host of infernals to appear, and drive the company away. And while the Ministers were engaged in fervent prayer, he sung a Te Deum to the Devil, in different voices, saying, “ We praise thee, O Devil! We acknowledge thee to be the supreme Governor, etc. etc.
When the noise was so great as to obstruct the company proceeding in prayer, they sang together a hymn suitable to the occasion. Whilst they were in prayer, the voice which personated the Devil bid them defiance, cursing and vowing dreadful vengeance on all present. The poor man still remained in great agonies and torture, and prayer was continued for his deliverance. A Clergyman present desired him to endeavour to speak the name of “Jesus,” and several times repeated it to him ; at all of which he replied “ Devil.” During this attempt, a small faint voice was heard, saying, “ Why don’t you adjure ?* On which the Clergyman commanded, In the name of Jesus, and in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost, the Evil Spirit to depart from the man which he repeated several times, when a voice was heard to say, “ MustI give up my power ? and this was followed with dreadful howlings. Soon after another voice, as with astonishment, said, “ Our master has deceived us.” The Clergyman still continuing to repeat the adjuration, a voice was heard to say, “Where shall we go ?” and the reply was,—“ To hell, thine own infernal den, and return no more to torment this man.”On this the man’s agitations and distortions were stronger than ever, attended with the most dreadful howling that can be conceived. But as soon as this conflict was over, he said, in his own natural voice, “Blessed Jesus!”—became quite serene, immediately praised God for his deliverance, and kneeling down said the Lord’s prayer, and then sang the 67th Psalm.”
At last, the ordeal for Lukins, which had lasted for over 18 years, was apparently over. The ordeal for the people involved however, was just about to begin.
George Lukins Hits the Press
In the run up to the exorcism of George Lukins in the vestry room of the Temple Church in Bristol, the story had already hit the local press around Somerset, mainly through the local paper, the Bristol gazette. For a period, it did manage to fly under the radar, but by the time of the exorcism itself, it had just started to bleed out into the national papers, through both syndication of stories and unique editorial pieces. By the end of June, it was quickly becoming something of a national scandal, helped in no small part to the publication of pamphlets that documented the event by Reverend Wake of Yatton and Reverend Easterbrook himself. The 23rd June saw the first stories printed concerning the case on a national scale,
“The very extraordinary circumstances of the case of George Lukins, a poor man of Yatton, in Somerset, who has been dreadfully afflicted with fits, at short intervals, for eighteen years past, during which he has constantly declared that he was the Devil, uttering at the same time many horrible expressions ; and who was delivered from his disorder on Friday the 13th instant at Bristol, seem likely to engage very much the attention of the public. We hear, it was the opinion of the poor afflicted man, in his intervals of reason, that if 7 pious clergymen of the Church of England were to use spiritual endeavours for his deliverance from his malady, he should be cured. Accordingly he was lately carried to Bristol, with a view to receive, if possible, the benefit of the spiritual endeavours of some pious Ministers of the Gospel. – The Reverend Easterbrook, and six others, whose names we have not yet learned, being persuaded that it was a case of diabolical possession solemnly offered up their prayers in Temple Church for his deliverance, on the 12th and 13th instance. During the time of service on this occasion the crowd assembled to be spectators of so extraordinary an event was very great. On the second day of intercession Mr Easterbrook is said to have risen up, and solemnly commanded the Evil Spirits, in the name of the father, Son and Holy Ghost, to depart out of this unhappy demoniak, and return from whence they came. – Our account, which we give as serious and authenticated, says, in substance, that the pious endeavours thus used have been so far blessed, that the poor man is really delivered from the distressful state in which he has lived for so long a period, and is now calmly and deeply thankful for so great and providential a deliverance. He immediately joined in the praise of Jesus, a name which he could not repeat, nor even hear before without blaspheming, howling, and making the most horrible and tremendous noises. A very circumstantial relation of this extraordinary case, and of the proceedings in the church at the time the poor man was relieved from his afflictions, will be given in the next County Magazine, which will be published on Tuesday the 1st of July. In which also will be given Mr Vagg’s ingenious plan, which he has now communicated, for the preservation and improvement of the culture of turnips, and for effectually preserving them for the depredations of the fly, slug and other insects. Price 3d.”
Perhaps the bizarre segway into slug repellent was a clue as to how serious the public should take the story in such a stage of infancy with regards to factual information, but if that was the case, it was certainly well ignored. The crowds that had gathered by the Temple Church at the time of the exorcism and the many readers of the Bristol Gazette were already running with the story in the local streets, spreading rumour and gossip like wildfire and by its next mention in the national papers, it was a tale decidedly more fantastical,
“A tailor, by name George Lukins, the second edition of the Cock Lane Fanny, has alarmed all the religious people about Bristol of late. It seems he has been possessed of seven devils, for eighteen years, which were lately cast out of him by seven clergymen! Every clergymen fought his devil most manfully for two hours, when, by dint of praying and singing, they were all kicked out of the pericranium of the poor tailor, and he went home in a renovated state of mind. The above seven persons, are called by all the Bristol wits, “The Devilish clever clergymen, that banged all the infernals out of the tailors hell!” It seems these imps got first into the tailors brain when he was a strolling player. This has somewhat affected the theatre, especially the galleries, as the sanctified Bristol cannaille, are afraid, on entering that unhallowed spot, that they shall be possessed with as many devils as George Lukins! The better sort of people, however, set him down as an artful imposter.”
The story may have been tongue in cheek and wholly sensational, but it contained two relatively interesting pieces of information. The first was to recall the case of the Cock Lane Ghost, a case which had wrapped up in recent memory and had caused a huge, nationwide scandal when a haunted house in central London that had been home to a seance group, communicating with the ghost for a prolonged period, had ended in murder and fraud. The second, was the final, rather blunt line, that suggested that “The better sort of people” so too believed George Lukins case to be fraudulent. Whilst seemingly throwaway in this story, for anyone following the story more closely, it was quite some understatement. As it happened, a debate had been raging throughout Bristol and in the local Gazette for weeks already.
In the local Bristol area, the case of George Lukins exorcism had caused much more controversy than the national papers were letting on and the disputes and debates were in full swing. Back in the 18th and 19th Centuries, newspapers would often include communications sent to the editor of a paper from the readership and such letters were often highly charged, sometimes pointing out errors within a particular story whilst others just voiced concerns or opinions on a given subject. At times, when a topic was hotly debated, the papers would continue to print replies back and forth between readers, displaying a full debate for all to see that could go on for months at a time, oftentimes with weeks in between rebuttals and replies. The case of George Lukins had apparently stirred a vipers nest of opinions, and as such, letters were flooding in to the editor of the Bristol gazette at a fair clip. Within this very public form of debate, three distinct camps had formed, based on three very different theories. In the first camp, the theory held that that Lukins was telling the truth and had been possessed and successfully exorcised of seven demons, just as Easterbrook and co had written of it. On the flipside, the second camp believed Lukins to simply be a fraudster and a liar, carrying out a deception for over eighteen years and fooling those around him, some more so than others. The third camp lay somewhere in between, be;lieveing Lukins to a degree, or at least, they believed him to not be a liar, however, their theory focused around his fits and blamed the strange phenomena in medical science, with most suggesting epilepsy as the cause.
As is probably expected, the most vocal camp was that of the unbelievers, those that thought that Lukins was a fraud and had been leading people up the garden path for eighteen long years. The debates quickly became bitter, with reasonably high stakes laid out on all sides. For the “enlightened”, or those that sought rationality in all things, the exorcism was a backslide into a supernatural age where verifiable fact and science was discarded, in favour of religious faith, whilst on the religious front, the case both bolstered belief in the Gospels and signalled a victory for the methodist church, which opposed the authority of the established institutions and was slowly embroiling itself in a battle of beliefs with the Church of England. One of the most outspoken opponents to Easterbrooks take on events was Samuel Norton, a surgeon from Yatton who had known Lukins and his case for many years, having lived with him at an earlier point and taking him under his medical care for a period. Norton was firmly of the opinion that Lukins was a fraudster, and wrote to the papers to express his opinion in no uncertain terms.
“In June 1770, I settled in Yatton and for some time lodged with this man ; so that I had frequent opportunities to see him in his fits ; in every one of which except in singing, he performed not more than most active young people can easily do. I except singing for this reason, because many have neither an ear for music nor knowledge of notes ; but from his youth this man was, as it were, bred to singing.”
“Allowing for his increase of years, I have not known him look better than at the present time ; and if walking between twenty and thirty miles in seven or eight hours is not a full proof of his strength which he has done very lately, I wish to know what will or can be deemed such. With equal truth is the assertion made, of his keeping his eyes fast during his fits, for he takes care frequently to peep, or slyly to squint at his wife’s visitors. The late pious Mr Wake, our vicar, soon looked upon his pretences with due contempt. And I hope this plain account of the subject will prevent the honest and well meaning from being deceived by groundless pretences.”
Norton also claimed that Lukins many contortions, though unusual were down to nothing but Lukins “determination”. What followed was a torrent of bitter debate from several writers, signing their pen-names with dramatic flair such as Jutitae Vindex, Anti-Fanatic and Amicus, though it seems highly likely that these pen names served a purpose more than simple dramatics, but concealed the fact that many of the writers were, according to Norton, Reverend Easterbrook under false names in an attempt to bolster his arguments standing up for the account of Lukins possession and exorcism. The communications quickly turned bitter, with writers calling one or the others accounts “gross nonsense” and “willful misrepresentations” of the truth. The papers eventually began to draw back their coverage of the story, with most deciding to leave the truth to the readers own decision.
Meanwhile, throughout the same period, Reverend Easterbrook was pushing his quest for truth on the ground. He had scripted a certificate of authenticity and had passed it to Reverends Westcote and Hunt to take it door to door around the village of Yatton, asking people to sign the document, stating that Lukins case was entirely factual. The certificate did not go down overly well, nor achieve much, as no one agreed to sign and eventually Westcote and Hunt withdrew, with the whole campaign judged as a failure.
By September, the savage correspondences were slowly becoming replaced by letters of the public calling for an end to the squabbling and pleading for simply the facts. With none forthcoming, the papers dropped the story entirely and the case of George Lukins slipped instead, to the hands of the satirists,
“The controversy has been managed on both sides in a manner and with spirits so different, that the cloven foot is discernible in almost every line.”
Once the satirists had their own fun with the story, December saw the case of George Lukins quietly fade into the dusty pages of Somerset history with no conclusions given and no facts settled. Lukins himself seemed to return to a quiet life in Yatton, though there are records that he claimed financial relief from the church in 1788 and then went on to live as a beggar in Bristol, suggesting that his return to life as a tailor had not been as smooth as he may have hoped. George Lukins died in 1805, his obituary in the local somerset papers afforded him the headline, “Once a subject of popularity as a demoniac”,
“Monday fe’nnight, George Lukins, late of Yatton. He had for a great length of time been an outpatient at the Bristol infirmary, for a bad leg and hyperchondrical affections ; he was reduced to beggary, and picked up a seanty subsistence by the sale of little books, and the contributions of those who remembered his marvellous history. He lived, laterly, with the famous fortune telling woman at Bedminster, now deceased, into whose money-getting trade he appears to have been initiated. It would, no doubt, be matter of surprise if such a man could die in such a house, surrounded by spells and incantations, without something preternatural attending his departure. – The good people who saw him breath his last assert that he barked like a dog, most vehemently, and that the howlings and lamentations (we presume exultations) of seven demons who were exorcised in the vestry room of Temple parish, some years ago, and laid in the red sea, were so terrible that the people could scarce bear the noise. All the candles burned blue, and nothing but a plentiful supply of gin and scotch snuff could possibly have overcome the sulphurous exaltations which pervaded the chamber, and have preserved the delicate nerves of the ladies who assembled on the terrible occasion.”
As time passed, the case still managed to crop up from time to time, and each with a different theory. In 1820, a London Magazine called the whole affair an “abominable farce” that had brought established religion into contempt. Four years later, The Mirror newspaper claimed that Lukins body and mind had been “distorted by epilepsy” and in 1832, the Christian Observer claimed that Lukins himself had admitted the whole thing a fakery on his deathbed. Still, almost 60 years on, it seemed no one could make up their minds as to the facts of the case and which, if any, of the established elements of the story could be relied upon.
One of the most difficult elements to explain for the unbelievers seemed to be Lukins motives for playing out the fraud, as no theories were seemingly ever suggested. Lukins was, according to them, simply a fraud and that was the important fact of the day, with no need to elucidate on the whys and wherefores of the matter. When considering it today, however, it seems a glaring omission that degrades the strength of their argument. Why did Lukins play out such a long, drawn out fraud, for what was, essentially, no gain? His only “profit”, if it could be called such a thing, were the medical visits that were paid for by the church. His brother, who was deemed a man of good standing in the area, apparently suffered from his brothers reputation as a demoniac, so it seems reasonable to assume that Lukins reputation would have suffered equally, if not more so, as demonstrated by the fact he ended his life as a beggar, despite having a good trade as a tailor.
If, on the other hand, he had been suffering from epilepsy, how had he managed to maintain such long periods of calm between bouts of fits? Whilst clusters of seizures are a medically recognised form of epilepsy, though usually the clusters are condensed into a much shorter time frame and the overriding hallmark of the disorder is the spontaneity and unpredictability of fits. If it truly was epilepsy, one would normally assume them to have had a much greater effect on Lukins overall health too, however, it seems even during his bouts of seizures, though some remarked him as “emaciated” others pointed out that he appeared perfectly healthy. Lastly, if it was epilepsy, how was he able to remain lucid throughout his fits, even answering questions on occasion?
And so we are left to ask if Lukins was simply possessed by some kind of supernatural force. It goes without saying that there is no solid evidence to suggest he was, other than the words and opinions of those religious men that already were in a position of belief to begin with. Though the Revered Easterbrook tells us at the end of his pamphlet that Lukins was delivered from his suffering at the end of the exorcism, even his final years are wide open to debate, with no confident data on whether or not he ever fully recovered from his fits or not.
Finally we are left with a fascinating story that lies as a footnote in Somerset County history, all but nearly forgotten. Was his story, as signed by several members of the church, a “true and faithful account” or, one of fraud and “gross nonsense”, as claimed the dissenters? Or was george Lukins perhaps simply a prankster, or more tragically, a man suffering a debilitating disorder, caught in the crossfire of a bitter clash of beliefs in a time when the stakes of such debates were far higher than the possibilities of what was true and what was false?