Southcott, Joanna (1750–1814)
British prophetess of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries
who announced that she had a divine pregnancy. She was
born on April 25, 1750, one of the daughters of a farmer in the
village of Gittisham, East Devon, England. She grew up in a devout
religious atmosphere, being obliged to read a chapter of
the Bible daily and discuss it with her father. She became a sturdy,
vivacious, self-reliant young woman.
When she was 21, her father because ill, obliging her to take
charge of the farm, which she managed admirably for a couple
of years until her father recovered. Southcott left the farm and
went into domestic service for five years at the house of an upholsterer
in Exeter, where she also became skilled in the trade.
She next went to work as a maid for a couple named Taylor.
For 42 years Joanna had lived a normal life, but in 1792, at
the time of her menopause, she began to have strange experiences.
Southcott’s Prophetic Career
These were apocalyptic times. In France, revolutionary
mobs had stormed the king’s palace, and the houses of noblemen
were in flames. Radical propagandists sought to foment
revolution in Britain. Tom Paine’s The Rights of Man had just
been published. Several extreme religious movements had appeared.
Among the prophetic voices was that of a young naval officer,
Richard Brothers. Brothers immersed himself in Bible
study and preached powerful sermons on his apocalyptic visions,
with warnings of the Day of Doom. He believed that the
time had come for the Jews to regain Palestine, that the British
were a lost tribe of Israel, and that the Second Coming of the
Lord was at hand. Brothers was eventually arrested and
charged with ‘‘maliciously publishing fantastical prophecies
with intent to cause disturbances,’’ certified as insane, and sent
to a mental asylum, where he stayed for 11 years.
About this time Southcott also began to have similar apocalyptic
dreams and visions. She was visited by a ‘‘voice,’’ which
told her,’’The Lord is awakened out of sleep. He will terribly
shake the earth.’’ At first, Southcott thought she was being deluded
by Satan, but the voice began to make amazingly accurate
prophecies about events, both great and small.
Asked for a sign, the voice knocked three times on the bedstead—an
early precursor of the raps at nineteenth-century
Spiritualist séances. Then she suddenly found her hand writing
messages without conscious guidance. She stated, ‘‘The writing
comes extremely fast, much faster than I could keep up by voluntary
effort. I have to turn over the pages and guard the lines
of writing from running into each other; but, except for this,
I need not look at the paper. I can talk on other subjects while
writing. The mass of the writings consists in teachings on Religion.
Some messages, however, deal with earthly matters.’’
Many of the writings were in simple verse form.
When her prophecies on domestic affairs began to be vindicated,
Southcott became confident that the voice was a true
guide, and she attempted to interest religious authorities in her
messages. A Methodist preacher listened to her, then pronounced,
‘‘This is from Satan to disturb your peace.’’ She approached
the Dissenters, but their minister stated that her revelations
were unscriptural. She then turned to the established
Church and wrote to a preacher named Joseph Pomeroy, vicar
of St. Kew in Cornwall, who had himself warned of perilous
times to come.
Pomeroy received her kindly and said he saw nothing diabolical
in the messages, but he told her mistress, Mrs. Taylor,
‘‘She will be out of her mind soon.’’ On a subsequent visit,
Southcott spoke to Pomeroy of impending events of an apocalyptical
nature, and he said, ‘‘You have advanced things that
make me shudder. It is bordering on blasphemy.’’ At a loss to
refute her sincerity, he suggested that she have her writings examined
by a jury of clergymen.
Thereupon Southcott sent Pomeroy a number of prophecies
that were fulfilled. She predicted that the bishop of Exeter,
then in good health, would not live until Christmas of that year.
He died on December 12. In 1796 Lord Malmesbury went on
a peace mission to Paris. Southcott foretold that it would fail,
and so it did. At that time it would have seemed unreasonable
to believe that the French revolutionary armies would conquer
Italy, as predicted by Southcott, but young Bonaparte’s success
brought this to pass. Southcott was sincerely convinced that her
messages were from God.
In 1797, Southcott left the service of the Taylors and went
to work for several Exeter tradesmen in upholstering. She was
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a good worker, and her income helped to support her father,
who was ill again. She also saved some money for her eventual
retirement.
All this time her messages continued. Joanna introduced an
early feminist view into her messages, claiming that when the
time was right, God would use a woman to fulfill divine purpose.
She stated, ‘‘Is it a new thing for a woman to deliver her
people Did not Esther do it And Judith Was it not a woman
that nailed Sisera to the ground’’ She became convinced that
she herself was the destined ‘‘Bride of the Lamb,’’ ‘‘woman
clothed with the sun’’ in Revelation (121). In 1794, her voice
had stated, ‘‘Now I’ll tell thee who thou art, The true and faithful
Bride.’’
Southcott alarmed Pomeroy with what seemed to him a blasphemous
claim, as well as with more prophecies. She demanded
that her messages be considered by a panel of clergymen.
She wrote to the bishop, the archdeacon, and the chancellor,
urging them to visit Pomeroy and test her teaching. On January
5, 1801, she wrote again to five clergymen, asking them to
prove within seven days that the messages were not divine revelations.
After a week she heard nothing, so she took her messages
to an Exeter printer, paying him £100 she had saved for
her old age.
In February of that year, The Strange Effects of Faith appeared
as a 48-page, nine-penny pamphlet describing how the messages
had come to Southcott and how she had sought to get
clerical recognition of them. The following month she published
Second Part. By now, her life savings were exhausted, so
she borrowed from a moneylender to sponsor publication of
further parts.
Rev. T. P. Foley, fellow of Jesus College, Cambridge, an intelligent,
educated man and a former follower of the unfortunate
fanatic Richard Brothers, saw these modest pamphlets
and was immediately impressed with them. He consulted other
friends, including the engraver William Sharp (who had also
been a follower of Brothers’s), and they attempted to interest
clergymen in forming a jury to consider Southcott’s writings.
Afterward, many of the prophecies and other papers were put
in a box fastened with cords and sealed with seven seals. Sharp
had charge of this. The sealed box was later to become a central
point in controversies over the writings.
When some of Southcott’s followers printed her letters,
Pomeroy was alarmed to find his name frequently quoted, and
in a weak moment threw her papers on the fire. Almost immediately
he had a letter from Southcott demanding their return,
and thereafter his life was made miserable by scores of letters
from her and her followers, denouncing him as a second Johoiakim
who burned the roll of the prophet and threatening
him with divine and diabolical justice.
The Seals
As Southcott’s followers increased, she devised a strange
sign of her mission, her famous ‘‘seal.’’ Years earlier, when
working in the shop of Mr. and Mrs. Taylor, she had found a
seal with the initials ‘‘I. C.’’ and two stars. One day she formed
the idea that these were the initials of Jesus Christ (‘‘I’’ and ‘‘J’’
were then interchangeable as initials) and marked her prophecies
with this seal. Now the idea came to her that this also indicated
the sealing of believers as well as prophetic writings, as
cited in Rev. 73 ‘‘Hurt not the earth till we have sealed the servants
of our God.’’
She cut paper into squares and marked a circle on each
square, writing inside, ‘‘The Seal of the Lord, the Elect and Precious,
Man’s Redemption to Inherit the Tree of Life, to be
made Heirs of God and Joint Heirs with Jesus Christ.’’ Her followers
received one of these squares after signing it, and it was
folded up like an envelope and marked with the ‘‘I. C.’’ seal.
Within a year she had issued several thousand of these
‘‘seals.’’ Unfortunately she was accused of selling them and
making a handsome income, although she claimed the seals
were freely issued without any charge. (It is possible that middlemen
asked money for them, since many people regarded
them as lucky charms or passports to heaven.)
The Ministry Prospers
From time to time, Southcott was genuinely tortured by
doubts as to whether her inner voice was a delusion of Satan,
and she toyed with the idea of giving up her mission and going
back to the upholstery trade. Some of her prophecies had
failed. After one period of depression, she published her
doubts in a pamphlet titled ‘‘A Dispute between the Woman
and the Powers of Darkness.’’ It seemed to be an honest work
by a sincere woman, caught up in a strange mission that she
had never sought.
But after 18 months her mission grew rapidly, with followers
in London and the provinces, and she soon enrolled more than
eight thousand disciples. She continued to demand that the
bishops examine her claims and prophecies and agreed to
abide by their decision, but the church dignitaries were unwilling
to become involved.
Her mission continued to grow in spite of various unfortunate
setbacks. One of these was the case of the infamous Mary
Bateman, thief and abortionist, who had obtained a seal from
Southcott and claimed that her hens were laying eggs with an
inscription announcing the coming of Christ. Mary Bateman
was executed for the murder of Rebecca Perigo, whom she had
unmercifully fleeced for years by selling her charms against
evil. For a time this scandalous episode of one of the ‘‘sealed
followers’’ caused much embarrassment to the movement.
But Southcott’s writings sold well, and many people who had
followed the unfortunate Richard Brothers now came to join
her mission. In 1812 a legacy from a disciple gave her financial
independence. During 1813 her ecstasies increased and she
felt surrounded by angels.
Shiloh
Southcott was 64 years old when her ‘‘voice’’ commanded,
‘‘Order twelve gowns for thy wedding.’’ She was greatly disconcerted
by this, as she had no desire for matrimony, but in early
1814 the voice added, ‘‘This year in the sixty-fifth year of thy
age thou shalt bear a son by the power of the Most High.’’ Back
in 1794, she had already declared her conviction that she was
‘‘the Bride of the Lamb,’’ but now the full significance of this
dawned on her. The Virgin Mary had born a divine son. Southcott’s
child would have a divine destiny.
In Genesis (4910) Jacob says that the scepter will not depart
from Judah ‘‘until Shiloh come.’’ This passage has confused
and comforted many religious prophets, including Richard
Brothers, who had declared at one point, ‘‘I am Shiloh.’’ Southcott
believed Brothers misunderstood the passage; Shiloh was
to arise in the Last Days. In March 1814 she declared her belief
that Shiloh was her unborn child. By then she showed every
sign of pregnancy, and astonishingly enough this was confirmed
by a leading surgeon and no fewer than 20 other medical
practitioners.
The followers received the news of the coming divine virgin
birth with great joy, and gifts flowed in. A satinwood cradle for
the baby was prepared at a cost of £200. A superbly bound Bible
was presented, and dozens of christening mugs and pap
spoons. Recalling her message to Pomeroy (the Cornwall vicar)
that she was the bride mentioned in Scripture, Southcott concluded
that she must make an earthly marriage so that Shiloh
would have a foster father, as with Joseph and the child Jesus.
Accordingly on November 12 she was married in her bedroom
to John Smith, steward of the earl of Darnley.
Southcott expected the divine birth in July, but as late as
September nothing had happened. During November, painful
doubts began to manifest in her mind, and once again she
began to wonder if her voice had misled her. She called her
close friends to her bedside and confessed despairingly, ‘‘Now
it all appears delusion.’’ She grew weaker, and by December 16
the symptoms of pregnancy had vanished. She told her doctor
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she was gradually dying, and requested that after her presumed
death her body be kept warm for four days, in case she was only
in a trance. She died early in the morning on December 27.
After the four days had elapsed, her doctor and 14 other
medical practitioners examined the body and found no organic
disease beyond a condition of dropsy, which may have enhanced
the false pregnancy. It is probable that Southcott suffered
a deep depression and no longer wished to live after her
final disillusionment with her divine mission.
Just before her death she had made a will in which she sadly
claimed that she had been deceived by the Devil and directed
that all the gifts intended for the coming Shiloh be returned to
their donors. She was buried in Marylebone Cemetery, London,
on January 2, 1815, and her tombstone, evidently supplied
by a follower, predicted great wonders yet to come but inaccurately
stated her age as 60 instead of 64. The tombstone
was shattered in a gunpowder explosion at Regent’s Park in
1874.
The Successors of Joanna Southcott
Her death and recantation left her thousands of followers in
great confusion. A large number refused to believe that her
mission had been a delusion. Others formed splinter groups.
Among these was a group led by George Turner, ‘‘Herald of
Shiloh,’’ who claimed to be Southcott’s successor. He explained
that Shiloh had been taken from Southcott’s womb into Paradise
until the appointed time.
Turner’s demented ‘‘Proclamation of the Final Days’’ was to
be delivered in Palace Yard, London. It denounced ‘‘the Treasury,
Horse Guards, Carlton House, the Playhouses, Churches
and Chapels, the Tower, Somerset House, and other public
places. The Angel of the Lord shall sink all by earthquake.’’ His
radical manifesto dictated, ‘‘The whole United Kingdom is to
be divided to the People on the Roll. Those who are not worth
a penny now must be lords of the land. No rents must be paid.
No postage for letters. No turnpikes. No taxes. Porter a gallon
for one half-penny. Ale the same. The dead must be carried in
carts three miles from the city and put into deep pits covered
with pigs’ flesh.’’
Confined to a Quaker asylum for the insane, Turner continued
with fantastic directions for his faithful followers. Shiloh’s
palace must have walls of pure gold adorned with precious
stones. ‘‘There must be in attendance 70,000 men that play
musical instruments and 70,000 singing women. He must have
500,000 servants, and his carriages must be of pure gold.’’ Turner
himself was to have 300,000 servants and accommodations
similar to those of Shiloh.
In 1820 Turner was declared cured of insanity, and his followers
petitioned the lord chancellor for his release, granted a
few months later. After an extravagant ‘‘marriage supper,’’
Turner promised that Shiloh would appear in London on October
14, being born as a boy already six years old. When the
date passed uneventfully, the faithful took it as merely a divine
test of their love. Turner’s own ‘‘voice’’ ordered him to marry,
so that Shiloh might have a foster mother. Accordingly Turner
chose a wife, and a new date of April 10, 1821, was pronounced
for the birth of Shiloh. When nothing happened, some followers
were disillusioned; others followed rival leaders.
Visions came to a wool comber named John Wroe, another
Southcott follower, who came into prominence when he challenged
Turner’s original prophecy of October 14, 1820, as the
date of birth of Shiloh. Wroe now assumed control of Turner’s
group, and his followers proclaimed themselves Christian Israelites.
Wroe dictated new laws for the Final Days. Males were
to be circumcised, and everyone was to eat only kosher meat.
Men had to wear dark, broad-brimmed hats and special clothing;
even the sober dress for women was stipulated in great detail.
Men were also to give up shaving and wear beards. Everyone
was to give up snuff, tobacco, and alcohol. Those who
transgressed these laws were to be severely beaten.
One child died after circumcision and the man performing
the operation was charged with manslaughter. He was acquitted
after Jewish leaders pressured the government, fearing that
their own legitimate rite would be prohibited.
Eventually the movement renounced Wroe after persistent
debaucheries on his part, but he emigrated to the United States
and then to Australia, where his mission continued to have followers.
He died in 1863. The Christian Israelite church continues
in Australia, and there was one congregation in the United
States as of the mid-1990s.
Meanwhile another large group of Southcott believers had
followed John Ward, a pauper Irish shoemaker. He had been
a disciple of George Turner’s before his faith in Southcott was
shaken when he read an attack on the New Testament account
of Christ by the freethinker Richard Carlile. Eventually he concluded
that the Scriptures were not history but prophecies,
foretelling future events, and that the accounts of the birth of
Jesus were allegorical. He had visions of Southcott, who told
him, ‘‘Thou art Shiloh.’’
Ward eventually decided that he himself was the Jesus foretold
in the Gospels, in part because he had been born on
Christmas Day and his mother’s name was Mary. Even more
fantastic was Ward’s belief that he was Satan before becoming
Christ, and that the Devil was now the Son of God. All the
Scriptures implicated him in a multiplicity of roles. He was
Adam, Judah, and Elijah. He claimed, ‘‘There is no name in
Scripture which I may not with propriety apply to myself.’’ Because
of the many texts using the name Zion, he chose this designation
for himself, becoming known as ‘‘Zion Ward.’’
Ward escaped from the poorhouse where he had been confined
and talked followers into supporting his mission by publishing
literature and handbills. He roamed the country
preaching his unique variety of messianism, which included attacks
on landlords, the government, and the established
Church. He was a remarkable orator and obtained considerable
support for his mission. Eventually his health broke down,
and he died of a stroke on March 12, 1837. Faithful followers
continued to support him long after his death, and as late as
1921 one supporter published his book The Shilohites’ Bible. By
then there was no public mission, and a handful of the faithful
simply read his books and meditated on his message.
In 1875, the Southcott followers were given a new direction
by another prophet, a soldier named James White, whose
friends called him ‘‘The Stranger.’’ Like Southcott, he was inspired
by a mysterious voice that ordered him to regroup the
faithful. He adopted the name James Jershom Jezreel. ‘‘Jershom’’
was a misspelling of ‘‘Gershom,’’ the name of the first
child of Moses. ‘‘Jezreel’’ came from Hosea ‘‘Then shall the
children of Israel and the children of Judah be gathered together
and appoint themselves one Head, for great shall be the
day of Jezreel.’’
White published a book, titled The Flying Roll (derived from
the book of Zechariah), outlining his new creed. In Rev. 82,
seven angels are given seven trumpets to sound before the Day
of Doom. According to White, these angels were seven prophets.
The first five were Richard Brothers, Southcott, George
Turner, a man named Shaw (another Southcott successor), and
John Wroe. White was the sixth angel. One more prophet
would arise, then Shiloh would come.
One of Jezreel’s important converts was a girl of 15 named
Clarissa Rogers. She too heard a mystical voice, which called on
her to preach in the United States. Her beauty and eloquence
converted many Americans, some of whom returned with her
to Gillingham, Kent, where Jezreel had become established.
Jezreel married her, and they both toured America in 1880
with six wagons, a large tent, and a hundred benches.
They collected enough financial support to enable them to
buy a 20-acre site in Gillingham, where they built a housing estate
for their followers, with shops and bakeries so that they
could pursue a trade. They ran a successful delivery service in
Gillingham and Chatham with their carts, selling bread, meat,
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produce, and other provisions. The Jezreel estate also had the
International College for boys and girls, with special emphasis
on harp playing and study of Jezreel’s writings.
In 1884, after a successful tour in Australia, Jezreel returned
with ambitious plans for a temple, cubic in shape, 100 feet high,
100 feet wide, and 100 feet long. It was to house printing presses,
offices, and an assembly hall seating six thousand people.
The walls were to be reinforced with steel girders and cement
used instead of mortar, and it was to last for a thousand years.
After six months’ building, Jezreel died in March 1885.
His wife, who had adopted the name Esther, continued to
develop the movement effectively, opening Jezreel chapels in
many areas and employing hawkers to carry the movement’s
literature all over the country. There were Jezreel followers in
the United States, Australia, and New Zealand. Esther was accepted
as the seventh angel with a trumpet, to be followed by
Shiloh. She died in 1888, only three years after her husband.
The great temple remained unfinished.
After her death, quarrels and schisms arose in the movement.
One branch followed Michael Keyfor Mills, who organized
a Jezreel community in Detroit, Michigan, but it soon
broke up. In 1903 Benjamin Purnell, who had been expelled
from the Detroit community, founded his own colony, the
House of David, in Benton Harbor, Michigan. Things went well
for several years, and their orchestra and baseball team became
famous.
Problems began in 1926, when the community had nine
hundred colonists. Four years earlier, Purnell had stopped
making public appearances and disappeared from public sight,
but in 1926 he was arrested during a police raid on the community.
A lengthy investigation and court proceeding followed. In
1927 the colony was declared a public nuisance and moved into
receivership. Purnell and his wife, Mary, were excluded from
further association with the colony. Purnell died on December
16. Mary Purnell began a lengthy fight for the return of the colony’s
property, and in 1930 a settlement was reached. Assets
were divided between her and H. T. Dewhist, who had assumed
control of the House of David following Purnell’s arrest.
The House of David continues on its original land. Mary
Purnell and her followers established a second community a
short distance away. Both continue to the present time. An Australian
branch of the House of David also survives.
The Panacea Society
The final phase of the Southcott movement commenced in
1907 and involved four ladies who became skillful propagandists
for the movement. They were Alice Seymour, who edited
editions of Southcott’s books; Rachel Fox, a Quaker; her friend
Helen Exeter, who received Spiritualistic messages about Joanna
Southcott’s sealed box; and Mabel Barltrop, widow of an Anglican
curate, who was a godchild of the poet Coventry Patmore.
Mabel Barltrop pestered innumerable clergymen and bishops,
demanding that they open Southcott’s box. She joined
forces with Helen Exeter, whose spirit messages through automatic
writing informed her that she would be the mother of
Shiloh. Exeter, who was to be the eighth prophet, adopted the
name Octavia.
Octavia established a settlement at Bedford, and many supporters
of the emerging suffragette movement joined her. She
continued to badger the bishops to open Southcott’s box and
study the writings and prophecies it contained. For 20 years she
propagandized with handbills, posters, and petitions.
In 1918 the bishop of Lambeth stated that he had the consent
of 24 bishops to receive the box and open it on March 7
or 8. But Octavia’s followers were not satisfied unless all the
bishops were prepared to spend a whole week studying the contents.
Not surprisingly, Bishop Carpenter could not agree, and
the matter was dropped. It was the nearest the famous box ever
came to being officially examined as Southcott had always desired.
By this time Octavia had been declared to be Shiloh by her
followers. By 1920 she had a team of 36 residents at Bedford
and a large following in Britain, Australia, and America.
In 1923 the movement took a new direction. One night Octavia
tried to swallow a pill, but it slipped away and rolled under
a cupboard. Accordingly she took the glass of water and prayed
that it would serve the purpose of the pill. When it did, her
voice proclaimed that she had been given healing powers.
Thereafter the community prepared small linen squares ‘‘with
the breath of prayer.’’ These were to be dipped in water, which
was to be drunk or poured onto wounds. The community
adopted the name The Panacea Society, convinced that they
had a universal remedy for all ills.
Octavia herself died in 1934, notwithstanding the universal
remedy, but her movement continues.
The Opening of the Southcott Box
For decades, quaint notices continued to appear in British
newspapers stating, ‘‘War, disease, crime and banditry will increase
until the Bishops open Joanna Southcott’s box.’’
In 1927 an attempt to resolve this persistent controversy was
undertaken by the British psychical researcher Harry Price,
who had a great flair for publicity. On April 28, 1927, he arrived
at his National Laboratory of Psychical Research to be
greeted by his secretary with the news ‘‘Joanna Southcott’s box
has arrived!’’ According to Price, it had been sent by the employer
of two servants who were descendants of Mrs. Rebecca
Morgan (née Pengarth), said to have been the sole companion
of Southcott between 1798 and 1814. The cover letter stated
that the Morgans had become custodians of Southcott’s box,
which had been earlier entrusted to Rebecca, and that the National
Laboratory of Psychical Research should arrange for a
formal opening of the box because the writer was moving to the
United States.
This account has been challenged by Trevor H. Hall in his
book The Search for Harry Price (1978), which suggests that the
letter was a forgery by Price to obtain publicity for the box. It
is true that there is no mention of Rebecca Pengarth as a companion
to Southcott in histories of the movement, although the
box itself appeared to be a genuine Southcott relic, however
Price came into possession of it. It was a strongly built casket
of walnut, stained with age, with a heavy lid with a mother-ofpearl
plate bearing the engraved initials ‘‘I. S.’’ (i.e., J. S.). The
casket was secured by two rusty steel bands and by strong silk
tapes secured in five places with large black seals bearing a profile
of George III.
Price invited eight psychics, a psychologist, and a dowser to
inspect the box and give their impressions of its contents. Most
of the psychometric impressions proved reasonably accurate.
When Price later x-rayed the box in his laboratory he identified
the following objects an old horse pistol, a dice box, a fob
purse with coins in it, a bone puzzle with rings, some blocks
(one with metal clasps), a framed painting or miniature, a pair
of earrings, and a cameo or engraved pebble.
Price secured much publicity for the box, and sensational
stories were published that it might contain a boobytrap bomb
intended to kill the bishops. Price wrote to three archbishops
and 80 bishops stating his intention to make a formal opening
of the box, and asking if they would consent to be present to
honor Southcott’s wishes and perhaps to end the persistent superstition
surrounding the box.
Some replies were noncommittal. The bishop of Derby
hoped that Price could get a quorum for the opening in order
to ‘‘lay to rest the Joanna Southcott legend.’’ The bishop of Lincoln
strongly advised opening the box ‘‘with or without the
presence of bishops.’’ The bishop of Liverpool wrote ‘‘I join
you in hoping that the Southcott myth will be exploded.’’ In
contrast, the bishop of Kensington was unsympathetic, saying
that he did not wish to be a party to providing amusement for
a public that would like nothing better than to see a company
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of bishops the victims of a hoax, even if it had been arranged
one hundred years earlier.
However, the bishop of Chichester wrote that he would be
glad if the Southcott myth could be exploded and would be
willing to be present, if in London at the time. The bishop of
London replied that he would try to be present. The bishop of
Carlisle replied that he would be present if the archbishop of
Canterbury ‘‘should be satisfied as to the propriety of bishops
being present at the opening of the box.’’
The archbishop of Canterbury replied that his correspondence
over Southcott’s box had been voluminous and extended
over many years. He was not sympathetic to the idea, ‘‘partly
profane and partly comic,’’ that 24 bishops representing the 24
elders in Revelation should sit around the box. He believed the
box should be opened speedily, but also thought that as soon
as it was opened a rival box would be found. Other bishops expressed
interest in being present if in London, or if given permission
by the archbishop of Canterbury.
The opening of the box took place before a large audience
at the Hoare Memorial Hall, Church House, Westminster, London,
on July 11, 1927. For the event, only the bishop of
Grantham turned up, but the bishop of Crediton was represented
by his son, the Reverend Trefusis.
As already mentioned, the psychometric impressions given
by the psychics contained many accurate statements. Not surprisingly,
the X-rays of the solid objects were also correct.
Among the 56 objects in the box, the pamphlets and books included
The Surprises of Love, Exemplified in the Romance of a Day
. . . (1765), with annotations; Rider’s British Merlin (1715); Calendier
de la Cour (1773); and Ovid’s Metamorphoses (1794). There
was a paper souvenir ‘‘printed on the River Thames, Feb. 3rd,
1814,’’ and a lottery ticket for 1796. Among the objects were a
fob purse (containing silver and copper coins and tokens), a
horse pistol, a miniature case, an ivory dice cup, a bone puzzle,
a woman’s embroidered nightcap, and a set of brass money
weights.
Naturally the loyal Southcottians did not accept that these
pathetic souvenirs were the contents of the right box, and the
appeals to bishops to attend the opening of the true box continued,
although it was by no means clear where this box might
be. Certainly one would have expected the real Southcott box
to contain voluminous prophecies, correspondence, and religious
pamphlets.
The incredible story of Joanna Southcott and her prophecies
has continued over nearly two centuries and is still not
wholly extinct. The Southcott literature is voluminous. She herself
published some 65 books and pamphlets, while her followers
in the various groups added a flood of additional communications.
Sources
Adkin, Clare E. Brother Benjamin A History of the Israelite
House of David. Berrien Springs, Mich. Andrews University
Press, 1990.
Balleine, G. R. Past Finding Out The Tragic Story of Joanna
Southcott and Her Successors. London SPCK, 1956.
Lane, C. Life and Bibliography of Joanna Southcott. London,
1912.
Matthews, Ronald. English Messiahs. London Methuen,
1936.
Octavia. [Helen Exeter]. Healing for All The ‘‘Joanna Southcott
Healing.’’ London Panacea Society, 1925.
Panacea Society. Transactions of the Panacea Society with the
Archbishops and Bishops of the Church of England with Reference to
Joanna Southcott. London Panacea Society, 1935.
Pullen, Philip. Index to the Divine and Spiritual Writings of
Joanna Southcott. Ashford, England Clock House Press, 1921.
Reece, Richard. A Correct Statement of the Circumstances that Attended
the Last Illness and Death of Mrs. Southcott. London, 1815.
Southcott, J. The Book of Wonders, Marvelous and True. 5
parts. London, 1813–14.
———. The Divine Writings of Joanna Southcott. 2 vols. Bolton,
England, 1931.
———. Prophecies A Warning to the Whole World from the
Sealed Prophecies of Joanna Southcott. 2 parts. London, 1803.
———. The Strange Effects of Faith; with Remarkable Prophecies.
2 parts. Exeter, England, 1801–2. With three ‘‘Continuations.’’
1802–3.
‘‘Xenes.’’ Joanna Southcott and Her Box. London W. Foulsham,
1927.

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