Wednesday, April 27, 2011

May 28, 1839 --- The Madman Thom

Kent is aroused by a messianic madman whose brief rising ends tragically. John Thom had achieved notoriety earlier in the decade by claiming to be Sir William Honywood Courtenay, of unacknowledged relation to the Royal Family. Failing to win a seat in Parliament, he got mixed up in a smuggling affray and was sent to a lunatic asylum in 1833.

Declared harmless and released in 1837, he soon reverted to form. Described by contemporaries as "remarkably handsome and eloquent," Thom, proclaiming himself "Savior of the World," sets out from Boughton. He has 100 followers by nightfall. Drilling his ragtag "troops" at Goodnestone, he pronounces it time to "strike the bloody blow." Barns and fields of those who refuse to join the crusade are torched. The first blood is shed at Bossenden when Thom shot to death the local constable. A small army detachment is sent out from Canterbury but their commanding officer, a Lt. Bennett, is slain while approaching to parley. The return fire is merciless and Thom is the first to fall, his dying words, "I have Jesus in my heart." Eight of his followers are killed, many more wounded.

Having signed himself as Sir William, Thom left a rambling manifesto, which concluded: "England would be better served if 12 honest tradesman, 12 honest farmers and 12 poor labourers were elected to serve their people rather than the present ignorant House of Commons... England must go to a revolution."  Having pledged immortality to those who followed him, Thom was buried quickly by authorities who thought it wise to omit the references to resurrection at brief graveside rites.

In London, most observers wrote it all off to an easily deluded peasantry, yet The Spectator wondered: "What must be the condition of that society in which a madman could produce such a disastrous and frightful exhibition of popular fury?"

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