Saturday, December 17, 2011

December 17, 1869 --- The Welsh Fasting Girl

In the Dyfed village Llanfihangel-ar-arth, 13 year old Sarah Jacob dies at her home.  Sarah was known across Britain as the "Welsh fasting girl," who supposedly hadn't eaten in over two years.

Evan Jacob, a servant with six other children, claimed that Sarah had remained in bed, unfed, since a serious illness in 1867. The family doctors had despaired, "There is no cure but the Great Doctor."' People came from all over to see the bedridden miracle girl, dressed in a bridal gown, sitting up in her bed and reading her Bible. Sarah's bed would be sprinkled with coins and flowers by day's end. A visitor described her as "Undoubtedly very pretty. Her face was plump and her cheeks and lips of a beautful rosy color."

The mighty Lancet, Britain's leading medical journal, condemned the public interest, suggesting that Sarah had been "disordered by religious readings" and censoring her father for "stupidity." The Times sniffed, "The Welsh are just the people among whom a superstitious illusion of this kind might rise." After several months of fasting, sceptics created a "Watchers Committee" made up of the local vicar, a few doctors and four nurses dispatched from Guy's Hospital in London. The child was never left alone; other than an occasional moistening of her lips, Sarah received no food or drink. The watchers watched.  Forced to truly fast, after eight days, she died in delirium.

The outrage is immediate; how could these adults, doctors and nurses stand by and let this little girl die for the sake of some ludicrous experiment? The nurse during Sarah's final hours told an inquest: "Had she asked for food, I would have given her some." Another of the watchers, who was with the child until the last, said she heard her make no admission of deceit. The coroner's jury ruled that death was due to "starvation and negligence... on the part of her father."

Evan Jacob and his wife Hannah (pictured) were convicted of manslaughter; he got a year's hard-labor, she served 6 months. The judge declared, "Although the girl might have been, and probably was, a consenting party to the fraud, parents are bound to supply the wants of their children of tender years." Despite the furor, no members of the "Watchers Committee" faced any criminal charges.

The photographs of Sarah's parents from

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