Raising the Wind by Raising Ghosts, 1841

From the Dublin Evening Mail, 6 September 1841:



Our readers, we are sure, will not have forgotten an extraordinary case, tried at our Quarter Sessions Court, in which an old wretch, named Milliken, and her husband, were convicted of swindling Mrs Coburn, an inn-keeper of North-street, out of upwards of £200 by working on her credulity with so much art, through the means of her own servant girl, that they brought her to believe that the spirits of her two deceased brothers had appeared to her.  The money was extorted principally as bribes to the female prisoner to get the ghosts ‘laid,’ as the superstitious phrase it. The result was that the female culprit was sentenced to transportation for seven years, and her husband, a less active party in the affair, to some months’ imprisonment, and hard labour.

Through the activity of Constable Kain, of the local police, who has watched, with a keen eye, the movements of another of the swindlers, that person (a fellow named Bradley, but who had figured under the alias of Doherty) was secured, on Monday evening last, in North-street, and brought up to-day, to answer for his share in the felony…

Mrs Coburn, having been sworn, deposed to the facts of the gross fraud of which she had been made the victim. The following is the substance of her testimony: – Between two and three years ago, the woman Milliken came privately to her, and warned her that ‘there was a weighty matter coming against her,’ the nature of which, however, she would not consent to explain, except ‘for a consideration.’  Having excited the superstitious dread of the witness, she obtained £4 from her, on condition that she should proceed to the residence of the Most Rev. Dr Crolly, and endeavour to prevail upon him to ‘lay’ the ghosts of her (Mrs Coburn’s) two deceased brothers, whom she had raised, with the assistance of a servant-girl in the house, a relative of the pretended sorceress, and who, it would seem, personated one of the spirits, and shared in the plunder of her mistress.

Dr Crolly was not at home to the witch, and she obtained a further sum of £5 to pay her expenses to Derry, where, she averred, there lived a holy man, who would do the business as well as Dr Crolly. She returned, and assured her dupe that all was now ‘as right as a rivet.’  Finding, however, that Mrs Coburn ‘bled’ freely, the game was kept up; and the house was nightly alarmed, and her slumbers disturbed, by the nocturnal gambols of the uneasy ghosts, who were most unquiet when Millken was most pressing for money.

Milliken again pretended to set out on a pilgrimage to ‘Rock Clifton, her cabalistic name for Dr Crolly’s palace, but whose topography few are acquainted with; but, ere she reached it, she tumbled off a coach, broke her leg, and was laid on her death-bed, from which she wrote a letter to the haunted woman, demanding funeral expenses.  The money was directed to be placed upon the drawing-room table, from which an unseen hand was to convey it to Milliken. Of course it disappeared.  The girl Bradley said that Mrs Coburn’s two dead brothers came and lifted the cash, and then vanished through the ceiling. 

The accomplice was enjoined to proceed to the chapel, on the next Sunday morning, to meet the ghost of Milliken. She did so, and returned in a well-feigned fright, at the bobbery which the defunct mistress of magic had kicked up in the house of prayer, where she had blown out the candles, and turned everything topsy-turvey.  The most interesting incident in the ‘tale of terror’ was, the production of several letters, purporting to be written from the grave, or ‘Lord knows where,’ by the two brothers, and which, – so astonishing was the credulity of the ‘victimised’ – she believed to be bona fide epistles.

There were, of course, pressing demands or money for Millikin’s use, and were proved, on the trial, to have been written by an old schoolmaster, by her dictation.  In this way the witness confessed that she had been done out of upwards of £200. The fraud was at last discovered, and put a stop to, by the husband of the prosecutrix. After the sorceress had, by her written account, ‘gone to her own place,’ she bequeathed her magic want to the prisoner Doherty, or Bradley, and put him up to another plan for ‘carrying on the war’ – she, of course, not being too far off to share the booty thus procured.  Doherty represented that he was the agent for the delivery of a legacy of £1000, with plate, &c, bequeathed to Mrs Coburn, by a third brother, whom he alleged to be deceased in New Orleans. On this representation, and by means of a letter purporting to be written by one of the ghosts, Doherty had obtained in all £10; but, of course, the legacy could not be conjured up so easily as the ghosts, and Mrs Coburn was left to bewail the loss of her £10 in hard cash, and £1000 in prospectu.  Doherty made a lucky and prudent escape and was never seen in Belfast until the day already named, when, as bad luck for him would have it, Constable Kain invited him to take a walk ‘down street.’

The evidence fully satisfying Mr Molony of the prisoner’s guilt, he was committed for trial at the October Quarter Sessions.”

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Author: Ruth Cannon BL

Irish barrister sharing the history of the Four Courts, Dublin, Ireland, and other Irish courts.

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