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Collection of ballads, songsheets: The Berkshire Tragedy

Collection of ballads, songsheets. 2 vols. London: J. Pitts, 1805-1840? University of Minnesota Libraries. WILSON Rare Books Quarto 820.1 Z. Vol. 2.


The Berkshire Tragedy, Or the Wittam Miller.
Being the Acc<o>unt of his Murdering his Sweetheart.

          YOUNG men and maidens give ear
             Unto what I shall now relate,
          O mark you well and you shal<l> hear,
             O<f> my unhappy fate.
          Near famous Oxford town,
             I first did draw m<y> breath
          O that I had been cast away,
             In an untimely birth,

          My tender par<e>nts brought me up,
             Provided for me well,
          And in the town of Wittam then
             They p<l>aced me in a mill<.>
          By chance upon an Oxford lass,
             I cast a wan<t>on eye,
          <A>nd promised I wo<ul>d marry her,
             If she with me would lie,

          But to the world I do declare,
             With <s>orrow<,> grief and woe,
          This folly brought us in a snare
             And wrought our overthrow,
          For the damsel came to me and said,
             By you I am with child,
          I hope dear John you'll marry me
             For you have me defil'd.

          Soon after that her mother came,
             As you shall understand,
          And oftentimes <d>id me persuade,
             To wed her out of hand,
          And thus perplex'd on every si<d>e
             I could no comfort find,
          So to make away with this creature,
             A thought came in my mind.

          About a month since Christmas last,
             Oh cursed be the day,
          The devi<l> then did me pe<r>suade,
             To <t>a<k>e her l<i>fe away.
          I called her <f>rom her sister's door,
             <A>t eight o`clock at night,
          Poor creature she did <l>ittle dream,
             I owed her any spight.

          I told her if she'd wa<l>k with me,
             Aside a little way
          We both together would agree,
             Abou<t> our wedding day,
          Thus I deluded <h>er again,
             Into a priv<a>te place.
          Then took a stick out of the hedge
             And struck her in the face.

          But she fell on bended knee,
             And <d>id for mercy cry,
          For heave<n>'s sake <d>on't murder me;
             I am not fit to die<.>
          But I on her no pity took,
             But wounded her full sor<e>,
          Until her life away I took,
             Which I can ne'er restore.

          With many grievous shrieks & cries
             She did resign her breath.
          And in an inhuman barbarous sort,
             I put my love to d<e>ath.
          And then I took her by the hair
             To cover the foul sin,
          And dragged her to the river side,
             Then threw her body in<.>

          Thus in the blood o<f> innocence,
             My hands were deeply dy'd,
          And shined in the purple gore,
             That should have been my bride<.>
          Then home unto my mi<l>l I ran,
             But sorely wa<s> amazed,
          My man he thought I had mischief done
             And strangely on me gaz'd<.>

          Oh, what's the matter then said he,
             You look as pale as death,
          What makes you shake an<d> tremble so
             As though you had lost your breath<?>
          How came you <b>y that blood upon
             Your trembling hands and clothes<?>
          <I> presently to him reply'd
             By bleeding at the nose.

          I wishfully upon him look'd,
             But litt<l>e to him said,
          I snatch<'>d the candle from his hand,
             And went unto my bed<.>
          There I lay trembling all the night
             For I could t<a>ke no rest<,>
          And perfect flames of hell did flash,
             Like lightning in my face.

          Next day the damsel being miss'd
             And no where to be <f>ound,
          <T>hen I was apprehende<d> soon,
             And to the assizes bound,
          Her sister did against me swear
             She rea<s>on had no doubt,
          That I had made away with her,
             Because I called her out.

          But Satan did me still persuade,
             I stiff<l>y did deny,
          Quoth he there no witness can,
             Against thee testify<.>
          Now when her mother did her cry
             I scoffingly did say,
          On purpose then to frighten me,
             She sent her chi<l>d away<.>

          I publish'd in the post boy then,
             My wickedness to blind
          Five guineas any one should have,
             That could her <b>ody find.
          But heaven had a watchful ey<e>,
             Had brought it so about,
          That tho' I stiff<l>y did deny,
             This murder would come out.

          The very day before the assize,
             Her body it was found,
          Floating before her father's door,
             <A>t Hindsey Ferry Town,
          So I the second time was siezed,
             To Oxford brought with speed
          And here examined again,
             About the bloody deed.

          Now the Coroner and jury both,
             Together did agree,
          That this damsel was made away,
             And murdered by me<.>
          The justic<e> too perceived the guilt,
             Nor either would take bail
          But the next morning <I> was sent,
             Away to Reading g<ao>l<.>

          When I was brought before the judge
             My man did testify,
          That blood upon my hand & clothes
             That night <he> did espy,
          The judge he told the jury then,
             The circumstance was plain<,>
          Look on the prisoner at the bar<,>
             He has this cr<e>ature slain.

          About the murder at the <first>
             The jury did divid<e>,
          <B>ut when they brought their verdict in
             All of them guilty cry'd,
          The jailor took & bound me straight
             As soon as I was cast,
          And then within the priso<n> strong,
             He there did lay me fast<.>

          With fetters strong then I was bound
             <A>nd shin bolted was I,
          Yet I the murder would not own,
             Bu<t> did it still deny,
          My father did on me prevail,
             My kindred all likewise
          To own the murder which I did,
             To them with watery eyes,

          My father then he did me
             Saying, my son, oh, why,
          Have you brought yourself to shame
             And all your family,
          Father I own the crime I did<,>
             I guilty am indeed
          Which cruel fact I must confess
             Doth make my heart to bleed<.>

          The worst of death I do deserve,
             My crime is so base,
          For I no mercy shewed to her.
             Most wretched is my case<.>
          Lord grant me grace while I do <p>ray
             That I may now repent,
          B<e>fore I from this wicked world
             Most shamefully am sent.

          Young men take warning by me
             All filthy lusts defy<,>
          By giving way to wickedness,
             Alas<!> this day I die
          Lord wash my hateful sins a<w>ay
             Which have been manifold,
          Have mercy on me Lord I <p>ray
             And Christ receive my soul.

Pitts Printer, Wholesale Toy <and> Marble Warehouse, <5>, Great <S>t. Andrew Street, 7 Dials



Transcription and glossary by Kirsten Culler.  Pointed brackets mark emendations.
    assizes  a court sitting at intervals in each county of England and Wales to administer criminal and civil law
    post boy  a boy or man who rides post; a letter carrier
    goal  jail
    man  manservant or valet; a usually male worker or employee
    cast  record, register, or give (a vote).
    fetters  a shackle for holding a prisoner by the ankleany shackle or bond
Jane Keefer, Folk Music Index, cites "Knoxville Girl" as related to "The Berkshire Tragedy," and "Oxford Tragedy," "Butcher('s) Boy," and "In Tarrytown" as related to "The Wittam Miller."


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Michael Hancher
Department of English, University of Minnesota
URL: <http://umn.edu/home/mh/wittam.html>
Comments to: mh@umn.edu
Created 20 April 1997
Last revised 29 June 1997

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