A FAMILY OF SAVAGES IN DEVONSHIRE.
.W.e (" "Daily Telegraph") have beeii at the pains of sending down our Special^ Commissioner to Nymet Rowland, a distance of two hundred and fifty miles from London, that he might ascertain, for the benefit of society at large, the mode of life practised by a tribe of filthy, vicious, and desperate wretches who, for a considerable period, have been known as the "North "Devon" Savages," and whose scandalous immorality and violence • have long made them tile bane and terror of a •whole district -in one of the most beautiful of our English counties. It would be unjust to forestall by descrip-
tion in this place the valuable information winch the energy 'and pluck of our Commissioner have enabled him to gather ; and for the minuter episodes of the Nymet Rowland drama we "must refer to his own graphic narrative. We need do no more at present than summarise the principal facts resulting from his enquiries in North Devon. He tells us that Nymet Rowland is not a very extensive, but still prosperous, village containing some subtantial farm holdings, and the handsome residences of several gentleman farmers, and that, almost within the shadow of the "venerable and goodly-sized church," is the huge liogstye inhabited by the family — if "inhabited" and "family" be not misnomers in the loathsome den of Cheiiton. The tribe, the gang — call it what you will — consists of an old man named Christopher Cheriton, and an old woman, his mate, with a son aged thirty-five, and a boy of fourteen. There are, besides, three strapping young women, a girl of twelve, and one, if not two, babies* • One of the infants was seen by our Commisioner. It was deplorably sickly, and was covered with sores. No marriage is ever known to have taken place among this crew ; nor is it known how many children have been, born in their hovel. "The horrible suspicion," says our Commissioner, " is that they herd together Jike brutes of the field, and breed like them." "~ They have-one bed, heaped with foul straw; which orignally seems to have been a kind of ditch, but which, by continually supeiposed 'layers' of offal, has risen to the altitude of a dung-lie ip. In another portion of their den wallows a litter of pigs ; in another roosts a brood of poultry ; over a hole in' the ground, containing live embers, swings the iron pot in which their food is cooked j of that which is ordinarily termed furniture they have not one fragment. Formerly the * family ' used to roam about the purlieus of their den in a state of almost entire nudity, but of late they have had decency enough to don a few rags. They are not paupers — very far from it — since they possess some forty aci'es of freehold land, of which, however, they only cultivate sufficient to produce food for their own consumption." Savagery is in the Cheriton blood, yet that they are move decent in their behavior than they used to be is allowed by every good authority in Nymet Rowland. I was informed (writes the special reporter) by a gentleman whose extensive estate joins that of tlie savages, that not more than two years since it was quite common to see dreadful old Christopher sunning himself at noon with nothing but |a wisp of dirty rag slung round his waist, his body being otherwise perfectly naked, except for the dirt that begrimed it; while the daughters, grown women and mothei*s, thought nothing of attending to their daily farm duties clad airily in a single garment of calico. The most incomprehensible part of the business is, that the Devon authorities, who have effected a pai*tial reform, are not strong enough entirely to wipe the disgrace from their county. If the horrors proved, and the dreadful suspicions whispered, came to civilised ears concerning some benighted tribe at the Gaboon or in Tierra del Fuego, every community of Christians with missionary power at its disposal would be roused to immediate action, and the whole religious world thrown into a state of commotion, until the happy day when it was announced that the barbarians had been brought to acknowledge the iniquity of their ways, and had given substantial security against longer ' continuance in them. But Nymet Rowland is not in a savage land. It is in the heart of fruitful Devon. You may take a railway ticket at Waterloo Station at noon, and arrive at Nymet Rowland in time to see grandmamma savage slinging the iron pot over the fire-hole to brew tea for the evening meal. Whoever sets about the task of converting the savages of North Devon, should, however, be thoroughly apprised of the attending difficulties. He should be a man accustomed to barbarians in grain, to their manners and customs — a Moffat, a Livingstone, or a Williams. Savagery is in the blood of the Cheritons. It is a fact that a brother of the present old Christopher Cheriton, Elias by name, was even more strongly tainted than the latter with the family -malady j but, by some merciful dispensation of Providence, he lived and died a bachelor. Elias Cheiiton resided at Whitstone, which is not many miles from Nymet Rowland. Like Christopher, Elias was a freeholder of land to some extent ; but, unlike him, he had not a house or a hut to live in. He lived in a cask, with a few rags and some straw, just liko a makeshift mastiff kennel. The cask was placed Tinder a hedge that skirted one of his own broad meadows ; and it was his serious declaration that there was nothing on earth so handy as a tub to live in, because one could shift it according to the quarter from which the wind blew. Elias, though he neglected his land, was famous for rearing poultry — making caves and breeding-places for them in the earth all round about the spot where his gipsy kettle was slung, and where he sometimes cooked the meat he ate ; and when he died, which is no more than two years back, he was able to leave his brother Christopher between three and four hundred pounds. Of the five-and-thirty or forty acres owned by the Cheriton savages, not a fifth part is under cultivation ; it being their practice to grow no more than suffices for their personal consumption, and that
only in the way of potatoes and cabbages, and a little wheat which they dry and grind for themselves. They breed a few sheep — a mere dozen or so. They hire no laborers, the whole famjly engaging . in the necessary field-work j the females helping at the plough, assisted by one old horse and a bulL , The animal just mentioned was out of work when ; I saw him, and taking his ease in a field ; but- — as though determined that, all,, their belongings should be in keeping with their savage selves — the horned brute has the reputation of being the most vicious ,and dangerous bull in. the country. The only way of getting him to work yoked ■ with the old horser is to envelop his head and shoulders in a sack ; and even then he needs to be pretty sharply watched, lest in his blind malice he should wickedly prod hisi equine. com-; comrade through his sackcloth hood. They are proud of their bull, these wild Devosians. He has never slept under cover, summer or winter, since his calfhood, one of the damsels informed me ; and she showed. me out in the open the tree to which, the creature was tethered at nights, all withered and barren in consequence of the bull's fierce assaults on its bark, which was gored and torn away. "They'll 'be home with him presently,", said the old grandmother Savage, who sat rocking the awful baby, that was squeaking like a snared rabbit, " Who will be home with him V I asked. " My old man and Willie," she replied. '« Willie" was the young fellow who had nearly smashed the unoffending farmer; so, inwai'dly thanking, her for the timely- hint, I , bade, the interesting family good morning, made for the five-barred gate that grew out of the black mud, and sought the sweet highway.
Permanent link to this item
A FAMILY OF SAVAGES IN DEVONSHIRE., North Otago Times, Volume XVII, Issue 698, 26 January 1872
A FAMILY OF SAVAGES IN DEVONSHIRE. North Otago Times, Volume XVII, Issue 698, 26 January 1872
Using This Item
See our copyright guide for information on how you may use this title.