In the early hours of the 26th October 1664, Mary Waterman, wife of John Waterman from Fisherton Anger, gave birth to triplet girls, Mary, Martha and Efflett. What makes this birth even more remarkable was two of the girls, Mary and Martha, were conjoined. A description of the twins is provided in a letter from the Salisbury Oculist Dr Daubeney Turberville to Robert Boyle - a founding member of the Royal Society:
“On Tuesday night last, these was borne in Fisherton adjoining to our Town of Salisbury a monstrous Issue in part, the women has three children girls the one very well formed & fat, the other two as you may call them hath but one Body, continued handsomely to their shoulders, from whence growth four Arms completely …ade, two necks & two heads very well featured with all the parts, but they are contrary posited, one at one end of the Body & the other at the other, out of the side there is a Belly, Navel, a woman’s part, & one Fundament, and two complete Legs, & thighs, feet, & nails, they were at writing here of very lusty, & doe take their food, sugar & water, look about & wag all parts, the one is more sleepy then the other, both very pretty”.
The baptism register of Fisherton Anger only confirms their baptism, with no mention of their physical condition. Interestingly it was one of the ‘Monstrous’ twins rather than the ‘normal’ daughter who was named after their mother.
John was an ostler and described as the ‘labouring poor’. A physician, William Hann, who had witnessed the birth, described the Waterman home as a ‘poorly appointed dwelling, ‘full of holes’ and the girls as having only a linen cloth for its covering, which was taken off at the desire of every new spectator’, which had already brought ‘a thousand’ people to the Watermans’ door; making this a very cold environment for the newly born girls. Hann wrote to Robert Boyle to inform him of the twins’ birth and how he first heard about the birth at Fisherton, whilst at a local coffeehouse he overheard Mr Kent, minister of Fisherton, say that he:
"could justify the baptizing it with two names, adding, that it was a question to be debated by divines, whether it were to be reckoned as two persons, and whether it had two souls".
“On Sunday last (says he) the wife of one Waterman an Ostler in Fisherton was in Travell the whole afternoon, & about 11 of the clock at Night she was delivered of a Daughter every way well shaped & proportioned, about an hour after she was delivered of another strange misshapen Birth, having two heads, the one where of was at the place of the Feet, 4 Arms& 4 hands, both the heads arms, & hands well proportion[e]d as low as the Breast, about the middle of the Body there came forth 2 feet Legs Thighs, & Buttocks, with the parts of a woman, & the Arms (& all these by one side) & 2 or 3 Inches above the pudendum the Navel grown out”.
The twins, at first seem to thrive, but died after two days within minutes of each other. Sadly, Efflett also did not survive for very long; she was buried on the 2nd November, only seven days after her birth.
Robert Boyle was a founding member of The Royal Society of London which was founded in 1660 for ‘Improving Natural Knowledge’ with two other members, Sir Christopher Wren, who, incidentally, was born at East Knoyle, 18 miles west of Fisherton Anger, and William Petty. It was granted a royal charter by King Charles II who was a patron of the arts and sciences. It is Robert’s correspondence with William Hann (now archived at the Royal Society) that detail the decision to dissect, embalm and have the twins displayed. The Watermans were clearly not wealthy, and the financial incentive to have their daughters displayed was most probably the key factor in their agreeing to this proposal. John initially refused to allow the dissection of his daughters, saying that ‘if he should suffer it, he should offend God’
It is so unfortunate that such a terrible practice is still endemic in this country today. Slavery in more modern times, exploits many different nationalities in a period where there is a more fluid movement of people through borders. Despite having more rigid security procedures, innocent victims of slavery are still sneaked through into Britain. It is believed that there may be as many as 13,000 slaves living here, despite the new government law passed last year; the Modern Slavery Act 2015.
Many of the people who succumb to slavery today are deceived by broken promises of a new life of prosperity and safety. However, a few centuries ago, the slave trade was carried out in a very different and more brutal way. Most slaves were literally dragged forcefully from their villages by armed raiding parties, instigated by white Europeans. These slaves were predominantly taken from West Africa, from Senegal to Nigeria. Slave ships then transported them in the vilest and inhumane conditions imaginable, to North America and the West Indies.
Some of our records at the Wiltshire and Swindon History Centre show that we had a strong link to the slave trade. Bristol was a major and dominant port for importing goods which were a by-product of slaving. These commodities included Mahogany, sugar and rum.
One of the biggest slave plantation owners in Wiltshire were the Dickinson family of Bowden House near Lacock and of Monk’s Park near Corsham. This family of Quakers also had large estates in Somerset.
It is believed that the first member of the Dickinson family to arrive in Jamaica was Francis Dickinson during the ‘invasion’ by Penn and Venables in 1655, an attack which was supposed to have taken Hipaniola (on instruction of Oliver Cromwell). Francis was apparently rewarded 2000 acres by King Charles II for his part in taking the island from the Spanish.