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Witches of Richmond, Tasmania: The Gripping True Story of Superstition, Fear, and Tragedy


Black magic and witchcraft have been the stuff of legends and horror stories for centuries. Throughout history, there have been many cases of people being accused of practicing witchcraft, and some of these cases have led to serious consequences. One such case occurred in the small town of Richmond, Tasmania, in 1885, where two women were accused of being witches and causing the death of a local child. In this article, we will take a closer look at the case of the "witches" of Richmond, exploring the history, the accusations, and the aftermath of this fascinating and tragic story.


Richmond, Tasmania, was a small town in the late 1800s, with a population of only a few hundred people. It was a rural community with a close-knit and conservative population, where superstitions and folklore were still deeply ingrained in the culture. At the time, the town was also experiencing a wave of illnesses and deaths, which only added to the people's fears and suspicions.

Ellen Thomson was a well-known figure in the town of Richmond. She was a midwife and herbalist, and many people sought her help for medical and spiritual needs. Thomson was also known for her unconventional behavior and beliefs, which made her a target of suspicion among the more conservative members of the community.

Mary Pearcey, on the other hand, was a newcomer to the town. She had been hired by the Atkinson family as a nursemaid for their two children, one of whom, a baby boy named Percy, was only a few months old.

The Accusations:

In December 1884, baby Percy fell ill and was admitted to the hospital. Despite the efforts of the doctors, the baby's condition continued to worsen, and he eventually died on December 26th. The cause of death was recorded as "gastric fever," which was a common term used at the time to describe any illness with digestive symptoms.

However, rumors soon began to circulate that Percy's death was not a natural one. Some people claimed that they had seen Ellen Thomson and Mary Pearcey visiting the Atkinson family's home around the time of the baby's illness. Others claimed that they had seen the women carrying out strange rituals and performing black magic.

The rumors soon escalated into accusations, and both Thomson and Pearcey were arrested and charged with causing the death of Percy Atkinson through the use of witchcraft.

The Trial:

The trial of Thomson and Pearcey began on April 13th, 1885, and lasted for several days. The prosecution's case was based mainly on circumstantial evidence, as there was no direct proof that the women had used witchcraft to harm the baby.

Several witnesses testified to seeing the women visiting the Atkinson family's home, and some claimed to have heard them speaking in strange languages and performing rituals. Others claimed to have seen them carrying out strange activities, such as burying objects in the ground and throwing stones at the house.

The defense argued that there was no evidence to support the accusations of witchcraft and that the women were being persecuted for their unconventional beliefs and behavior. Ellen Thomson, in particular, was known for her belief in spiritualism and her use of herbs and potions for healing, which were considered by some to be forms of witchcraft.

Despite the lack of direct evidence, the jury found both women guilty of causing the death of Percy Atkinson through the use of witchcraft. Thomson was sentenced to six years in prison, while Pearcey was sentenced to death by hanging.

The Aftermath:

The case of the "witches" of Richmond had a significant impact on the town of Richmond and the wider community of Tasmania. It fueled fears and suspicions about the dangers of witchcraft and the supernatural, and it led to arenewed interest in the traditional beliefs and superstitions of the time.

Ellen Thomson served her sentence in prison and was released in 1890. She returned to Richmond but was met with hostility from many of the townspeople, who still believed that she was a witch. She eventually left the town and moved to Hobart, where she lived until her death in 1921.

Mary Pearcey's fate was much more tragic. She was hanged on December 23rd, 1885, at the Hobart Gaol, in front of a large crowd of spectators. It was the last public hanging in Tasmania, and it left a lasting impression on the community. Many people began to question the validity of the accusations of witchcraft and the fairness of the trial.

In the years that followed, the case of the "witches" of Richmond became a subject of fascination for historians and researchers. Many theories were put forward about what really happened, and some people even claimed to have evidence that the women were innocent.


The case of the "witches" of Richmond is a fascinating and tragic story that highlights the dangers of superstition and hysteria. It shows how easily people can be led to believe in things that are not true and how difficult it can be to dispel these beliefs once they take hold.

Although it happened over a century ago, the story of the "witches" of Richmond still resonates with us today. It reminds us of the importance of critical thinking and skepticism, and it highlights the need to be vigilant against the dangers of misinformation and propaganda.

In the end, the case of the "witches" of Richmond is a cautionary tale about the power of belief and the consequences of allowing our fears and suspicions to get the better of us. It is a story that we should remember and learn from, so that we can avoid making the same mistakes in the future.

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