To The Church Without a Name, The Truth, Two By Twos
January 30, 1913
An unusual case was heard at Fermanagh County Court, on Monday, before Judge Johnston, K.C., in which W. H. West and others sought compensation for malicious injury to a tent, belonging to applicants, which they alleged was maliciously set fire to and burned in October last, at Mackeny, between Irvinestown and Ballinamallard.
Mr. Clarke appeared for applicants, Mr. Falls defended for the County Council, Mr. Cooper, for the Irvinestown council, and Mr. O’Connor, solicitor, Omogh, for the Trillick Council.
In opening the case, Mr. Clarke said that the case was of an unusual kind. It was a claim for the burning of a tent and not a building. He did not know if his Honour had heard of the ‘Go-Preachers’ or ‘Pilgrims’ who were sometimes called ‘Tramp Preachers.’
Clerk of the Peace—‘Dippers.’
Mr. Clarke—And all sorts of names.
His Honour—What is the orthodox name?
Mr. Clarke—Go-Preachers or Pilgrims.
His Honour—That is very expressive.
Mr. Clarke said that Mr. Cooney had suggested that they be called ‘Tramp Preachers.’ He need not go into their religious dogmas.
Mr. Falls—I hope not.
His Honour—Perhaps for Mr. O’Connor’s sake you might.
Mr. Clarke detailed his clients case was, on the evening of the 6th October a meeting had been held. The lamps were put out by Mr. Cooney and others at the conclusion of the meeting about 8 p.m. Others passing at 10 p.m. saw no light in the tent, and at one a.m. the place went on fire like a lace curtain. Two of the lamps had been smashed. The lamps were suspended from a wire strung from one tent pole to the other. One of these lamps, they said, was taken down purposely and the oil spilled over the place, for the top had been screwed out and the globe was found unbroken, whereas the other two lamps were smashed.
MR. COONEY EXAMINED
Edward Cooney was the principal witness, and swore that he had been holding
meetings at Mackeny, in October last, in a field between Ballinamallard
and Irvinestown, for some weeks. For some years past he had been
in the habit of holding meetings in Fermanagh at different places.
Mr. Clarke—You are one of the leaders of the pilgrims or Go Preachers?—I am a preacher in fellowship with others.
For some time past as soon as your doctrines became known there was a good deal of persecution?—Yes.
And some differed emphatically with you and your way of thinking?—Yes.
Witness proved that on the night of the 6th October, he saw the lamps put out. There was 7 ft. between the roof of the tent and the lamps. He also saw the stove extinguished and took a general look round and saw the whole place in darkness. One thing noticeable was that the saw dust was practically intact, that was, if there was a fire in the saw dust and worked its way towards the canvas, but there was no such track. There was a track along the side of the canvas and did not spread. He had no doubt but that the lights had been extinguished. When he heard of the fire, he first of all reported the matter to the police. When he arrived at the place the canvas was all practically burnt and a little smouldering. There was a burnt track at the door of the tent where the fire seemed to have originated, for it was more burned and the wind blew that way. He found there one of the lamps, and away from it, the top unscrewed.
Mr. Clarke—Have you got a lot of scurrillous post cards and bills posted
up about your sect? —Yes.
Mr. W. H. West is in sympathy with you?—He is in fellowship.
Does Mr. West own the tent?—He and others.
You send out missionaries all over the world?—To different parts of the world. (Here large placards were produced).
And these have been posted up accusing you of procuring girls for immoral purposes?—Yes.
His Honour—Are you in fellowship with the Baptists or Plymouth Brethren?—No.
Mr. Falls—With reference to those improper posters you know they are posted by a man not right in his head?
Witness—I believe he is right in his head.
It would be charitable to say that he was wrong in his head?—He is wrong in his heart. (Laughter).
He has not been here for some time?—Excuse me, that bill is signed Isabella Harpur, Tullyhogue, Dungannon, who is in fellowship with that man who is persecuting us.
Mr. Falls read the imprint which stated that the posters were ‘printed and published for W. D. Wilson, Crettingham, Suffolk.’ It was printed and published by that man?—He is the originator.
Who is the owner of this tent?—Mr. West and others.
Who are the others?—The saints in community.
It is the property of the community?—Practically that.
You might put in any other name of the community in this application?—The fact is, Mr. West paid for the new tent.
All property used by the community is owned by the community?—Yes.
That is, you have as much right to that tent that was burnt as any other?—You are wrong there. We preachers own no property and have no responsibility. The farmers and others in fellowship with us own the tent and have the responsibility.
I take it, it was bought by subscriptions?—No, there is no such thing as
subscriptions. All that comes in is voluntary.
It was bought out of the funds of the community?—Yes, as they came in.
Witness stated that on the night in question when he was preaching, sods and stones were thrown on to the roof of the tent.
His Honour—Was there any intervention on the part of the audience?—One of our hearers stepped outside for fear of possible violence.
Cross-examined by Mr. O’Connor, witness denied knowing Isabella Harpur and had no personal acquaintance with her at all.
What is the exact position of Mr. West in this organization?—In fellowship.
How many members are there in County Fermanagh?—A couple of hundred or more.
Mr. West was the community?—If you wish to describe him as such.
Mr. West is no more entitled to this tent than any of the other 199?—No, except that he put more money into it.
HAS NO MONEY
Did you put no money in it yourself?—No, I have no money.
You did not subscribe?—I have no money to subscribe with.
Where did the money come from?—Farmers and others.
If Mr. West secedes from the body, Mr. West could not take this property away with him—he is not the owner?—Only part.
His Honour—Are you going to involve us in the House of Lords and the Wee Frees.
Mr. Falls raised the question of the alleged malicious injury being committed in Tyrone and the information being sworn before Mr. Trimble, a County Fermanagh magistrate and quoted the section. That left the case absolutely unsuitable.
His honour agreed, but decided to hear further evidence and give Mr. Clarke an opportunity of looking into the point.
Thos. Bleakley proved to putting out the lamps at the end of the meeting,
between eight and nine.
Do you know there was a good deal of feeling about this tent?—There was and on this night something rattled on the roof. It was a ‘brave windy night and dry.’
John Irvine, who lit the lamps before the meeting, went out to see who was throwing sods at the tent. When he returned he saw one lamp out, and he put one other and the stove out.
To his Honour—The tent was very dry, as there had been no rain.
To Mr. O’Connor—There was a large collection of hymn books, but they were untouched, also a jar with a little oil in it untouched.
To Mr. Clarke—The head of the lamps screwed on, and next morning they lay apart.
Thomas Walker, Mackeney, said he passed the tent about 10 p.m., and there was no light about it. Witness was not a follower of Mr. Cooney’s.
W. H. West proved that the tent was vested in him. The agreement was verbal.
Mr. Falls—The tent is the property of the community?—It was vested in me.
How vested? Suppose you left the community?—I am not going to do that.
You could not take the tent with you if you did?—The sky might fall.
Mr. Clarke—You might see Mr. Falls in the community yet. (Laughter.)
Mr. Falls—Perhaps you might. (More laughter.)
Mr. Falls asked that in justice to the people of the locality that the police sergeant’s evidence be heard, and his Honour assented.
Sergeant P. Dooley swore that when he visited the tent after the fire
he found two lamps broken, and the other one not, but lying as if it had
tumbled down. He examined the lamps and found that the worm of the
screw had become worn and if it tumbled down the head would come out.
The wick also was charred almost to the bottom. It seemed to him
that the lamp took fire and smouldered away down and got into contact with
Could you find any trace to give evidence of malice?—I could not. They have tents all over the district and they were never interfered with.
Is there any bitter feeling against the community?—They are not liked, but the hatred does not run so high as to do anything.
There was more feeling seven years ago than now?—Yes.
Cross-examined—Are you serious in suggesting that the tent was not maliciously burnt down?—Yes.
Do you suggest that these young men are perjuring themselves? They swore they put out the light?—They seemed to have a very bad memory. Witness added that they did not seem to know what they were swearing about.
Mr. Clarke—That shows your frame of mind. Have you any imputation against them?—No.
You don’t ever get them in the lock-up?—No.
And they don’t slip past the police on account of being quiet fellows?—No.
They are very respectable?—Yes.
Did not Bleakley come back and tell you that there was a mistake as regards the putting out of some of the lamps?—Yes, and he admitted that he had had a chat with Mr. Cooney.
Do you insinuate that Mr. Cooney told this young man to swear anything incorrect?—Mr. Cooney was present when I took the statement from Irvine. When the statement was conveyed to Bleakley he came back to amend his.
Mr. Clarke—Is Mr. Cooney responsible for this young man changing his story?
His Honour?—Oh no.
Mr. Clarke asked then why did the Sergeant make such an insinuation?
TRIAL OF STRENGTH
Mr. Clarke here handed up the lamp to the Sergeant and asked if the screw
were so bad that when it fell the top jumped out, let him now try and pull
out the screw.
Witness took the lamp and tried to pull out the head but could not.
Mr. Clarke—Where now is your story about the head being loose?
Mr. Falls interfered.
Mr. Clarke—Just let the Sergeant again try on the strength of the Royal Irish.
Witness told Mr. Clarke that he had fixed the lamp all right.
His Honour—I noticed Mr. Clarke and Mr. Gordon at the lamp for about five minutes. (Laughter.)
Witness explained to the court how when the lamp would fall the globe and chimney would remain undamaged.
His Honour said that that was an inference he paid no attention to.
Mr. Clarke—I don’t like the Sergeant making those imputations.
Mr. O’Connor submitted that Mr. West was not the owner, and Mr. Cooper’s point was that where the tent was situated was over a mile from the Co. Fermanagh border, which Mr. West and other witness denied, stating that it was less than an English mile distant.
His Honour allowed the case to stand over for Mr. Clarke to look into Mr. Falls’ point about the swearing of the information.
Yesterday afternoon his Honour dismissed the action on the merits.
July 3, 1913
The annual Convention for the ‘Pilgrim’ community was opened on Sunday at Crocknacrieve, the residence of Mr. John West, near Ballinamallard. In the absence of Mr. Wm. Irvine, founder of the Pilgrims, the Convention was opened by Mr. Edward Cooney, formerly of Enniskillen.
Three meetings were held during the day. Wm. Irvine was present at the mid-day meeting, accompanied on the platform by Messrs. E. Cooney and W. Gill, and some remarks which he made in his address would show that the Pilgrims have
in their attitude towards the clergymen of the present day and all associated with them. He was not sure yet, he said, whether God would ask him to forgive Scottish Presbyterian clergymen for the teaching they had given him until he was 30. If there was anything pure in the human family it was
A LITTLE BABY,
and nothing made him so mad as to hear the people talk of its being born in original sin. The baby, because of its human nature, very seldom got better,—very often worse. People said they should not say anything against clergymen, but the serpent in the Garden of Eden got great denunciation, and religious people at the present day would be very angry if they were called the brood of the Serpent, as Jesus called the Scribes and Pharisees.
Dinner was served at mid-day to about 750 people, and the numbers which arrived later brought the gathering up to probably 1,000. The ordinary observer is often at a loss to know how the cost of the upkeep of such a number is defrayed. The community is, however, self-supporting. About a month before the Convention began, numbers of these Pilgrims went to Crocknacrieve to make preparations. Two large tents (instead of one as hitherto) were erected, each to seat about 800. One is used as a meeting tent, and the other as a dining tent and overflow tent. All the arrangements were carried out with neatness and foresight.
Around the large yard the various buildings are labelled as ‘Sleeping Accommodation Office,’ ‘Railway Inquiry Office,’ &c. Various members of the community have been allotted certain duties. They bake their own bread, kill their own meat, and have a dispensary for dealing with injuries. A large staff of cooks and stewards look after their particular department. A Post Office is also provided. Tailors, carpenters, and all kinds of tradesmen (men who at ordinary times are ‘preachers’) all have their particular duties. A number of cows have been provided by ‘the saints,’ and these provide milk and butter.
The whole establishment is lighted by electricity, generated by suction gas, and water is pumped by an electric motor. In fact, the Pilgrims apparently believe in enrolling in the service all the products of modern civilization they can. For instance, some years ago all ‘the workers’ journeyed about on pedal bicycles. Now Mr. Irvine and some of the leading preachers travel on motor cycles.
On Sunday last a new hymn book, entitled, ‘Hymns: Old and New,’ made its appearance. This book, compiled by Edward Cooney and William Carroll, consists entirely of hymns taken from such collections as ‘Songs of Victory,’ ‘Redemption Songs,’ and ‘Songs and Solos.’ The ‘Go-Preachers Hymn-book’ is no longer used.
The Convention, which is attended by many from foreign lands, will continue for some weeks.
July 10, 1913, p. 5
The Convention of Go-Preachers or Pilgrims at Crocknacrieve was continued during the past week.
One feature of the meetings lately has been the story of the experiences in foreign fields of those who have lately returned from abroad. Many of them speak of the most trying experiences in the extremes of heat and cold. Some of them have travelled much. Mr. William Irvine, in the course of visiting the scenes of work abroad, has been some seven times round the world, and was in San Francisco on the night of the famous earthquake some years ago. Various nationalities are represented at the Convention, German, Dutch, American, Australian, &c. Most of the foreigners speak English correctly. Much of the music has to be committed to memory, as some among the Pilgrims are unable to read music. Some of them, on the other hand, were well known for their musical ability before they were associated with the fellowship.
The Pilgrims dress extra plainly. In some cases a tie is discarded; but all are well clad, and it has been observed that an improvement is noticeable in this line in recent years.
The Pilgrims have all things in common, so much so that they have been described as a socialistic community. All who care to accept their hospitality are entertained. It follows, therefore, that the cook-house is a busy corner of activity. The cooking is done by three or four men. Large boilers are used, and the place sometimes becomes so hot that an electric fan is kept in motion. Plain food is the rule, and three meals a day are partaken of.
Baptisms took place on Saturday. The Pilgrims immerse their converts, and a pond is used for this purpose at Crocknacrieve. The ceremony is an interesting one. The immersion is performed by one or more members of the fellowship. The convert is caught by the arms and lowered backwards beneath the water for a few seconds. The clothes worn are changed immediately afterwards in a tent provided for the purpose, and so, as a rule, no chill follows.
Every Sunday morning the Lord’s Supper is observed. A piece of bread is passed from hand to hand, followed by wine in mugs.
One of the most notable things is the care which is taken to keep the men and women within their respective bounds. One half of the large tent is set apart for the women, and various parts of the grounds are reserved for the same purpose.
THE SUNDAY MEETINGSThree meetings were held on Sunday. The speakers dealt mostly with the experience of their lives, and their hearers listened with rapt attention. The morning meeting was mostly a ‘testimony meeting,’ when any who chose to do so spoke appropriately on their Christian experience. Frequent appeals were made to any outsiders to become possessed with ‘the new nature.’ One speaker declared that if Pilate had asked what would they do with the Bible, the people would have refused to part with it; and if he had asked what they would do with the ‘clergy’ they would have declared that they were necessary, as they could not be buried without them; but when he asked what they would do with Jesus, they replied, ‘Crucify Him.’
An appeal was made by Mr. William Gill at the close of the evening meeting for all those who had not done so to become converted in what he called ‘the Jesus Way.’ Referring to the superstition that was around, he said they were all sensible people there that night, but a greater insult to the intelligence of Fermanagh could not be imagined than to ask them to believe that a little baby was made a ‘member of Christ, a child of God, and an inheritor of the Kingdom of Heaven,’ by having a few drops of water sprinkled on its head by a clergyman. They might be hiding in the tree which they had climbed up, but God was willing to strip their religious covering off, as he did the fig leaf covering from Adam.
July 17, 1913
Certain members of a singular sect known as the ‘Go Preachers’ brought a libel action at the Bristol Assizes, and were successful in obtaining £50 damages. Mr. Justice Ridley who heard the case with a jury, made inquiry as to the tenets of the sect, and Frederick Carter, one of the plaintiffs, replied—‘We believe in Jesus Christ and his command to go out into the world and preach.’
‘But, stop’ exclaimed the judge, ‘that command was to go out and preach
to the lost tribes of the House of Israel.’
Witness—Jesus said ‘Go out into the world.’
His Lordship—If you believe in a literal interpretation of the New Testament you are wrong. Do you take that text from Matthew?—Yes.
The Judge—Let, us read it.
The passage was read, and the Judge then asked Carter if his contention was that ‘we were the lost tribes.’
Carter replied that he could not answer that.
The Judge—I do not think that anyone can.
The plaintiffs were a farmer named Joseph Burfitt, of Bruton, Somerset, his son and daughter, Escort and Rosalie Burfitt, and a carpenter named Frederick Carter, of Burham. The Defendants were Rev. Douglas Llewellyn Hayward, rector of Bruton, and a hairdresser by name Richard Mainstone.
It appeared from a sketch of the history of the movement related in court that seven years ago an evangelist named William Gill visited the old-world village of Bruton and preached the Gospel according to the ‘Go Preachers,’ who considered they were under an obligation, in the words of the New Testament, to go and preach the Word. The services and methods of the ‘Go Preachers’ were simplicity itself. They had no clergy no ministers. Those members who received the call went about preaching, generally in pairs, two men, two women, or sometimes a married couple. They started without money, and lived on what was given to them, the while they preached what they conceived to be the true Gospel.
The advent of Gill stirred up the village of Bruton, and he made many converts, among them several members of the family of Burfitt, who had previously been a church warden and earnest Church worker. Mrs. Burfitt led the way, but it was only after much heart searching that the elder Burfitt himself joined the community. Carter, the carpenter of the village, also joined the Go-Preachers, and set apart one of the rooms of his house as a meeting-place. The movement grew space, and in 1909 and 1912 conventions were held in the village, when some 200 or 300 adherents visited the village, and in the latter year Burfitt housed over 100 of them in his farmhouse and farm buildings. Men and women set apart, and the sexes never met even at meals.
While the 1912 convention was sitting, the members learned that the following leaflet was being exhibited, by the instruction of Rev. D. L. Hayward, vicar of Bruton, on a notice-board outside the barber’s shop of Maidstone, one of the most conspicuous spots in the village:—
A grave warning signed by overseers in 20 parishes, and all the overseers in Ipswich—We, being overseers of the poor of various parishes in Suffolk, England, feel it our duty to warn every man, woman and child against countenancing or in any way encouraging those men and women who come amongst us and call themselves by various names such as ‘Go-preachers,’ ‘No Sect,’ ‘No church,’ &c., and endeavour to entice our children, especially our young girls, under the cloak of religion. Many girls have been induced to leave their homes, to their great distress and sorrow. We have seen letters from some of these girls, which describe their painful experience amongst these people abroad. There can be no doubt that the religion’s fervour and apparent zeal displayed by the people here may be treacherous baits to catch the unwary for an improper purpose. No words of ours are sufficiently strong to describe this horrible work, and in the interests of we strongly and earnestly warn parents and children to avoid these so-called preachers as they would the most deadly plague.
The Vicar had received this document from a man in Suffolk, who, counsel said had been prosecuted for issuing such leaflets, and had been compelled to apologise publicly for the slander.
For the plaintiffs it was stated that the leaflet constituted a libel on themselves, and they had suffered by reason of its exhibition in the village. The impression was conveyed that they were engaged in what was practically the white slave traffic.
Mr. Burfitt, senr., stated that since the publication of the leaflet he had been treated differently by people, and he did not now care to go to market.
Carter, who is regarded as the bishop of community in the village, said that after the leaflet he was called after when he walked about.
Rosalle Ellen Mary Burfitt, sister of the previous witness, said she seceded from the Church of England to join the Go-Preachers, and had since gone about preaching. It was well known in the Bruton district that the Burfitts were Go-Preachers. She considered that the leaflet reflected on herself and her father.
In cross-examination, witness said she was away from home about 11 months each year preaching.
William Irvine, one of the founders of the Go-Preachers’ Society, said it was Protestant evangelical. Its tenets containing nothing relating to the sexes that was different from the teaching of other denominations. He considered the leaflet a reflection on Mr. Burfitt and other people thought the same. Witness further stated that he heard people talking about the leaflet, and a lady said, ‘Old Burfitt ought to be burnt. In cross-examination witness said he had never known of a new sect being founded without opposition.
Arthur Henry Biggs, another member of the sect, said he saw the heading on the leaflet, and was ashamed to read it down. He understood it was immoral. The leaflet was a matter of common talk.
Herbert George Miller, farmer, a member of the Church of England, said that when Mr. Burfitt was at market he heard people say ‘Here’s old Joey—he’s not much good now he’s gone in with that lot.’ That was after the leaflet was exhibited. He heard another person say ‘They only try to get girls away for immoral purposes.’ When witness read the leaflet containing the charges he associated it with the Go-Preachers, especially the leaders, of whom Mr. Burfitt was one.
In cross-examination witness said that after reading the leaflet he began to think the Go-Preachers did get girls away under the cloak of religion.
Mr. Foote—Did you believe that Mr. Burfitt had been getting away girls
for immoral purposes?
Witness—Not from Bruham.
Did you really believe it?—I cannot say I really believed it, but I thought there was something to it.
I suppose you dropped his acquaintance then?—No but I thought less of him.
In further cross-examination witness said he thought the charges made in the leaflet, applied to the leaders of the Go-Preachers including Mr. Burfitt, because it was posted at Bruton.
Herbert John Barnes, baker, said he also inferred that the leaflet applied to Mr. Burfitt and his family. In reply to Mr. Foote, witness said he was not a member of the Go-Preachers’ Society, but members of his family were.
George Keevil, cheese maker, said that when at market he heard people speak of Mr. Burfitt in strong terms, and say he allowed people to his place for immoral purposes.
This completed the plaintiff’s case.
Other members of the community spoke to having suffered persecution and reflections upon their honour as a result of the leaflet.
For the defence, it was contended that the leaflet bore no reflection on the parties, but referred to matters which had occurred in Suffolk, and could not be made to affect people in Somerset.
THE DEFENCEThe Rev. D. L. Hayward, vicar of Bruton for 15 years, said he knew the sect referred to as Gillites, and he did not know Mr. Burfitt or any member of his family was connected with it. He saw a newspaper article referring to a sect which was alleged to be sending young girls abroad. That sect was styled ‘Tramp preachers.’ He afterwards received the leaflet referring to the Go-Preachers and thought it his duty to make use of it. He asked Mr. Mainstone to exhibit the leaflet; another he handed to a magistrate whose advice he asked: and a third one he retained. He did not distribute the leaflet as the plaintiffs suggested. When Mr. Knox asked him to have the leaflet at Mainstone’s shop removed, witness asked ‘Does this leaflet refer to you?’ and Knox replied, ‘People will think it does.’ Witness promised to consider the request. At a second interview, Knox threatened that something would happen if the notice were not removed, and he then said he must consult his solicitor. After doing so he asked Mr. Mainstone to remove it.
In cross-examination, witness said he had never discussed the Go-Preachers with Mr. Burfitt. The latter was a most respectable man. He had never attacked the Go-Preachers. He knew them only as Gillites.
Mr. Salter—Have you never in an address regretted the falling off in
Church membership at Bruham owing to the growth of this sect?
Witness—I do not recollect it.
In further cross-examination witness said he knew Mr. Burfitt had left the Church, but did not know he had joined the Gillites. He remembered receiving a letter saying a party of Mormons had gone from Debenham to Bruton, and had behaved badly to a number of girls. He thought it was written by a man ‘off his balance.’ He received another letter, full of serious charges, and thought the writer was a madman. The leaflet imputed the procuring of women under the cloak of religion, and he exhibited it because the Gillites were about to hold a convention. He had no time to make inquiries, and thought that as the leaflet was signed by about 40 churchwardens and overseers he was justified in using it. His object was to warn his parishioners against the sect which procured women for immoral purposes.
Mr. Salter—Did you think that of another Christian body?
Witness—It is a question whether it is a Christian body. At that time there was a great outcry against the Mormons.
In further cross-examination—Witness said he did not think the people at Bruham were immoral, but he wanted to warn his parishioners against the teachings of the Gillites. He did not exhibit the notice with the object of securing rough demonstrations against the Go-Preachers, but merely to warn his own people. He did not remember Knox showing him Wilson’s public apology for his attacks of the sect. He refused to take down the notice until he could see his solicitor, because Knox threatened him. He refused to apologise because he had not injured the plaintiff, and never intended to hurt him. It might be that he owed an apology to people in Suffolk.
Mr. Salter—Do you believe now that any members of this sect procure women for prostitution, or preach that it is right to do so?—Certainly not.
The judge, in summing up, said nobody suggested that the plaintiffs procured women for immoral purposes, and the question was whether or not the jury thought the libellous words applied to the plaintiffs? The words were libellous on the community, but were they libellous on the plaintiffs? Had the plaintiffs suffered in the way suggested? Some of the witnesses had said the leaflet led them to believe that the plaintiffs procured women for bad purposes, but could they be believed? If the jury found that the charge of libel had been established, he suggested that moderate damages would be enough to mark their sense of the vicar’s indiscretion.
The jury returned a verdict for plaintiffs, and awarded £50 damages, for which judgment was given.
July 31, 1913, p. 8
The Convention of Go-Preachers or Pilgrims at Crocknacrieve came to an end on Sunday after four weeks’ duration. The numbers which attended during the day exceeded over 1,000.
The morning meeting was a ‘testimony’ meeting. Mr. Wm. Irvine spoke at intervals. He said that God could have no interest in a man that was indulging his selfishness, either in a saloon or in a ‘synagogue.’ The world was filled with hatred and pride. ‘People were saying they would fight for their religion. Whether they were Protestants or Roman Catholics that only proved they were human. The devil’s work was to teach men how to be religious and how to get to Heaven—but not the way Jesus did. But there would come a time when there would be no spires seen on this world, when Jesus came back to reign. And the work of making men like Jesus would continue in every part of the universe.
Mr. E. Cooney spoke at the mid-day meeting, and in his address dealt with what appears to be the foundation of the Go-Preachers’ theology. The world, he said, was full of idols—or things that occupy the attention of the heart of man. Man was created so as to become a child of God, and grow up to be like God. The devil was the adversary of the human race, and was very busy to keep man occupied with something else. Perhaps there were some there who knew not the day of their visitation and so their house would be left unto them desolate. They might leave the meeting in a condition in which God could not save them.
The closing scene at the meeting in the gloaming was impressive. All the arrangements had been made for the departure of the ‘preachers’ to different parts of the world, and it only remained for the Go-Preachers’ founder to give to all the last words of counsel and farewell. Mr. Irvine dealt mainly with the duty of those in fellowship towards one another and towards the outside world. There was more heart for one another there, he said, than they would get in any community in all the world. And what people had heard there during the Convention would either torment them in hell or make them glad in heaven, for the word would not return void. They could do much to soften the hearts of the people with a little kindness. Many of them got an IMPARTIAL REPORTER, and they never thought of passing it on to the fellow who had none. They could do many little things among their friends and relatives. The best use they could make of anything was to express a little love.
ALLEGED FREAK SECT
DAMAGES AGAINST NEWSPAPER.
An extraordinary story was told in the King's Bench Division, London, yesterday, when judgement was entered by consent for £100 and costs in favour of Ernest Walter List, of Debenham, near Stowmarket, and Edward Cooney, formerly of Enniskillen, against the "People," Ltd., for libel.
The allegation was that plaintiffs carried on the White Slave traffic under the guise of a. religious movement. They were both members of a community known as the "Go" preachers, who took this name from Scripture, in which the Apostles were exhorted to go forth and preach to all the world. Mr. Cooney was one of its pioneers or founders, and the libel, which appeared in the "People" on July 14th, 1912, was headed "The Cooneyites." Mr. List complained that he was described as a "Bishop."
The article was also headed, “Charges Against the Tramp Preachers," and described their singular doing in Suffolk, referring to them as "Missioners of the tattered coat and empty pocket." It alleged that they proclaimed marriage, to be an institution which was to continue no longer. Many young women of mystical temperament lent, it was said, a ready ear to their weird teaching and wandering around the country.
The preachers were driven from Sudbury by an "enraged army of 3,000 men and women" who objected to the preaching of what they called "free love." It. was also suggested that young women had been induced to go abroad for improper purposes.
The sect, the article said, were literally the last word in freak religions, filling their converts with the wildest and maddest fits of hysteria, accompanied by strange hymns, rolling on the ground, shrieks and groans. Two daughters of a Mr. Wilson having gone with the preachers, Mr. Wilson spent time and money in the attempt to drive them out of Suffolk. He swore a declaration that one of the statements of the preacher was that marriage was hammered out by the devil on an anvil in hell. Mr. Wilson also placarded the country with posters attacking the preachers as carrying on White Slave traffic, etc.
Mr. Eames, who appeared for plaintiffs said it was one of the tenets of this religion, which was founded on the New Testament, that they should not enter upon a lawsuit, but they had been persuaded to do so. The plaintiffs had recovered £50 damages and costs at the Bristol Assizes over pamphlet which was hung, outside a shop.
One of the bills had been picked up in Parliament, and a question was put to Mr. Birrell, who stated that the police in Ireland had made inquiries, and said there was no truth in the matter. An action bought by Mr. Wilson was settled Chambers, Mr. Wilson paying cost and apologising. A third action had been settled by a public apology in Ireland by Mr. Wilson and payment of damages.
Mr. List in his evidence denied the truth or the allegations in the article. He had got no ecclesiastical title. He had to oversee a dozen members, but nothing more, and all charges of impropriety were untrue. Mr. Cooney gave a similar denial, and said he was not the founder of the sect.
December 18, 1913, p. 3
In the King’s Bench Division, London, on Thursday, before Mr. Justice Darling, a number of extraordinary statements were made in the course of the settlement in an action brought by Earnest Walter List, of Debenham, near Stowmarket, and Edward Cooney, formerly of Enniskillen, Ireland, against The People, Ltd., for alleged libel.
Mr. Eames for the plaintiffs, said the action was brought for libel, and the charge made against the plaintiffs was a very serious one. It charged them with carrying on White Slave traffic under the guise of a religious movement. They were both members of a community known as the ‘Go-preachers,’ who took this name from Scripture, in which the apostles were exhorted to go forth and preach to all the world. Mr. Cooney was one of the pioneers or founders of the community, and the libel was headed ‘The Cooneyites.' Mr. List complained that he was described as a ‘Bishop’ in the sect.
His Lordship—Does he complain that he is described as a Bishop? You do not expect any ruling from me that the word ‘bishop’ is libellous, I hope.
Mr. Eames—Yes, he considered that in a sect carrying on practices as was alleged by the defendants, to say that he was a bishop was an even more serious reflection on him. Continuing, counsel said the libel complained of appeared in an article which was published in the People, on the 14th July, 1912, and was as follows:-
‘The Cooneyites—Charges against the Tramp Preachers. By Our Special Commissioner. Rural Suffolk is in a ferment, caused by the singular doings of the tramp preachers who have established themselves in this country. Also known as ‘The Cooneyites’ and the ‘Go Sect,’ these missioners of the tattered coat and empty pocket have succeeded in creating such a hubbub in Suffolk, that the wildest stories are afloat. Disclaiming denomination, pouring contempt upon all organised forms of Christian worship, and proclaiming that marriage as an institution is to continue no longer, the ‘Tramp Preachers’ have now fixed their headquarters at Debenham, near Stowmarket.
Already they have laid hands upon one of the most prominent tradesmen of the town of Debenham, and have created Mr. List the carrier Bishop of Suffolk, whilst another (an agricultural labourer) had been elevated to the dignity of Archbishop of Norfolk. Although their preaching contains the wildest statements, converts have not been lacking. Many have been young women of that mystical temperament that lends a ready ear to weird teachings, and these have been induced to leave comfortable homes and throw in their lot with the tramp preachers. For a time they had meetings at Sudbury, Suffolk, until they were driven from that quaint market town by an enraged army of 3,000 men and women, who alleged the preachers were preaching an evil system.
Then other places were tried with little better results, though the Cooneyites—so called from their leader, Edward Cooney—would be compelled to live up to their self-assumed title of the tramp preachers. Nor can this be wondered at, because the sect are surely like nothing else under the heavens. Literally the last word in freak religion, filling their converts with the wildest, maddest fits of hysteria. Indeed so great has been the excitement that nearly 40 overseers of the neighbouring parishes have thought it advisable to issue a signed statement warning the country people against ‘the tramp preachers,’ while a number of ministers of various denominations have also signed a similar caution. ‘Midnight meetings,’ mysterious midnight meetings, have been held in a large portable tent, to which all but the faithful are denied. After singing strange hymns, the brethren and sisters abandon themselves to a species of religious hysteria. Strong cries of ecstacy are succeeded by fits of what appears to the impartial to be madness, while the Cooneyites roll on the ground with dismal shrieks and groans.
The article went on to say that the chief enemy of the ‘tramp preachers’ was Mr. W. D. Wilson, of the Rookery Farm, Cretingham, a pretty village near Framlingham, and that two of his daughters had left with two Cooneyite preachers named Martha and Mary. In consequence, he had conceived a violent antipathy to the sect, and had spent much money and energy in endeavouring to drive them out of Suffolk.
The article then proceeded:—
‘Among the female preachers was one, a pretty girl with a sweet voice. Under a species of hypnotic influence she falls into a sort of trance, and it is gravely announced that she speaks by the spirits.
Mr. Wilson was said to have sworn a declaration asserting that one of the statements of the Cooneyite preacher was that marriage was hammered out by the devil on an anvil in hell.’
Mr. Eames said the whole of the article was absolutely untrue. Mr. Wilson in Suffolk published the most foul libels on those people and everybody connected with them, the reason being that some of his children had joined the sect. He had plastered the countryside with posters.
Mr. Eames said Mr. Cooney, along with others, was charged with carrying on a ‘white slave’ traffic. It appears that this man Wilson was suffering from a form of insanity.
His Lordship—That is exactly what he states about Mr. Cooney. (Laughter.)
Mr. Justice Darling—Is it all true about the rolling on the ground?
Mr. Eames said the whole of the article was absolutely untrue.
Mr. Wilson in Suffolk published the most awful libels on these people.
One of his posters was headed ‘White and Oriental Slaves.’
Counsel read the publication. Cooney was charged, with others, in the poster with carrying on this white slave traffic. Mr. Wilson had not dared to justify the charge.
Counsel said he had had difficulty in persuading the plaintiffs to go to law. Their tenets were founded on the literal interpretation of the New Testament, and they thought it prevented them taking action in a court of law. ‘But,’ added counsel, ‘I was able to quote a text of Scripture to them to the effect that there were times when it was their duty to do so.’
Mr. Justice Darling—Apparently they had never read that text. (Laughter.)
Mr. Eames—I think they had, but they had not quite the same interpretation upon it that I did. (Laughter.)
Mr. Eames said it was one of the tenets of this religion, which was founded on the New Testament, that they should not enter upon a law suit, but they had been persuaded to do so. The plaintiffs had recovered £50 damages and costs at the Bristol Assizes for a placard hung outside a shop in Somersetshire. When the present case was first started the defendants had set up a plea of justification, but after making inquiries in America and elsewhere they had intimated that this plea would not be proceeded with, and said they had been completely misled by Mr. Wilson, and, therefore, they hoped there would be a settlement. The terms had been arranged and it had been agreed that the defendants should pay damages of £100 and the plaintiff’s cost. Counsel added that an action was brought against Mr. Wilson, and that was settled in chambers, Mr. Wilson paying damages and cost, and giving an apology. One of the Bills had been picked up in the House of Commons, and a question was put to Mr. Birrell, who stated that the police in Ireland had made inquiries, and that there was no truth in the matter. A third action had been commenced in Ireland against Mr. Wilson, and that had been settled by a public apology in Ireland, and by payment of damages, and as a result of this third action these charges had been disproved.
Here counsel stated the terms of settlement arranged between the People and the plaintiffs. He added that the plaintiffs wished to deny on oath that there was any truth in the charges. Some of the posters published by Mr. Wilson were grossly indecent.
Mr. Justice Darling—Was it ever pleaded that this was a matter of fair comment and of public interest?
Mr. Eames said that in November 1911 an action brought against Mr. Wilson and the proprietors of the Ipswich Independent was settled in chambers, Mr. Wilson paying damages and costs, and an apology was advertised in The Daily Mail of most ample kind.
Mr. Justice Darling—Has Mr. Wilson published some of the placards since that time?
Mr. Eames—Only this year one of these red bills was picked up in the House of Commons, when a question was put to Mr. Birrell, who said there was no truth in the charges. Mr. Wilson had settled a third action brought against him by an apology and the payment of damages. As a result of these three actions it might safely be said that the charges had been thoroughly disproved.
Mr. Earnest Walter List, one of the plaintiffs, a contractor and job master of Debenham, gave evidence that there was not a word of truth in the libel. Witness said he had not been created a Bishop of Suffolk, or been given any other ecclesiastical title. A dozen members met in his house and he had to oversee them, but nothing more. All the charges of immorality were untrue. There was not a word of truth in the libel as regarded immorality. He was never called ‘bishop.’
Is there somebody else who is known as the Archbishop of Norfolk?
(Laughter.) I never heard of it until I read of it in the People.
Mr. Edward Cooney also gave evidence that the statement complained of was untrue.
Mr. Justice Darling—Were you the founder of this sect?—No, William Irvine was the first, about sixteen years ago. I cast in my lot with him as a fellow-preacher, and preached a good deal in the north of Ireland. I recognise the name, but others have nicknamed us ‘The Cooneyites.’ I do not like it myself.
Mr. Spence for the defendants, said his client received information from Mr. Wilson about the community, but before publishing anything they sent a representative to see him, and thought he was a responsible parson and having regard to the statement that there had been a document signed by twenty ministers and other public men, they came to the conclusion that the facts communicated by Mr. Wilson were true, and that the matter was one of public importance as well as of journalistic interest, in which they thought it their duty to publish a warning against this particular sect. When the letter was received from the plaintiff’s solicitors, they made inquiries in America, and received information that certain girls were said to have been taken to America for certain purposes. That was what caused the defendants to say they would justify. They made further inquiries however, and found that this information was not reliable, and upon the only defence put forward was a denial that the words complained of referred to either of the plaintiffs, or charged either of them with immoral conduct. The People were satisfied that, after full investigation, these charges of immorality had no foundation at all, and they had been misled. With regard to their comments on this sect as a religious body, he had nothing to say, because they were comments and not a statement of fact, and he had nothing to withdraw but he was there to withdraw the charges of immorality, and did unreservedly withdraw them, and expressed regret that they should have been made.
His Lordship assented to the course suggested. He said the defendants were satisfied that with regard to Mr. List and Mr. Cooney there were no grounds for the charges that they led a movement which led, designed or otherwise, to the kind of immorality suggested, and that having been satisfied that Mr. List’s and Mr. Cooney’s characters were perfectly clear they consented to judgment in the action in accordance with the terms stated. Judgment was entered according by consent for the plaintiffs for £100 and costs.
Go to Top of Page