- Dundee History Archive, People & Politics
- 19th century, hurkle jean, magic, occult, superstition, witch, witchcraft
Grissell Jaffray is undoubtedly the most famous witch of Dundee, having been the last witch to be executed in Dundee, but Dundee’s superstitious side was still alive and well in the 19th century, when Janet Kindy, or ‘Hurkle Jean’, was believed to be responsible for a number of afflictions that allegedly beset the town. Sickness in cattle and children was attributed to the evil presence of Hurkle Jean. Sadly for Janet, her deformed appearance only served as more fuel to the fire for the townsfolk, and thus, another legend was born. Belief in Hurkle Jean’s demonic abilities was so ardent, that, by the time it had reached its peak, effigies were being burned and exorcisms performed!
Thankfully with the repeal of the witchcraft acts in 1735, Janet was protected from persecution by law; but this didn’t prevent her neighbours from demonising her all the same, as a letter from one of her close neighbours “M.G.”, submitted to the Edinburgh Magazine in 1818 tells us:
Dundee, as you know, was the last place in Scotland where the public execution of a witch took place; and the witch burnt there was neither so old, so ugly, nor so poor, as these unfortunate persons usually are. That Grizzel Jamfre [sic] was not poor, however, was probably the cause of her death; for the lawyers who could prove the crime of witchcraft against any person, were rewarded by great part, if not the whole, of what the convict died possessed of, – no small temptation to use diligence. But though the modern capital of Angus is thus distinguished in the annals of demonology, I did not expect to find the belief in witchcraft so general among the lower classes, as you will perceive it is from the following account, the heroine of which is my very near neighbour.
Janet Kindy, otherwise Hurkle Jean, is poor, old, and deformed; her evil eye is so dreaded in this neighbourhood that the sickness of children and cattle is often attributed to it, and if she happen to cross a fisherman’s path as he goes to his boat, the fishing is invariably spoiled for that day. I verily believe that nothing but the feat of the law prevents the tragedy of the witches of Pittenweem from being acted over again, so convinced are her neighbours of her supernatural powers, and so inveterate is their hatred against her. Six years ago, a boat having been for some months unfortunate in fishing, a council of war was held among the elder fishers, and it was agreed that the boat should be exorcised, and that Janet was the spirit which tormented it. Accordingly, the ceremony of exorcism was performed as follows. In each boat there is a cavity called the tap-hole; on this occasion the hollow was filled with a particular kind of water, furnished by the mistress of the boat, a straw effigy of poor Jane was placed over it, and had they dared to touch her life, Janet herself would have been there. The boat was then rowed out to sea before sunrise, and, to use the technical expression, the figure was burnt between the sun and the sky, i.e. after daylight appeared, but before the sun rose above the horizon, while the master called aloud ‘Avoid ye Satan!’. The boat was then brought home, and since that time has been fortunate as any belonging to the village.
M.G. goes on to describe an account of another witch who transformed into a hare, and a necromancer from Forfar called William Grey…but those are stories for another day.
(Letter taken from – https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=QF0AAAAAYAAJ&source=gbs_navlinks_s)