Victoria Helen Duncan, Britain's last witch cover

Victoria Helen Duncan, Britain's last witch

Witches and wizards have always been an ideal subjects for novels, movies and video games whether they are set in a fantasy universe like that of J.R.R. Tolkien, or that summon the medieval myth of Merlin, maybe by reashing and adapting it in modern times. But not many people know that in Great Britain the last witch trial took place a few decades ago, in 1944.

Victoria Helen Duncan, a special girl

A controversial medium, Victoria Helen McCrae Duncan, was the one who stand trial: apparently Victoria Helen Duncan (born McCrae in 1897 at Callander, Pertshire) started since she was a kid to make prophecy and acting histerically; in 1916 she married Henry Duncan, a wonded war veteran, who helped her to grow her “supernatural powers”. In 1926 the woman went from being considered clairvoyant to medium, starting to materialize ectoplasm of deceased persons during séances.

Too bad that ectoplasm, as a London Spiritualist Alliance's enquiry confirmed in 1931, were produced by the medium herself with cheesecloth, sink, white of eggs and chemicals. Victoria Helen Duncan basically was a fraud and her story would be forgotten like those of hundreds other pseudo wizards and witches if it wasn't for an incident occured during World War II that caused her arrest and sentence as a witch.

Victoria Helen Duncan

HMS Barham sinking

In November 1941 HMS Barham, a Queen Elizabeth-class battleship launched in 1914 that participated in the Battle of Jutland in June 1916, was sunk by the nazi submarine U-331, but due to the closeness of other ships to the submarine and the speed at wich the action was held there was no official commmunication of the sinking to Germen haedquarter, while British headquarter preferred to maintain close secrecy, by informing only relatives of the 861 victims (the news spread publicly in January 1941).

Nevertheless some days later in a sence Victoria Helen Duncan claimed to come into contact with the ghost of a sailor drawned. Had the medium really supernatural powers? Not necessarily since, as wrote researcher Graeme Donald, the story of the sinking had already begun to run (it was even published by the Times of London), even if authnorities have tried not to give it too emphasis. The “medium” might therefore have heard about and artfully organized her whole show.


Last person sentenced under the Witchcraft Act

What even Duncan didn't foresee, despite her alleged “paranormal powers”, was that she would have been arrested, at first under the Vagrancy Act 1824, which punished with a fine those who were precticing cheiromancy and necromancy for money, and then would have been charged under the Witchcraft Act 1735, for having fraudulantly practised “spiritual activities”.

At the peak of the trial, which dreawn a lot of notice and saw over 40 witnesses in favour of Victoria Helen Duncan, there was almost certainly a mood of suspicion prevailing because of war time that led British authorities to deal with any leaking of news that could have directly or undirectly benefit the Germans just while they were planning ally landing in Normandy. Fact is that Duncan had to serve nine months of detention in the Holloway Prison of London, becoing the last witch sentenced in Great Britain.

A record that was worth the perpetual memory of her, a “prize” certainly greater than the one she deserves for her doubtful supernatural powers. With regard to Witchcraft Act, originally set up to end wiches hunt (given that it denied supernatural powers and punished those who was bragging to own them, basically striking fraud), it was abolished in 1954.

Tags: Ghosts, Mystery solved, Paranormal