Death of the Blind Giant, Joseph Neal Sewel
by Edie Robinson
This article was originally published in the December 2002 edition of Soul Search, the journal of The Sole Society
In the July 1999 edition of Soul Search, Mike Sewell provided a brief article entitled ‘The Lincolnshire Gigantic Youth’. Edie Robinson has very kindly provided us with the following fascinating article about the same ‘giant’, originally published in The Taunton Courier, July 15th, 1829. Edie found it in the Taunton Museum, where they also have his shoes on display!
A GIANT’S GRAVE - The curiosity of this town was on Monday much excited by the arrangements for the interment in the church yard of Taunton St. Mary Magdalen, of the body of Joseph Neal Sewel, the Lincolnshire giant.
The deceased was born at Scambellsby, near Horncastle, in the county of Lincoln, Feb. 18th 1805. Being illegitimate, he was soon compelled to seek his own livelihood, and as he was remarkably large for his age, he was publicly shewn as a curiosity. About three years and a half ago, he visited Swansea, where he was seized with a typhus fever, which terminated in blindness, and was reduced to the necessity of going into the poor-house at that place. On recovering from his illness, he proceeded through the country, blind, feeble, and almost helpless, and reached Bristol, from whence he came to this town, where his melancholy condition attracted the attention of some benevolent persons, who liberally administered to his necessities, and eventually enabled him to proceed to Exeter, where he was furnished with a caravan, in which to exhibit himself, and provided with a person named Broomsgrove of this town, to attend him. Thus supplied, he became tolerably successful in the exhibition of himself, and again reached Swansea. His state of health, although weakly, did not indicate any proximate danger, but after taking tea on the 3d inst. He was seized with fits, of which he died the next day, in the 24th year of his age.
Sewel had a great horror of being exposed to anatomical operations after his death, and to avert his well-founded apprehension, was extremely urgent in requesting his attendant that his body might be brought to Taunton, where he knew that the kindness he had experienced from his friends, would be extended to his remains, on their being made acquainted with his request. Broomsgrove, his attendant, accordingly brought the corpse in the caravan from Swansea, through Glocester and Bristol to this town, where it arrived on Monday last, having, much to his credit, resisted a great number of applications for the disposal of the body, particularly one made by a Frenchman, who was extremely importunate on the occasion, and very lavish in his offers, for purchasing it with the view of sending it to France. Its identity having been previously ascertained on personal inspection, by two gentlemen who well knew him, the funeral took place on Monday afternoon, and was witnessed by a vast concourse of the inhabitants. Quick lime was thrown into the grave, and the best expedients adopted to accomplish the wishes of the deceased, regarding the security of his remains. A Somersetshire dwarf named Farnham, only 37 inches high, followed the caravan as chief mourner at the funeral. The contrasted stature of this individual, with that of Sewel, when alive, presented a curious spectacle, and rendered the conjoint exhibition exceedingly attractive to spectators. The deceased was seven feet four inches high, and weighed 37 stones or 518lbs. His friend, the dwarf, weighed 68lbs only. Sewel’s dress required five yards of broad cloth for his coat, five yards of cloth and lining for his waistcoat, seven yards of patent cord for his trousers, his shoes were 14½ inches long, and 6½ inches wide.
The subjoined lines have been sent us, on the death of this poor Blind Giant, who case excited so much benevolent interest in Taunton and Exeter, in the year 1826; at which better place a large, commodious caravan was given him, by subscription, for exhibiting himself about the country. He died at Swansea, on the 5th inst., aged 24, and was, by faithful humanity of the man who travelled with him, in partnership, brought to this town in the carriage, for internment on Monday last, Sewel having made it a particular request to lie here, from his grateful recollection of the relief shown him during his stay amongst the inhabitants. To the man who brought his remains to Taunton, the greatest praise is due, in having done his duty to the deceased.
“And though art gone, poor Sewel !
Alas! Thy pitiable state has drawn forth many a sigh,
Has wrung forth many a tear!
Hard was thy wretched fate poor sufferer:
Ranking a Giant in thy height and make,
Thou wert but as an infant in thy weakness;
In the full bloom of youth and vigour,
When time begins its boyish days to cast,
And in rich plenitude of power to manhood rises,
Hope then in thee was dampt by further aggravations of thy woes.
With sickness dire, came penury and want:
Without a friend – without a home –
Toss’d on the world, a wandering pilgrim,
Thou wert on every kindly bounty cast:-
No common lightsome claimant!
And with thy cup of misery, e’en then not full;
For thou hadst yet to drink it with its overflow.
’Twas not enough thy many evils to endure,
Without another added to that portioned cap.
All then was darkened to thy vision’s eye;
And sight, that noble gift which lights our darkening ways,
From thy poor miserable frame became extinct.
In this predicament, alone and destitute, thou wandererest,
Seeking kind pity’s aid, nor sought thou it in vain.
Thy case made known, the liberal band
Most liberally came forth to aid the needy suppliant,
And soothe what did surpass all human skill to heal.
With grateful benedictions on the heads of these, his benefactors,
For those great blessings giv’n, the poor man felt their force,
And his good conduct, ever since, has shown
Their bounty was not misapplied.
Blessed! Then ever blesses, be the hand that gen’rously
bestows its tribute to the needy!
Reader! Pause here, and think – Who
Form’d this great machine?
Who made this mighty structure?
Who dealt out all these overwhelming woes?
His great Creator! – Thy Creator too!
Pause then, and bless the Lord, -that he
More lovingly hath dealt with thee.
And wherefore? Not for any merit of thine own,
But so he wills his ways,
And, willing them, ‘tis for some noble good;
Though to us, unfathomable here.
That noble good, may this poor pilgrim share!
And tho’ my theme treat not of wealth or grandeur high,
Yet ‘tis all one! – when the poor spirit’s taken.
And he who so lately groaned beneath affliction’s rod,
Which no kind heart on earth had power to move,
Who here hath known no chequered lot of joy and sorrow blended, -
The Almighty Father hath now, in joy, released,
And in his mercy eased him of his pains,
To rank him with the high and mighty of renown,
If in his tried and lowly sphere
His hope and resignation there did merit it.”
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