The Peculiar People, 1870
One of my husband’s most often-uttered phrases is “that’s a good name for a band!” (Being a heavy metaller, though, he generally has very different ideas to me on what might make a good band name.) However, that’s the phrase which went through my mind when I saw this article from the Liverpool Daily Post in 1870 which introduced me to the sect of “The Peculiar People”.
Formed as an offshoot of the Wesleyans in the 1830s, the Peculiar People’s name came from a different translation of the biblical phrase “The Chosen People”. It was formed in Essex, spreading later to East London as well. They believed in a literal interpretation of the Bible, and, generally speaking, no use of medicine – as seen in the article below.
The tough stance on medicine was challenged during a diphtheria outbreak in 1910, with the sect dividing into “Old Peculiars” and “New Peculiars”, the New being more open to the idea of medical treatment. Interestingly, the Peculiar People still exist in Essex and East London, although they’re now called the distinctly less peculiar “Union of Evangelical Churches.”
The “Peculiar People”
An inquest was held on Thursday at Plumstead on the body of George Walker, aged forty-eight, living at 141 Sandy-hill-road, Plumstead.
Deceased’s widow said that her husband had been ailing some time, but he had only been seriously ill about a week. He was employed as a labourer by Mr Perry, contractor. Whilst ill he refused to have a medical man. They belonged to the religious denomination known as the “Peculiar People”. He used to say that God was all-sufficient to raise him up, and He would do so if it was His will. Deceased was visited by the elders, who laid hands on him and anointed him. He was suffering from a cough and died on Saturday night. The “Peculiar People” are allowed to have medical men if they liked; but they believed that the Lord was sufficient to take care of them without doctors. They used to give him wine and brandy, but no medicine.
The Coroner asked, if they gave him wine, why not give medicine? And she replied that they required to nourish the body, and gave wine and spirits for that purpose.
Abraham Andrews was called: he explained the views of the “Peculiar People” and repeated that they were bound to nourish the body with food, including wine and spirits; but that medicine was a different thing altogether, and they did not believe in doctors.
The Coroner asked him whether he would call a doctor if he broke his leg; and he said that, whilst in the fold of Christ, such a thing would not happen to him. His leg could only be broken through disobedience, and would be a sign of his being without the grace of God.
The Coroner said that the “Peculiar People” were rightly named, for they were very peculiar indeed. It was extraordinary that common sense, science and, he might say, common humanity, should not prevail. If the “Peculiar People’s” views were to be adopted, doctors might as well be dispensed with altogether.
Mr Andrews said they did not despise medical men, believing they were of great use to those who were not walking in obedience; but those who possessed Christ considered that God would be their help in every time of need.
The Coroner said that was correct, but the “Peculiar People” carried it to a ridiculous extent. Common humanity would prompt every one to see if anything could be done to prolong life, and calling in medical advice could do no harm, if it did no good. Society at large would say that they did no more for their sick than any one would do to a dog in the street.
The jury, considering a post-mortem examination necessary to ascertain whether deceased’s life could saved with proper medical advice, Dr Ryley, the police surgeon, was selected to perform it.
The inquiry was adjourned till Tuesday, on which occasion the elders who attended on deceased are to be present.