News of ‘Prophet’ Wroe’s death filters back to Europe

The news of John Wroe’s sudden death in Melbourne, Australia took weeks to reach Europe and gets widespread coverage in early June 1863. The first title in the British Newspaper Library’s online archive to cover the story is the Dublin Daily Express.

Dublin Daily Express
Thursday 28 May 1863

FANATICISM IN AUSTRALIA

There appear to be a sect in Melbourne calling themselves “Christian Israelites”, but called by others “Wroeites”. Their “prophet” has recently died, and the Melbourne Weekly Review has notice of him.

“It will, probably, be a piece of perfectly novel intelligence to the bulk of our readers to learn that the wretched old man who thus obscurely ended his career was, up till the very last, looked upon by his deluded followers as an inspired personage… able to bestow immortal life on all who believed in him… Yet it is very certain that this was nothing more nor less than a monomaniac… There lies before as a volume of ‘The Life and Journal of John Wroe’, which contains many alleged Divine communications revealed to him.’ …The miserable maniac who died the other day at the ‘synagogue’ in Fitzroy steadily declared all his life that neither himself nor his followers could ever taste death, bat that both they and would be translated to heaven as Elijah was! Indeed, John Wroe’s latest ‘revelation’, delivered only few weeks before his death, was that should return to England within a few months. He had actually taken his passage by one of the Liverpool liners, in fulfilment of the ‘prophecy’, when the inevitable hand of death fell upon him. So ended the eighty years of wild hallucination and daring impiety of John Wroe. His duped followers, it is averred, are at this hour looking for his resurrection and re-appearance amongst them!”

Local photographs in old newspapers

The newspaper archives has only come up with half a dozen photographs relating to the Wrenthorpe area – and three of these are of Silcoates. The first is of the last toll bar in the district.

Leeds Mercury
Saturday 13 July 1929

SILCOATES OLD TOLL-BAR

In close proximity to the famous Silcoates School, this reminder of old coaching days is still in use, and is one of the few surviving toll-bars in the West Riding.

The image is of an unnamed man with a white beard and hat standing in front of the gate.

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Pictures in other newspapers:

Yorkshire Evening Post
Wednesday 1 May 1935

BLOSSOM TIME IN THE ORCHARD

Caption: A scene at Wrenthorpe, near Wakefield.

Unfortunately the orchard image is too indistinct to show here.

Yorkshire Post and Leeds Intelligencer
Wednesday 17 July 1940

PLAYING FIELDS NO LONGER

Caption: Boys at Silcoates School, Wakefield, digging their playing fields in preparation for food growing.

Leeds Mercury
Tuesday 6 June 1926

A DIVINELY INSPIRED MANSION

Caption: Prophet’s Mansion, at Wrenthorpe, near Wakefield, built by Prophet John Wroe, who died many years ago. He knew nothing of architecture, and it is said that his plans were divinely inspired. The house is now inhabited by the Prophet’s great-grandson, who confidently awaits his return in the flesh. The second picture shows the novel sundial crowning the house.

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Sheffield Daily Telegraph
Friday 2 October 1908

SILCOATES SCHOOL

On the other side will be found a picture of the ceremony in connection with the opening of the new Silcoates School, the celebrated Congregational college. The new building replaces the edifice that was burnt down some time back. The school was opened by Mr Runciman, and the picture shows Mr G H Baines, JP, one of the trustees, handing the Minister of Education the key. Mrs Runciman will be seen holding a bouquet. At the table is seated Mr Theodore Taylor, MP, while next him is Mr John McLaren, one of the trustees. Immediately beneath this picture is one showing the new school buildings.

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Ben Wroe: the facts (well almost)

Here’s an odd piece from a Suffolk paper in 1937. It’s on a page crammed with strange facts. Pity it doesn’t really get it right.

Framlingham Weekly News
Saturday 31 July 1937

BOY LEADS SECT

In the colliery village of East Ardsley, a few miles from Leeds, lives a nine-year-old boy who is the head of one of the strangest religious sects in the country. He is the great-great-grandson the “Prophet” Wroe, founder of the Christian Israelite movement, which, in its heyday, had followers throughout the West Riding. Members of the sect were well-known, because all male members were required to wear their hair long and to grow a beard. Their teaching was “Belief the law and the Gospel.” The boy, who became head of the movement following the death of father, John Wroe, in a road accident, wears his hair in two long plaits, which reach over his shoulders. He lives with his mother at The Mansion, a residence which has been in the family for generations, and follows the faith his forefathers. The Mansion, with farmlands, was left in entail for the prophet’s descendants so long there should heir and a pair of slippers and a vacant chair in readiness for the founder of the movement, who, it is believed, will one day return.

Silcoates School pupil Benjamin Wroe wasn’t nine but would have been about 15 when this was published. He didn’t live at the Mansion as it had been sold to the Christian Israelite Church the previous year and his mother had died three years before. Ben Wroe was killed in Normandy in 1944.

 

Another dispute over a well

Leeds Intelligencer
Saturday 5 June 1858

A CHARGE OF ASSAULT AGAINST “PROPHET” WROE

At the Court House [Wakefield], on Monday last, Mr Wroe, better known as “Prophet Wroe”, was charged with having assaulted an old woman named Jane Ramsden, at Carr Gate, on the 18th ult. The affair arose out of a dispute which exists between Wroe and some of the persons in that locality regarding their right to take water out of a well situated on his property. On the day in question the complainant went to the well, and got a pitcher of water, when Mr Wroe went up to her, seized hold of her, “shook” her, and took her pitcher from her and poured out the water. Witnesses were called who stated that they were in the habit of getting water from the well for the last 15 years. Mr Shaw, who (instructed by Mr Barratt), appeared for Mr Wroe, said all that the defendant had done was done in the bona fide assertion of his right. A man had as much right to order another out of his field as out of his house. In the present instance, Mr Wroe had only, after repeated warning, used the necessary force to turn the complainant off his property. Witnesses were called who stated that Mr Wroe had only ordered the woman off, and that no unnecessary violence was used. The case was dismissed.

Wroes’ burglary: the miscarriage of justice

Picking up on the story of the three men convicted in August 1842 for the burglary at Brandy Carr House, and their sentence of transportation to Australia...

Leeds Intelligencer
Saturday 17 August 1844

INNOCENT PARTIES TRANSPORTED

Our readers will remember that about two years ago, the house of Prophet Wroe, of Wakefield, was broken into and a silver watch stolen; also, that three men, called Benjamin and John Pickersgill and James Ramsden, were tried for the robbery at York Assizes, in August, 1842, and transported for ten years. It now appears, however, that the men were in no manner connected with the robbery, and are perfectly innocent of it. This information has been obtained from James Hudson, now a convict at York Castle, who has made a voluntary confession to the Governor of the Castle, by which it appears that the robbery was committed by himself and five other men, whose names he gives; he details the proceedings on the night of the robbery, and what was done with the property. We trust the Magistrates will take measures by which these innocent men will be restored to their homes.

Shocking that what we would consider a major news story, although covered in many of the papers, is tucked away in seemingly random ‘local news’ type columns. And that’s it, there’s no further coverage, nothing about when the men did return home. A very different news agenda to that of today.

Jailed for dodging US Civil War draft

A great article from the Leeds Times: information on ‘Prophet’ John Wroe’s demise, the aftermath at Melbourne House and, most intriguingly of all, the latest troubles facing ‘Judge’ Daniel Milton.

As we’ve already heard, Brooklyn’s Daniel Milton spent much of the last 40 years of his life protesting against the Wroes, keeping the local police and courts busy, and even served time in Wakefield Prison. But on a trip home in the autumn of 1864, when he turns out to vote in the US general election, he lands up in jail for spending too much time in Wrenthorpe instead of enlisting to fight for the Union.

Leeds Times
Saturday 17 December 1864

THE “SAINTS’ ” DISPUTED INHERITANCE AT WRENTHORPE

John Wroe, the ignorant old man who falsely and wickedly designated himself a Prophet, died in Australia, in Feb, 1863, after falsifying his own prediction in this respect, for he had declared that he should return to England in the flesh, remain here for four years, and be then put to a violent death, only to re-appear at the Temple in West Ardsley for his permanent heavenly residence upon earth. We really thought that the imposture he propagated had long since exploded, and can only express our regret that such is not the case.

Our readers will remember that in March, 1864, we duly detailed the steps which had been taken by Daniel Milton – who calls himself “the Promised Shiloh” and “the Head of the Church” – to recover possession of the Saints’ Inheritance at Wrenthorpe, on the ground that it had been built with the money of the disciples, and was intended to be their home when the earthly Millennium comes to pass, and how Daniel soon found himself in the Lion’s Den – otherwise the Wakefield House of Correction – for obstructing the executors of John Wroe’s will in the execution of their duty. Since that period, the farms, farming stock, houses, and the elegant articles of furniture appertaining unto Melbourne Temple, have been disposed of by public auction, for the benefit of the kith and kin of the deceased “prophet”: and within the “hallowed walls” of the structure there is now nothing to testify to its departed glories except two faithful female adherents of Wroe’s, who wander about the tenement sorely distressed in mind owing to the trouble that has fallen upon Israel, but who still firmly believe that John will re-appear on February 4th, 1865. Whether his resuscitation is to be merely spiritual or of the flesh, fleshly, is not clear even to the mental vision of these sorely afflicted females. But they bide their time, holding loyally to their creed, and will be prepared to welcome Wroe even if he comes under the questionable shape of a spiritual medium, rather than in propria persona, and on board one of the excellent mail steamers via Point de Galle, Aden, and Southampton.

In the meantime the man who was the thorn in the side of the prophet and his adherents has got into trouble at New York. Daniel Milton, “the promised Shiloh”, unluckily took it into his head to go and visit his mother, east of the empire city, just at the time when the draft for the army was being conducted therein. For the moment he was not missed, inasmuch as he has latterly spent much of his time in England, and on the Atlantic; but he was discovered and “brought to book” when he turned up in his ward on the 8th November to vote for old Abe Lincoln. For this offence of evading the draft he was sent to the Bastile, Greenpoint, New York, where he remained at the date of the latest advices. But he requests us to state that he intends to lecture in the neighbourhood of “Israel’s mansion”, at Wrenthorpe, on Whit Sunday next [4 June 1865], on “the Law of Moses, English Law, and Lawyers”. We freely give Mr Milton the benefit of our columns for this announcement, and do not anticipate that he is likely to be disturbed by the reappearance of the “old familiar form of the man whose rest he had so much disquieted” – we mean the deceased “prophet”, John Wroe.

The gunpowder clot

As we’ve already heard, Brooklyn’s Daniel Milton spent much of the last 40 years of his life protesting against the Wroe family, causing chaos for the Wakefield authorities to sort out. On 9 August 1861, he attempted to blow up one of the lodges at Melbourne House.

Leeds Mercury
Thursday 15 August 1861

WILFUL DAMAGE AT WRENTHORPE

On Friday night last, a mischievous attempt to blow up an empty lodge with gunpowder, took place at Wrenthorpe. The mansion of Mr John Wroe, commonly called “Prophet Wroe”, is in that township, and is a large building in the Grecian style, and at the four angles of the grounds are lodges, and one of these at the back is uninhabited. It seems that on the night in question some knave broke the window of the lodge, and then introduced a bag containing a quantity of gunpowder which was attached to a long string that had been saturated in a solution of saltpetre, and an explosion took place. The roof of the lodge was injured, and so were the walls, but the damage done is not material, only amounting to about £3.