PEOPLE – WILLS, John. Well Known Hermit

Accreditation the Middlesbro’ and Stockton Gazette 13/03/1868


            On Sunday morning (08/03) John Wills, the well-known local “hermit,” was found dead in his “cabin,” near the South Docks, Sunderland. As our readers may remember, the deceased was first introduced to them under the title of the “Tees Hermit,” when he had taken up his abode on the banks of the Tees. At the time we describe the whole court of which he had availed himself in the construction of his “Hermitage.” Deceased was a species of harmless lunatic, and though a native of Sunderland, and connected with a very respectable family there, he laboured under the delusion that he was the heir to the extensive estates at Kirkleatham, and used to exhibit papers which, he said proved is right and title thereto. It may also be recollected that the pool among gave a very romantic and extraordinary account of his origin, and repudiated all connection with his relatives in Sunderland, will be treated as deluded pretenders. He left Redcar some time ago, I went back to Sunderland, where, after obtaining the requisite permission from the owner, the two copies quarters in one of the compartments of a large fishing boat, which had been laid up for a long time on the banks near the Sea Outlet of the South Docks. In the four cabin of this board, which is named the Margaret, the hermit, drive to exist, in tolerable comfort, according to his notions, on about three pence a day, which he generally begged, or had given to him. He was often annoyed by the intrusion of boys and visitors, though the latter was useful for the cash and “Baccy” which they not unfrequently left behind them. The old man carefully avoided his own friends, and refused to accept any aid from them, labouring under the delusion that they wished to poison him. He was however, a frequent visitor at the house of Mrs Chisholm, whose husband is a four-month at Mr Elliott’s timber yard, and lives in the house attached to the yard. Mrs Chisholm often gave Wills food, and sometimes treat them to a cup of tea, favours which she always gratefully act knowledge. He called, for the last time on Saturday night (07/03), and left the canvas bag to be taken care of. This bike contained a number of ragged garments, a very aged and discovered shirt, and old straw hat, canvas jacket and trousers, as well as a book called “The Naturalist’s Pocket Companion.” Nothing further was seen or heard of the poor man till Sunday morning, when some boys, who appeared to have been among his regular visitors, went and called on him, but receiving no answer they climbed into the boat and their discovered Wills lying on his back in the cabin quite dead. The boys immediately went and sought assistance, and the body of the unfortunate man was removed to the dead house. In the Was an old mattress, on which the hermit lay, and a small stall, which afforded him heat and facilities for cooking the wretched film which he generally got hold of. The only article of toilet which could be seen in the place was a call made out of the backbone of the fish. The cause of death is supposed to have been heart disease, accelerated by the deceased’s strange life, and the poverty of his diet. Some remnants of stinking fish, on which he apparently made his last meal, were found in the cabin; and it was reported recently that he had consumed the carcass of a dead pig which had been buried in the sand, and substituted on that for a time. The deceased was between 50 and 60 years of age.


Lol Hansom March 6, 2013 People & Characters