Edinburgh crime history: Who was Christian Caldwell - the woman who dressed as a man to hunt 'witches'?

Christian Caldwell was a cruel and brutal witch-hunter who kept a shocking secret.

On August 30, 1662, John Dickson was accused of witchcraft and brutally interrogated in Edinburgh, one of thousands who met such a fate.

However, Dickson was accused of a very specific crime, of “false accusation, torture and causing the death of innocent people in Moray” after a distinguished career as a witch pricker.

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It was on this day that John’s secret was discovered, to the shock of the torturers.

Edinburgh crime history: Who was Christian Caldwell - the woman who dressed as a man to hunt 'witches'?

The Witch hunt

The witch hunting in Scotland began around 1590 as a group from North Berwick were charged and killed as “witches”.

Over the next 100 years, between four and six thousand people were tortured and murdered after being accused of witch craft.

Most of the accused, over 75%, were women.

In April of last year, the Scottish Parliament issued a formal apology to all those who lost their life during the witch trials.

Witch Pricker

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A witch pricker was usually a religious man who performed this cruel and brutal practise on those accused on witch craft.

They would use pins and needles to pierce the skin of their victim, while searching for the devil’s mark – a spot on a “witches” body that can feel no pain.

Many would use their position of power to inflict excessive pain and suffering, above what they were paid for. Most were sadistic and cruel.

It was only one of many techniques used to torture “witches”, and to extract a false confession.

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John Dickson

John Dickson worked in the Moray area of Scotland, signing a contract to hunt out local witches for six shillings a day, with a bonus for every witch identified.

In Tain, Dickson accused a man named John Hay, an influential man, who batted the accusation right back at his accuser.

Being a court messenger, he was believed and Dickson was arrested and transported to Edinburgh for interrogation.

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It was now that the truth was revealed, John Dickson was actually a woman, who had dressed as a man to reap the rewards of the lucrative and barbaric career.

Her real identity is not known, though she is now commonly referred to as Christian Caldwell.

As a punishment, she was banished from the country and sent to a plantation in Barbados. It is not known if she survived the journey.