Three centuries have passed since the shocking death of a young woman in Malmesbury, yet Hannah Twynnoy is remembered here in Malmesbury each day. Walk through Malmesbury Abbey Churchyard with the Market Cross behind you and you will see to the right Hannah’s small headstone with the sad epitaph:
In Memory of Hannah Twynnoy
Who died October 23rd 1703
Aged 33 years
In bloom of life
She’s snatch’d from hence
She had not room to make defence;
For Tyger fierce
took life away.
And here she lies in a bed of Clay
Until the resurrection Day
Hannah is possibly the first person to be killed by a tiger in England, but why was this possible? What happened to cause her death? John Marks Moffat says in his history of Malmesbury published 100 years later, that she was a servant at the White Lion Inn. The White Lion at that time housed wild beasts for exhibition, one of which was a tiger. Hannah was regularly told by its keeper not to tease the animal. One day when amusing herself in this way the tiger lunged at her, pulled its fixing from the wall, caught hold of her clothing and “tore her to pieces“.
Very little is known about Hannah, but the Athelstan Museum does have among its collection an undated letter describing this story and quoting the epitaph on the headstone. There are also several postcards depicting the headstone and photographs of the White Lion Inn (now a private house) that can be viewed by prior arrangement. A small reference library also holds books describing the event. Further to this a family friendly children’s activity at the museum asks children to find and count the growing family of tigers present in the museum!