Ghosts of the Murdered by T.F. Thiselton Dyer 1898
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It is commonly supposed that the spirits of those who have suffered a violent or untimely death are baneful and malicious beings; for, as Meiners conjectures in his 'History of Religions,' they were driven unwillingly from their bodies, and have carried into their new existence an angry longing for revenge. Hence, in most countries, there is a dread of such harmful spirits; and, among the Sioux Indians the fear of the ghost's vengeance has been known to act as a check to murder. The avenging ghost often comes back to convict the guilty, and appears in all kinds of strange and uncanny ways. Thus the ghost of Hamlet's father (i. 5) says:
I am thy father's spirit,
Doomed for a certain time to walk the night,
And for the day confined to fast in fires,
Till the foul crimes, done in my days of nature,
Are burnt and purged away.
Till the crime has been duly expiated, not only is the spirit supposed to be kept from its desired rest, but it flits about the haunts of the living, that, by its unearthly molestation, it may compel them to make every possible reparation for the cruel wrong done. Any attempt to lay such a ghost is ineffectual, and no exorcist's art can induce it to discontinue its unwelcome visits. Comparative folk-lore proves how universal is this belief, for one of the most popular ghost stories in folk-tales is that which treats of the murdered person whose ghost hovers about the earth with no gratification but to terrify the living.
The Chinese have a dread of the wandering spirits of persons who have come to an unfortunate end. At Canton, in 1817, the wife of an officer of Government had occasioned the death of two female domestic slaves, from some jealous suspicion it was supposed of her husband's conduct towards the girls; and, in order to screen herself from the consequences, she suspended the bodies by the neck, with a view to its being construed into an act of suicide. But the conscience of the woman tormented her to such a degree that she became insane, and at times personated the victims of her cruelty; or, as the Chinese supposed, the spirits of the murdered girls possessed her, and utilised her mouth to declare her own guilt. In her ravings she tore her clothes, and beat her own person with all the fury of madness; after which she would recover her senses for a time, when it was supposed the demons quitted her, but only to return with greater frenzy, which took place a short time previous to her death. According to Mr. Dennys,' the most common form of Chinese ghost story is that wherein the ghost seeks to bring to justice the murderer who shuffled off its mortal coil.
The following tale is told of a haunted hill in the country of the Assiniboins. Many summers ago a party of Assiniboins pounced on a small band of Crees in the neighbourhood of Wolverine Knoll. Among the victors was the former wife of one of the vanquished, who had been previously captured by her present husband. This woman directed every effort in the fight to take the life of her first husband, but he escaped, and concealed himself on this knoll. Wolverine—for this was his name—fell asleep, and was discovered by this virago, who killed him, and presented his scalp to her Assiniboin husband. Tbe knoll was afterwards called after him. The Indians assert that the ghosts of the murderess and her victim are often to be seen from a considerable distance struggling together on the very summit of the height.
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The Siamese fear as unkindly spirits the souls of such as died a violent death, or were not buried with the proper rites, and who, desiring expiation, invisibly terrify their descendants. In the same way, the Karens say that the ghosts of those who wander on the earth are the spirits of such as died by violence; and in Australia we hear of the souls of departed natives walking about because their death has not been expiated by the avenger of blood.
The Hurons of America, lest the spirits of the victims of their torture should remain around the huts of their murderers from a thirst of vengeance, strike everyplace with a staff in order to oblige them to depart. An old traveller mentions the same custom among the Iroquois: 'At night we heard a great noise, as if the houses had all fallen; but it was only the inhabitants driving away the ghosts of the murdered;' with which we may compare the belief of the Ottawas: On one occasion, when noises of the loudest and most inharmonious kind were heard in a certain village, it was ascertained that a battle had been lately fought between the Ottawas and Kickapods, and that the object of all this noise was to prevent the ghosts of the dead combatants from entering the village.
European folk-lore still clings to this old belief, and, according to the current opinion in Norway, the soul of a murdered person willingly hovers around the spot where his body is buried, and makes its appearance for the purpose of calling forth vengeance on the murderer.
The idea that, in cases of hidden murder, the buried dead cannot rest in their graves is often spoken in our old ballad folk-lore. Thus, in the ballad of the 'Jew's Daughter,' in Motherwell's collection, a youth was murdered, and his body thrown into a draw-Well, and he speaks to his mother from the well:
She ran away to the deep draw-well,
And she fell down on her knee,
Saying, 'Bonnie Sir Hugh, oh, pretty Sir Hugh,
I pray ye, speak to me!'
'Oh! the load it is wondrous heavy, mother,
The well, it is wondrous deep,
The little penknife sticks in my throat,
And I downa to ye speak.
But lift me out of this deep draw-well,
And bury me in yon churchyard;
Put a Bible at my head,' he says,
'And a Testament at my feet,
And pen and ink at every side,
And I will lay still and sleep.
And go to the back of Maitland town,
Bring me my winding sheet;
For it's at the back of Maitland town
That you and I shall meet.
The eye of superstition, we are told, sees such ghosts sometimes as white spectres in the churchyard, where they stop horses, terrify people, and make a disturbance; and occasionally as executed criminals, who, in the moonlight, wander round the place of execution, with their heads under their arms. At times they are said to pinch persons while asleep both black and blue, such spots being designated ghost-spots, or ghost-pinches. It is also supposed in some parts of Norway that certain spirits cry like children, and entice people to them, such being thought to derive their origin from murdered infants. A similar belief exists in Sweden, where the spirits of little children that have been murdered are said to wander about wailing, within an assigned time, so long as their lives would have lasted on earth, had they been allowed to live. As a terror for unnatural mothers who destroy their offspring, their sad cry is said to be 'Mama! Mama!' If travellers at night pass by them, they will hang on the vehicle, when the most spirited horses will sweat as if they were dragging too heavy a load, and at length come to a dead stop. The peasant then knows that a ghost or pysling has attached itself to his vehicle.
The nautical ghost is often a malevolent spirit, as in Shelley's' Revolt of Islam'; and Captain Marry at tells a sailor story of a murdered man's ghost appearing every night, and calling hands to witness a piratical scene of murder, formerly committed on board the ship in which he appeared. A celebrated ghost is that of the 'Shrieking Woman,' long supposed to haunt the shores of Oakum Bay, near Marblehead. She was a Spanish lady murdered by pirates in the eighteenth century, and the apparition is thus described by Whittier in his 'Legends of New England':
'Tis said that often when the moon,
Is struggling with the gloomy even,
And over moon and star is drawn
The curtain of a clouded heaven,
Strange sounds swell up the narrow glen,
As if that robber crew was there;
The hellish laugh, the shouts of men
And woman's dying prayer.
Many West Indian quays were thought to be the haunts of ghosts of murdered men; and Sir Walter Scott tells how the Buccaneers occasionally killed a Spaniard or a slave, and buried him with their spirits, under the impression that his ghost would haunt the spot, and keep away treasure hunters, he quotes another incident of a captain who killed a man in a fit of anger, and, on his threatening to haunt him, he cooked his body in the stove kettle; The crew believed that the murdered man took his place at the wheel, and on the yards. The captain, troubled by his conscience and the man's ghost, finally jumped overboard, when, as he sank, he threw up his arms and exclaimed, 'Bill is with me how!'
In most parts of the world similar tales are recorded, and are as readily believed as when they were first told centuries ago. A certain island on the Japanese coast is traditionally haunted by the ghosts of Japanese slain in a naval battle. Even to-day the Chousen peasant fancies he sees the ghostly armies baling out the sea with bottomless dippers, condemned thus to cleanse the ocean of the slain of centuries ago. According to an old Chinese legend the ghost of a captain of a man-of-war junk, who had been murdered, reappeared and directed how the ship was to be steered to avoid a nest of pirates.
In this country, many an old mansion has its haunted room, in which the unhappy spirit of the murdered person is supposed, on certain occasions, to appear. Generation after generation do such troubled spirits return to the scene of their life, and persistently wait till some one is bold enough to stay in the haunted room, and to question them as to the cause of their making such periodical visits. Accordingly, when a murder has been committed and not discovered, often, it is said, has the spirit of the murdered one continued to come back and torment the neighbourhood till a confession of the crime has been made, and justice satisfied. Mr. Walter Gregor, detailing instances in Scotland of haunted houses, tells how in one room a lady had been murdered, and her body buried in a vault below it. Her spirit could find no rest till she had told who the murderer was, and pointed out whero the body lay. In another, a baby heir had its little life stifled by the hand of an assassin hired by the next heir. The estate was obtained, but the deed followed the villain beyond the grave, and his spirit could find no peace. Night by night the ghost had to return at the hour of midnight to the room in which the murder was committed, and in agony
spend in it the hours till cock-crowing, when everything of the supernatural had to disappear.'
The ghost of Lady Hamilton of Bothwellhaugh, who always appears in white, carrying her child in her arms, has long been, as Mr. Ingram says, 'an enduring monument of the bloodthirsty spirit of the age in which she lived.' Whilst her husband was away from home, a favourite of the Regent Murray seized his house, turned his wife, on a cold night, naked, into the open fields, where, before morning, she was found raving mad; her infant perishing either by cold or murder. The ruins of the mansion of Woodhouslee, 'whence Lady Bothwell was expelled in the brutal manner which occasioned her insanity and death,' have long been tenanted with the unfortunate lady's ghost; 'and so tenacious is this spectre of its rights, that a part of the stones belonging to the ancient edifice having been employed in building or repairing the new Woodhouslee, the apparition has deemed it one of her privileges to haunt that house also.'
Samlesbury Hall, Lancashire, has its ghosts; and it is said that'on certain clear still evenings a lady in white can be seen passing along the gallery and the corridors, and then from the hall into the grounds; then she meets a handsome knight who receives her on bended knees, and he then accompanies her along the walks. On arriving at a certain spot, most probably the lover's grave, both the phantoms stand still, and, as they seem to utter lost waitings of despair, they embrace each other, and then melt away into the clear blue of the surrounding sky.' The story goes that one of the daughters of Sir John Southworth, a former owner, formed an attachment with the heir of a neighbouring house; but when Sir John said 'no daughter of his should ever be united to the son of a family which had deserted its ancestral faith,' an elopement was arranged. The day and place were overheard by the lady's brother, and, on the evening agreed upon, he rushed from his hiding-place and slew her lover. But soon afterwards her mind gave way, and she died a raving maniac.
Mrs. Murray, a lady born and brought up in the borders, writes Mr. Henderson, tells me of 'a cauld lad,' of whom she heard in her childhood during a visit to Gilsland, in Cumberland. He perished from cold, at the behest of some cruel uncle or stepdame, and ever after his ghost haunted the family, coming shivering to their bedsides before anyone was stricken by illness, his teeth audibly chattering; and if it were to be fatal, he laid his icy hand upon the part which would be the seat of the disease, saying:
Cauld, cauld, aye cauld!
An' ye see he cauld for overmair.
St. Donart's Castle, on the southern coast of Glamorganshire, has its favourite ghost, that of Lady Stradling, who is said to have been murdered by one of her family. It appears, writes the late Mr. Wirt Sikes, 'when any mishap is about to befall a member of the house of Stradling, the direct line, however, of which is extinct. She wears highheeled shoes, and a long trailing gown of the finest silk.' While she wanders, the castle hounds refuse to rest, but with their howling raise all the dogs in the neighbourhood. The Little Shelsey people long preserved a tradition that the court-house in that parish was haunted by the spirit of a Lady Lightfoot, who was said to have been imprisoned and murdered; and Cumnor Hall has acquired a romantic interest from the poetic glamour flung over it by Mickle in his ballad of Cumnor Hall, and by Sir Walter Scott in his 'Kenilworth.' Both refer to it as the scene of Amy Bobsart's murder, and although the jury agreed to accept her death as accidental, the country folk would not forego their idea that it was the result of foul play. Ever since the fatal event it was asserted that 'Madam Dudley's ghost did use to walk in Cumnor Park, and that it walked so obstinately, that it took no less than nine parsons from Oxford to lay her.' According to Mickle— ...
The village maids, with fearful glance,
Avoid the ancient moss-grown wall;
Nor ever lead the merry dance
Among the groves of Cumnor Hall.
About half a mile to the east of Maxton, a small rivulet runs across the old turnpike road, at a spot called Bow-brig-syke. Near this bridge is a triangular field, in which for nearly a century it was averred that the forms of two ladies, dressed in white, might be seen pacing up and down, walking over precisely the same spot of ground till morning light. But one day, while some workmen were repairing the road, they took up the large flagstones upon which foot-passengers crossed the burn, and found beneath them the skeletons of two women lying side by side. After this discovery the Bowbrig ladies, as they were called, were never again seen to walk in the three-corner field. The story goes that these two ladies were sisters to a former laird of Littledean, who is said to have killed them in a fit of passion, because they interfered to protect from ill-usage a young lady whom he had met at Bow-brig-syke. Some years later he met with his own death near the same fatal spot.
Mr. Sullivan, in his 'Cumberland and Westmoreland,' relates how, some years ago, a spectre appeared to a man who lived at Henhow Cottage, Martindale. Starting for his work at an early hour one morning, he had not gone two hundred yards from his house when his dog gave signs of alarm, and, on looking round, he saw a woman carrying a child in her arms. On being questioned as to what was troubling her, the ghost replied that she had been seduced, and that her seducer, to conceal his guilt and her frailty, had given her medicine, the effect of which was to kill both mother and child. Her doom was to wander for a hundred years, forty of which had expired. The occurrence is believed to have made a lasting impression on the old man, who, says Sullivan, 'was until lately a shepherd on the fells. There can be no moral doubt that he both saw and spoke with the apparition; but what share his imagination had therein, or how it had been excited, are mysteries, and so they are likely to remain.' But as Grose remarks, ghosts do not go about their business like living beings. In cases of murder, 'a ghost, instead of going to the next justice of the peace and laying its information, or to the nearest relation of the person murdered, it appears to some poor labourer who knows none of the parties, draws the curtains of some decrepit nurse or alms-woman, or hovers about the place where his body is deposited.' The same circuitous mode, he adds, 'is pursued with respect to redressing injured orphans or widows, when it seems as if the shorter and more certain would be to go to the person guilty of the injustice, and haunt him continually till ho be terrified into a restitution.'
From early days the phantoms of the murdered have occasionally appeared to the living, and made known the guilty person or persons who committed the deed. Thus Cicero relates how 'two Arcadians came to Mcgara together; ono lodged at a friend's house, the other at an inn. During the night, the latter appeared to his fellow-traveller, imploring his help, as the innkeeper was plotting his death; the sleeper sprang up in alarm, but thinking the vision of no importance, he went to sleep again. A second time his companion appeared to him, to entreat that, though hh had failed to help, he would at least avenge, for the innkeeper had killed him, and hidden his body in a dung-cart, wherefore he charged his fellow-traveller to be early next morning at the city gate before the cart passed out. The traveller went as bidden, and there found the cart; the body of the murdered man was in it, and the innkeeper was brought to justice.'
Of the many curious cases recorded of a murder being discovered through the ghost of the murdered person, may be quoted one told in Aubrey's * Miscellanies.' It appears that on Monday, April 14, 1690, William Barwick was walking with his wife close to Cawood Castle, when, from motives not divulged at the trial, ho determined to murder her, and finding a pond conveniently at hand, throw her in. But on the following Tuesday, as his brother-in-law, Thomas Lofthousc, 'about half an hour after twelve of the clock in the daytime, was watering quickwood, as he was going for the second pail, there appeared walking before him an apparition in the shape of a woman, "her visage being like his wife's sister's." Soon after, she sat down over against the pond, on a green hill. He walked by her as he went to the pond, and, on his return, he observed that she was dangling "something like a white bag" on her lap, evidently suggestive of her unborn baby that was slain with her. The circumstance made such an impression on him, that he immediately suspected Barwick, especially as ho had made false statements as to the whereabouts of his wife, and obtained a warrant for his arrest.
The culprit when arrested confessed his crime, and the body of the murdered woman being recovered, was found dressed in clothing similar, apparently, to that worn by the apparition. Ultimately Barwick was hanged for his crime.
A similar case, which occurred in the county of Durham in 1631, and is the subject of a critical historical inquiry in Surtees's 'History of Durham,' may be briefly summed up. 'One Walker, a yeoman of good estate, a widower, living at Chester-le-Street, had in his service a young female relative named Anne Walker. The results of an amour which took place between them caused Walker to send away the girl under the care of one Mark Sharp, a collier, professedly that she might be taken care of as befitted her condition, but in reality that she might no more be troublesome to her lover. Nothing was heard of her till, one night in the ensuing winter, one James Graham, coming down from the upper to the lower floor of his mill, found a woman standing there with her hair hanging about her head, in which were five bloody wounds. According to the man's evidence, she gave an account of her fate; having been killed by Sharp on the moor in their journey, and thrown into a coal pit close by, while the instrument of her death, a pick, had been hid under a bank along with his clothes, which were stained with her blood. She demanded of Graham that he should expose her murder, which he hesitated to do, until she had twice reappeared to him, the last time with a threatening aspect.
'The body, the pick, and the clothes having been found as Graham had described, Walter and Sharp were tried at Durham, before Judge Davenport, in August 1631. The men were found guilty, condemned, and executed.'
In 'Ackerman's Repository' for November 1820, there is an account of a person being tried on the pretended evidence of a ghost. A farmer, on his return from the market at Southam, co. Warwick, was murdered. The next morning a man called upon the farmer's wife, and related how on the previous night her husband's ghost had appeared to him, and, after showing him several stabs on his body, had told him that he was murdered by a certain person, and his corpse thrown into a marl-pit. A search was instituted, the body found in the pit, and the wounds on the body of the deceased were exactly in the parts described by the pretended dreamer; the person who was mentioned was committed for trial on the charge of murder, and the trial came on at Warwick before Lord Chief Justice Raymond. The jury would have convicted the prisoner as rashly as the magistrate had committed him, but for the interposition of the judge, who told them he did not put any credence in the pretended ghost story, since the prisoner was a man of unblemished reputation, and no ill-feeling had ever existed between himself and the deceased. He added that he knew of no law which admitted of the evidence of a ghost, and, if any did, the ghost had not appeared. The crier was then ordered to summon the ghost, which he did three times, and the judge then acquitted the prisoner, and caused the accuser to be detained and his house searched, when such strong proofs of guilt were discovered, that the man confessed the crime, and was executed for murder at the following assizes.
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