Monday, 21 March 2016

MUTINY AT DELORAINE (A CONVICT TALE)

                           MUTINY AT DELORAINE

                           

                       CONVICT BREAKOUT IN VAN DIEMEN'S LAND

    The convict system in Australia fell into two types, assignment and probation, assignment was introduced in December 1804 and lasted until 1st July 1840. In basic terms the assignment system consisted of free labour for the free settlers, if as a convict you got a decent employer your time wouldn't be too bad, but if you got a bad one any complaint or even defending yourself against aggression could lead to an extension of your sentence, it was tantamount to slavery. The date when it was abolished coincided with the end of transportation to New South Wales and so when the probation system was introduced in 1839 it was Van Diemen's Land (VDL) that would be the focus of that experiment.
    The probation system meant every able (and not so able) bodied convict now worked for the government. These convicts built roads, bridges, buildings (sometimes corruptly hired out to build private homes, pubs and shops), it was usually the worst type of convict who ended up doing these public works. If they worked hard and proved to be of good character they could finally get a ticket of leave which meant they could even command a wage! Again the spectre of slavery dogged the probation system as it had assignment.
Probation station plan.

    Probation stations sprung up all over VDL as the road gangs made their progress out from Hobart towards Launceston and then over towards Burnie. They were seen in Darlington, Jericho, New Town, Fingal, Mersey and Westbury to name but a very few, there were as many as 85, but the one we will focus on was situated in Deloraine.
    Built in 1843 the Deloraine probation station was a poorly ventilated place that leaked when it rained. When Charles Joseph La Trobe (government administrator of VDL) during his tour of probation stations visited in 1846 he was less than impressed and his report published in 1847 was damning. Local newspapers frequently complained of the riotous behaviour and law breaking among the convicts, but when in October 1845 a large part of the convicts' food ration was stolen even the convicts had had enough.
Manacles in the Deloraine Folk Museum


    The theft of the food was reported to the overseer, the convicts even had suspicions as to where it had gone, but the overseer refused to do anything about it. Already half starved, tired and angry the convicts decided to go on strike and they would carry on striking until they received sufficient food. Their reward for this disobedience was an extension to their sentences and a cut in their rations, they would now only receive half.
    As you can imagine the sense of injustice and smouldering resentment would have made the atmosphere a thick one indeed, rebellion was in the air.

LAUNCESTON EXAMINER
8th October 1845.

ABSCONDERS

  On Friday twenty-one men were sentenced by the visiting magistrate at Deloraine, for mutiny, to various terms of imprisonment, in the whole amounting to twenty-two years addition to their original sentences.

  This, being deemed by these gentlemen as derogatory to their happiness, they immediately knocked down a cow that was grazing quietly near the station, with their stone hammers, and being rather in a hurry, they cut some beef-steaks off one side, leaving the unfortunate beast to be relieved of the flesh on the opposite side when she was dead, as after that barbarous treatment she remained alive for some hours.

  The district constable on the station was most active in giving assurance to the inhabitants of the township that they should not storm the place, as he should remain there to protect them, kindly leaving the gang of outlaws to range the district as they might please, which they availed themselves of without loss of time, having visited a poor man residing at Dunorlan, about seven miles from the station, on Saturday.

  Soldiers from Westbury were sent to the station, where they arrived in time to hear that the gang had returned to the neighbourhood of the station, robbing the settlers on the Shoulder-of mutton Plain ; in the interim they had been joined by four others from the Mersey station, making the whole twenty-five.

  On Sunday, when the inhabitants were in hopes, on the arrival of the military, that an active pursuit would take place, an order came to the military, ordering them to return to Westbury, where there is no doubt the public, more particularly the settlers exposed to the mercies of this gang of pests, will be highly delighted to hear the military reached in safety, and that both the police and visiting magistrate were, and are still, in perfect safety.

  At Dunorlan they stripped the place of everything that could be moved, taking liberties with the man's wife, and would have proceeded to the greatest lengths had it not been for the conduct of a man servant, who, in defending his master, was nearly murdered by being struck with their stone hammers. From this place they took two muskets, and from the other places they collected eleven.

  Of course the Inhabitants are in rhapsodies at the thought that within a space of little more than twenty miles there are nearly 1,000 convicts, with a police of about fifteen, including magistrates, overseers, &o., &c.

THE LAUNCESTON EXAMINER
11th October 1845

THE DELORAINE GANG

  Sergeant Nicol and a party of the Launceston police, apprehended three men on the morning of the 6th Instant; three other constables, belonging to the Launceston police, apprehended three men on Tuesday morning, near Reibey's Ford bridge; constable Merchant apprehended three men at Carrick on the evening of the 5th instant; Mr. Kirkham and servants apprehended nine men.

  The greatest praise is due to Mr. Kirkham for his management of this capture. One man surrendered to the overseer of Dr. Richardson; being nineteen out of the twenty-one who absconded from Deloraine. The other two have since been taken.


THE CORNISH CHRONICLE
11th October 1845

The Bolters from Deloraine Probation Station.

  We are happy to inform our readers that the whole of the party (twenty five in number,) who absconded from the Deloraine Station have been apprehended through the united exertions of a detatchment of the 96th Regiment, and the constables, who went in pursuit ; information has been received of several daring outrages committed by them in the neighbourhood.

  A number of the absconders, went in a party to the farm of Mr. Charles Robinson, 'Shoulder of Mutton,' Westbury and committed an extensive robbery; they helped themselves to a quantity of clothes, five pounds in gold, and three stand of' fire-arms.

  On Monday nine of the men attacked Mr. Kirkham's premises, near Mr. Dry's farm; but here they met with an unwelcome reception, for a brave fellow in Mr. Kirkham's employ, loaded his piece with small shot, and going out to them ordered them to stand ; he fired, and one of the villains was grazed slightly on the ear, this alarmed the remainder, and they every one forthwith surrendered, and were marched off to Deloraine guarded by soldiers.

  Another party went to the residence of Daniel Griffin at Dunorlan, 4 miles above Deloraine, and very much frightened the inmates, with a quantity of stone hammers they carried with them ; here they helped themselves to a number of eggs, and such other eatables as they could lay their hands on.

  Near to the same place, some other parties had met with a bullock which belonged to a drove that was coming to town, but being lamed, had laid down near the road : the fiends literally cut off one of the thighs of the poor beast while alive, and then made off, it was afterwards shot by the District Constable.

  It was generally reported on Sunday, that Deloraine was to be taken by storm the same night, and the inhabitants were obliged to arm, and watch for the attack, but the timely interference of the military and constables, which is beyond all praise, prevented the intended outrage.

  All the men have been removed to Deloraine, and remanded by the magistrates for further examination. Two of the delinquents have offered to turn approvers, and give full information of the prisoners movements.

    And so ended the Deloraine mutiny, at the trial the judge agreed there had been "some ground of excuse", twenty one were tried, twelve were found guilty and sentenced to death. Nothing now remains of Deloraine probation station, however, before the site was made into a car park an archaeological excavation uncovered various items including nails, clay pipes, pottery and bricks marked with the broad arrow, these can be seen in the excellent Deloraine folk museum.

There are various convict built buildings and a bridge (the stone piers are the only original part) in the town, there are also the remains of cells under 38 Emu Bay Road, sadly they are not open to the public.


Above three photos, the holding cell under Emu Bay Road.



Thursday, 26 June 2014

The Real Doctor Syn.

The smuggling parson of Cornwall.

A nest of smugglers.

    Talland church lies slightly east of the quaint Cornish fishing town of Polperro, it is a beautiful bay with golden sands and spectacular views, once there was a village at Talland, but it is no more, now all that can be seen is Talland church, high upon the headland with a commanding view.
Talland Bay.
    The churchyard is on two levels, the one nearest the church is much lower than the far end, tomb stones flank the path as you approach the church door and once inside the visitor is confronted with another stone which reads; ROBERT MARK late of Polperro, who unfortunately was shot at sea on the 24th day of January in the year of our Lord God 1802, in the 40th year of his age. Robert Mark's sword was presented to the Polperro Heritage Museum of Smuggling and Fishing several years ago by the British Museum and is now on display in a glass case, an 80 year old descendant of Robert Mark was there to see the sword returned home.
Entrance to Talland church.

    Talland bay was an obvious choice for contraband landings in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, quiet, secluded and perfect for landing the necessities such as salt for fish curing and the items that make life worth living but only the well off could afford such as brandy, tea, coffee, tobacco, playing cards and lace. This secluded bay was so good for the smugglers that the last known time it was used was on 17th September 1979, a six million pound haul of cannabis resin was seized, this was Operation Cyril which not only netted the drugs but in raids across North London it also led to thirteen arrests and the capture of the converted trawler "Guiding Lights".
"Guiding Lights" trawler.

Only spirits are laid here to rest...

    The Reverend Richard Dodge was the vicar of Talland church from 1713 to 1746, he is buried in the higher end of the churchyard, his inscription reads; Here lieth the body of the Rev Richard Dodge, late of Talland, vicar, who departed this life the 13th day of January 1746, in the 93rd year of his age".
    The reverend Dodge soon got a reputation as a magician, according to local legend he could raise the dead at will and he was proficient in the ancient art of Rune lore, not something commonly taught to vicars I would imagine!! At night it was said the Reverend was seen to drive devils from the churchyard and with the aid of his horse whip he would chase the evil spirits down Bridals Lane and thus into the sea.

    Such stories would keep prying eyes away, men dressed as devils and ghosts would keep curious God fearing people behind tightly fastened doors and windows, of course the only spirits around were being carried in casks.
    Bridals Lane is a sunken path that begins on the beach and (after a murderously steep climb) comes out at  Killigarth Manor, then it leads the walker on to Polperro, it is a very dark and creepy place to be, ghost stories abound, the most famous is called Tencreek's Grey Lady who walks the paths in the area especially Bridals Lane, no one knows who she was but I bet this as with many other coastal legends began as smugglers tales.
Bridals Lane, with a slightly ghostly figure on the left.
A Victorian postcard.
    
   










     Richard Dodge was not the only questionable vicar at Talland, in 1812 a new vicar of decent Gentlemanly habits appeared, his name was the Reverend Thomas Whitmore. He told the locals he had amassed a fortune and wished to settle down in a quiet parish, he was a very kind and hospitable man but people began to have doubts about him when his bank drafts were dishonoured at Zephaniah Job's bank in Polperro, soon those who had lent him money were knocking on his door and one night he disappeared......along with all the silver plate and valuables he could carry. In 1814 a Polperro man was staying in Gloucester for a short time when he saw a well-known forger and conman called Robert Peacock executed on the city gallows, at once he recognized the man as the Reverend Thomas Whitmore! When the news of this imposter reached Talland the new vicar Nicholas Kendall had to re-marry seven couples and re-baptise eight babies.



    I have yet to find any proof that Russell Thorndike knew of the Rev Richard Dodge when he created Doctor Syn in 1915, he probably didn't, this also goes for Daphne Du Maurier's Reverend Francis Davey from her classic Jamaica Inn novel, it's quite gratifying to know there was a real life smuggler parson who outwitted the authorities, for unlike Doctor Syn Richard Dodge was never caught.........................
    The song "Night Creatures (Dr Syn Phantom of the Marsh)" by Gladstone is available on downlaod here; Tales from the Jago.

Monday, 10 March 2014

THE CONVICT SHIP "SUCCESS"

THE CONVICT SHIP "SUCCESS".

The Convict Ship Success - Grimshaw painting

    The Success was built in Mawlamyine, Burma in 1840 (not 1790 as the advertising made out!), she was a merchant vessel weighing in at 621 tons. After trading around the Indian subcontinent for a couple of years she was sold off to new owners in London, she was refitted to take human cargo and was first employed taking free emigrants to Australia, three voyages were made by the Success, the last one was in 1849, many of the emigrants on this last trip were survivors of the Great Famine. After being employed out of Sydney for a while the Success was sent to Melbourne, on 31st May 1852 the crew mutinied and disappeared into the Victoria gold fields as this was the height of the gold rush. The Success was then sold to the Victoria government, it's new role was a prison hulk along with three other ships, these hulks were mainly filled with some of the most desperate men in the convict system, many were from the now closed penal colony of Norfolk Island and known for their mutinous and violent ways, but it was hardly surprising that they reacted in a brutal way when they were treated in a very inhumane manner, far worse than other colonies such as Macquarie Harbour, Botany Bay and Port Arthur. One of the worst Commandants' was John Price, he was a very brutal disciplinarian who would not spare a man from a flogging or a hanging, his first duty as Commandant was to oversee the execution of 12 inmates found guilty of leading a revolt three months previously, he was nicknamed "The Demon". 
Postcard pic - the Convict Ship Success

    Naturally the convicts hated him and soon they would get their revenge, unrest in the hulks had been simmering for a while so a Royal Navy warship was placed amongst the hulks armed with "double-shotted" guns so any revolt would be stopped by sending the ship and it's manacled men to the bottom of the sea. The convicts on board the hulks had to work, this mainly consisted of being rowed to the shore to work in the quarry at Williamstown, on 26th March 1857 as part of his duties as Inspector General of Penal Establishments in Victoria John Price also found himself in the quarry at Williamstown, with a small body of guards he swaggered into the middle of hundreds of convicts, many of them remembered this tyrant and still bore the scars where their flesh had been stripped off their backs by the floggings that Price ordered for the slightest misdemeanor. As the convicts started to gather around menacingly the guards started to back away, Price stood his ground, rocks started to fly and the guards ran away, Price too started to run but a rock hit him in the back and down he went. The convicts gathered around him and in a flurry of striking fists, hammers and bars Price was battered to death, a nasty end for a cruel man, 15 men were tried for murder and 7 were hanged, the others went back to the hulks, I suppose they thought the Success was aptly named that day. Soon the Success's days as a hulk came to an end and she was converted in to a stores ship and anchored in Port Phillip Bay at the mouth of the Yarra River and there she stayed for 36 years.
Postcard pic - the Convict Ship Success

    She would have probably rotted away there and have been lost but for a group of entrepreneurs who bought her and fitted her out as a convict ship museum complete with wax dummies of convicts, a whole host of torture devices and also the body armour of Ned Kelly who had been hanged in Melbourne Gaol in 1880. 
Postcard pic - the British Convict Ship Success - oldest ship afloat
    In 1890 the Success was exhibited in Hobart and she was a huge success with thousands coming to see the horrors therein and to hear terrible tales told by ex-convict and bushranger Harry Power, with this promising start under their belts they next took the Success to Sydney, however, the "stain" of the convict era was more acutely felt here and the ship soon was making a loss so one night in 1891 the Success was scuttled in Kerosene Bay and she was left a sunken relic.
    However this was not to be the end of the story, one year later the Success was sold, refloated, refitted and again used as a convict museum, this time with torture devices that were never used in the Georgian or Victorian convict systems such as the Iron Maiden! This time the Success toured the world, after a tour of Australia she was off to England and eventually to America.
still from film - the Convict Ship Success
 She was even featured in a film starring Fatty Arbuckle in 1915 before returning to a commercial vessel in 1917, during one of her voyages she struck ice and was holed, refloated again in 1918 the Success was once more a convict museum ship but by the 1940's the Success's great age was taking it's toll, she became unprofitable and was sent to Lake Eerie to be dismantled, on 4th July 1946 the Success was destroyed by a fire allegedly started by vandals, so ended the career of an extraordinary ship.
Convict Ship Success - oldest ship afloat

Ships: Convict Ship Success - launched at M0ulmein

Tall ships: Convict Ship Success - 1790

Monday, 3 March 2014

Bram Stoker interview 1897.

   BRAM STOKER INTERVIEW 1897.

This interview was conducted by Jane "Lorna" Stoddard for the British Weekly Magazine on 1st July 1897, Bram Stoker's novel Dracula was published on 26th May 1897.


    The strange thing is that, although in some respects this is a gruesome book, it leaves on the mind an entirely wholesome impression. The events which happen are so far removed from ordinary experience that they do not haunt the imagination unpleasantly. It is certain that no other writer of our day could have produced so marvellous a book.

    On Monday morning I had the pleasure of a short conversation with Mr. Bram Stoker, who, as most people know, is Sir Henry Irving’s manager at the Lyceum Theatre. He told me, in reply to a question, that the plot of the story had been a long time in his mind, and that he spent about three years in writing it. He had always been interested in the vampire legend. “It is undoubtedly,” he remarked, “a very fascinating theme, since it touches both on mystery and fact. In the Middle Ages the terror of the vampire depopulated whole villages.”


“Is there any historical basis for the legend?”

    “It rested, I imagine, on some such case as this. A person may have fallen into a death-like trance and been buried before the time. Afterwards the body may have been dug up and found alive, and from this a horror seized upon the people, and in their ignorance they imagined that a vampire was about. The more hysterical, through excess of fear, might themselves fall into trances in the same way; and so the story grew that one vampire might enslave many others and make them like himself. Even in the single villages it was believed that there might be many such creatures. When once the panic seized the population, their only thought was to escape.”

“In what parts of Europe has this belief been most prevalent?”

    “In certain parts of Styria it has survived longest and with most intensity, but the legend is common to many countries, to China, Iceland, Germany, Saxony, Turkey, the Chersonese, Russia, Poland, Italy, France, and England, besides all the Tartar communities.”

“In order to understand the legend, I suppose it would be necessary to consult many authorities?”

    Mr. Stoker told me that the knowledge of vampire superstitions shown in “Dracula” was gathered from a great deal of miscellaneous reading.

    “No one book that I know of will give you all the facts. I learned a good deal from E. Gerard’s ‘Essays on Roumanian Superstitions, which first appeared in The Nineteenth Century, and were afterwards published in a couple of volumes. I also learned something from Mr. Baring-Gould’s ‘Were-Wolves.’ Mr. Gould has promised a book on vampires, but I do not know whether he has made any progress with it.”


    Readers of “Dracula” will remember that the most famous character in it is Dr. Van Helsing, the Dutch physician, who, by extraordinary skill, self-devotion, and labour, finally outwits and destroys the vampire. Mr. Stoker told me that van Helsing is founded on a real character. In a recent leader on “Dracula,” published in a provincial newspaper, it is suggested that high moral lessons might be gathered from the book. I asked Mr. Stoker whether he had written with a purpose, but on this point he would give no definite answer, “I suppose that every book of the kind must contain some lesson,” he remarked; “but I prefer that readers should find it out for themselves.”

    In reply to further questions, Mr. Stoker said that he was born in Dublin, and that his work had laid for thirteen years in the Civil Service. He is an M.A. of Trinity College, Dublin. His brother-in-law is Mr. Frankfort Moore, one of the most popular young writers of the day. He began his literary work early. The first thing he published was a book on “The Duties of Clerks of Petty Sessions.” Next came a series of children’s stories, “Under the Sunset,” published by Sampson Low. Then followed the book by which he has hitherto been best known, “The Snake’s Pass.” Messrs. Constable have published in their “Acme” library a fascinating little volume called “The Watter’s Mou,” and this with “The Shoulder of Shasta,” completes Mr. Stoker’s list of novels. He has been in London for some nineteen years, and believes that London is the best possible place for a literary man. “A writer will find a chance here if he is good for anything; and recognition is only a matter of time.” Mr. Stoker speaks of the generosity shown by literary men to one another in a tone which shows that he, at least, is not disposed to quarrel with the critics.

    Mr. Stoker does not find it necessary to publish through a literary agent. It always seems to him, he says, that an author with an ordinary business capacity can do better for himself than through any agent. “Some men now-a-days are making ten thousand a year by their novels, and it seems hardly fair that they should pay ten or five percent of this great sum to a middleman. By a dozen letters or so in the course of the year they could settle all their literary business on their own account.” Though Mr. Stoker did not say so, I am inclined to think that the literary agent is to him a nineteenth century vampire.



    No interview during this week would be complete without a reference to the Jubilee, so I asked Mr. Stoker, as a Londoner of nearly twenty years standing, what he thought of the celebrations. “Everyone,” he said, “has been proud that the great day went off so successfully. We have had a magnificent survey of the Empire, and last week’s procession brought home, as nothing else could have done, the sense of the immense variety of the Queen’s dominions.”

Monday, 24 February 2014

The Life and Crimes of Amelia Dyer....Baby Farmer.

THE LIFE AND CRIMES OF AMELIA DYER....BABY FARMER.


    Amelia Dyer was born Amelia Elizabeth Hobley in 1837 at Pyle Marsh in Bristol, she was the youngest of five children, her parents were Samuel and Sarah Hobley, they had a comfortable life as Samuel had a good job as a master shoemaker. However, soon this childhood bliss was to change forever when Sarah contracted Typhus and suffered bouts of violent madness before dying in 1848, Amelia had nursed her throughout this time and it must have had quite an effect upon her, soon young Amelia was apprenticed to a Bristol corset maker and moved in with her aunt, sadly in 1859 her father Samuel also died.
    In 1861 at the age of 24 she met and married 59 year old George Thomas, on the marriage certificate he declared his age to be 48 and she said her age was 30 so as to close the age gap a little, soon after her marriage Amelia began training as a nurse, this was a tough job in Victorian times and soon Amelia heard of another way to make money, through contact with midwives she was introduced to the world of baby farming.

The Baby Farmers.

    Due to the Poor Law Amendment Act of 1834 men who had fathered illegitimate children were not obliged to give any financial help to the mothers, at a time when single mothers were thought a disgrace and stigmatised any measures were employed in hiding or hushing up such a pregnancy, the dubious trade of the baby farmer came into it's own. These women would take in the mother for a fee that could be as low as a few pounds to an extortionate fee of up to £100 if the family were rich enough or were induced to supply "hush money", after the birth the baby would be given to the farmer and it would either end up being fostered to a childless couple or it would just die of neglect. Often the babies would die of starvation because the farmer would try to cut as many costs as possible, a hungry child is a noisy child so "mother's friend" an opium laced syrup was applied resulting in loss of appetite and eventual death.

Poor Career Choices.

    Sadly for Amelia in 1869 her husband George died and she desperately needed an income, with her nursing skills and dubious moral instincts baby farming seemed the perfect solution, changing her surname to Dyer she was soon advertising herself as a respectable married woman who would nurse and adopt the babies into a loving home, in reality looking after babies was too much like hard work so she killed them, obtained a death certificate from local doctors and keeping the fees. It didn't take long for her to come to the attention the authorities, a suspicious amount of infant deaths is hard to cover up and a local doctor tipped off the police, Dyer was arrested but astonishingly she was only convicted of neglect! So 1879 ended in six months hard labour rather than a richly deserved rope, upon her release Dyer went back to her old ways, she was an opium user and would take laudanum regularly, if she thought the parent or police were getting too close to the truth she would feign mental illness and get herself committed for a while until things had died down.

    But, she had learned a valuable lesson, trying to cover up a murder with an official death certificate was fraught with danger, so from now on she would dispose of the tiny bodies herself. For the next few years Dyer kept herself above suspicion by moving address several times and using aliases, she did her mental illness trick for the last time in 1893, after experiencing an awful time in Wells mental asylum, she vowed never to go back. Dyer finally ended up in Kensington Road, Reading, the year was 1895 and it was time to earn some more money.


The End of the Road.

    It is hoped that eventually someone like Dyer will make a mistake and the full weight of the law will be applied, Dyer's mistake was made at the end of March 1896 when instead of looking after a baby girl she had been given £10 to love and to bring up in a nice respectable home she instead put some white tape around her neck and watched the baby slowly die, then in early April a baby boy suffered the same fate, both bodies were put into a carpet bag with a couple of bricks and thrown into the river Thames at a lonely spot called Caversham Lock.

Caversham Lock.
 Also that fateful March a bargeman on the Thames had found another carpet bag, on fishing it out of the water and opening it he discovered the body of a baby girl, immediately the police were called and detectives were soon investigating, in the carpet bag a Temple Meads Station, Bristol label was found and also the name Mrs Thomas and an address in Bristol, it didn't take the police long to trace the bag to Dyer but without better evidence they couldn't convict her for the serious crime they suspected she was guilty of, so they put her house under surveillance and arranged for a young woman to call on Dyer as a decoy, when the time came for the arranged meeting instead of a young woman Dyer opened the door to a bunch of burly detectives who then proceeded to search her house thoroughly. It was said the house stank of decomposition and yet no bodies were found, so while the river was dredged the police discovered masses of evidence alluding to babies that were plainly unaccounted for in Dyers house, soon the river also gave up it's dreadful secrets when six bodies were recovered, however, the paper evidence suggested the disappearance of twenty babies for the period of January to April 1896.

Launched into Eternity.


    At her trial in Reading two members of Dyers family were charged with being accomplices but they were soon discharged for want of evidence, Dyer herself was tried at the Old Bailey on 22 May 1896 and she pleaded guilty to one murder, her only defence was that old trick of hers, insanity. It didn't work, the jury took just four and a half minutes to come back with a guilty verdict. In her Newgate prison cell Dyer fill several exercise books with her confessions, finally at 9am on the 10th June 1896 Dyer punctually kept her appointment with the hangman and was launched into eternity.

    Dyer's total number of victims will probably never be known, but it has been calculated that if she killed twenty in four months then over the years she was active she could have killed as many as 400, I think we can certainly estimate the number to be well over 200 at least.
    The Dyer case shocked the nation and adoption laws were tightened but abuse carried on, although not to this degree, Dyer got the nickname "The Ogress of Reading" but she is far less remembered today than many of her contemporary murderers, which is odd as her tally outstrips them all.









    

Wednesday, 5 February 2014

Scratching Fanny.

A most terrible event......

    William Kent married Elizabeth Lynes in 1757, they settled in the town of Stoke Ferry near Downham Market in Norfolk. Kent became the landlord of a local Inn then became the Post master, soon after their wedding Elizabeth fell pregnant, to look after her at this time Elizabeth's sister moved in, her name was Fanny. Sadly Elizabeth died during the birth of the Kent's son, Fanny stayed on to look after the baby and William but tragically the baby also died, after a while William and Fanny fell in love but they couldn't marry because of Canon Law, so Kent moved to London and tried to forget.
    Fanny found he was living at an address in East Greenwich and soon began sending him love letters, relenting he asked Fanny to join him and they soon found new lodgings in Mansion House, not long after Kent had a run in with the landlord, he had found out they were not married, Kent had lent him some money which the landlord withheld paying back as a kind of protest, so Kent had him arrested.
    The couple had to find somewhere to live and quickly as Fanny was pregnant, whilst attending church near Newgate Kent met Richard Parsons who owned a property in Cock Lane, it was a little run down but Kent accepted it readily, not long after they moved in the strange occurrences began.
18th century Cock Lane.
    Kent was attending a wedding out of town and that night Fanny had Richard Parson's daughter Elizabeth for company, at some point during the night they both heard rapping and scratching noises, unable to locate where the sounds were coming from they asked Mrs Parsons if anyone was working next door to which the answer was no, undeterred the ladies went to the landlord of the Wheat Sheaf, a Mr Franzen who returned to the house and upon entering observed a transparent white figure going up the stairs, he turned and fled.
    In late January 1760 Fanny went into labour, as she was already suffering from a fever which was thought to be smallpox her chances were not good and she died on 2nd February, Kent was Fanny's sole beneficiary and she had quite a sum of money from inheritances and so began a long legal wrangle with her family, in 1761 Kent married again.
    However, the house in Cock Lane was now being occupied by a Mrs Friend who stated that the scratching was getting worse, workmen came and searched for a solution but nothing was found, Richard Parsons approached a local clergyman called John Moore and asked him what he should do, the two men stayed in the house one night and asked the spirit questions (one rap for yes, two for no), the answers they received were quite surprising, the first ghost (seen by Franzen) was Elizabeth Kent's first wife who had come back to warn Fanny of her impending doom and now a second ghost, Fanny, appeared saying she had died from arsenic poisoning and Kent was the murderer, as a clergyman Moore thought it was quite right that he should put his faith in this ghostly revelation!
   
The Haunted House.
The story soon became public knowledge through a newspaper called the Public Ledger and to clear his name Kent visited Moore, they then went to Cock Lane and attended a seance, no spirit came so Mary Frazer (a relation of Parsons) decided to call for the ghost by running around the room shouting "Fanny, Fanny, why don't you come? Do come, pray Fanny, come; dear Fanny, come!" Eventually they made contact and Fanny's spirit was asked the same questions, this time Fanny declared Kent had not poisoned her, someone else had, would Kent hang for this? yes was the reply, Kent was outraged saying this was not Fanny's ghost, she would never say such a thing. Other seances were performed with various persons attending, most notably Kent who still wished to convince everyone of his innocence, Moore even asked if the ghost would stand up in court in defence of Kent!
    As the fame of Scratching Fanny of Cock Lane spread Parsons started to charge money for people to come and talk to the ghost, this eventually led to an investigation and accusations of fraud were just as vociferous as the credulous calls to have faith, many more seances were performed with ever more illustrious visitors, Alderman Gosling, Horace Walpole, Lady Northumberland and Dr Samuel Johnson being but a few, the press were having a field day, a Captain Wilkinson brought a pistol to shoot any fraudulent knocker (or scratcher) and a stick to fight his way out, just in case.
    The daughter Elizabeth Parsons (who was 13 years old) seemed to be possessed with the spirit of Fanny, the scratching centred on her and most times she was the focal point during a seance, during the investigation in February 1762 she was made to sleep in a hammock, her hands inside the hammock there were scratching noises, hands out there was silence, Parsons was threatened with imprisonment in Newgate if he proved false and when young Elizabeth was caught with a piece of wood given to her by her father to sneak into the hammock, the game was up.
Modern day Cock Lane.
      10th July 1762 Richard Parsons, his wife Elizabeth, John Moore, Mary Frazer and tradesman Richard James were found guilty of conspiring to take William Kent's life by charging him with the murder of his wife, the sentences were reported in the Gentlemen's Magazine;
    "The Court choosing that Mr. Kent, who had been so much injured on the occasion, should receive some reparation by punishment of the offenders, deferred giving judgement for seven or eight months, in hopes that the parties might make it up in the meantime. Accordingly, the clergyman, and tradesman agreed to pay Mr. Kent a round sum—some say between £500 and £600 to purchase their pardon, and were, therefore, dismissed with a severe reprimand. The father was ordered to be set in the pillory three times in one month—once at the end of Cock–Lane; Elizabeth his wife to be imprisoned one year; and Mary Frazer six months in Bridewell, with hard labour. The father appearing to be out of his mind at the time he was first to standing in the pillory, the execution of that part of his sentence was deferred to another day, when, as well as the other day of his standing there, the populace took so much compassion on him, that instead of using him ill, they made a handsome subscription for him."
Hogarth's "Credulity" knocking ghost is on top of the thermometer (far right) with priest on left.
     The Cock Lane ghost became very famous Charles Dickens mentions it in Nicholas Nickleby, Dombey and Son and Tale of Two Cities, the satirist William Hogarth's painting "Credulity, Superstition & Fanaticism" shows the ghost knocking to the girl in the bed, a is priest slipping a ghostly icon into the cleavage of a woman and in the congregation several people are holding icons of the ghost, in The Times Plate ii we see the ghost pilloried. The house in Cock Lane was demolished in 1979.
Hogarth's The Times Plate ii, the Fanny is on the far right in the pillory.









     





Saturday, 14 July 2012


REVENANTS; The walking dead of Medieval Britain.

    "A revenant is a visible ghost or animated corpse that was believed to return from the grave to terrorize the living. The word "revenant" is derived from the Latin word, revenans, "returning". (Wikipedia).




    William Parvus of Newburgh was born in 1136 and between 1145 and 1208 he lived in the abbey of Austin Canons at Newburgh in Yorkshire, England. It was here that he wrote the Historia Rerum Anglicarum or The History of the Affairs of England, which was completed in 1198. William took his study of history very seriously and he wrote with historical accuracy in mind taking as his mentors people like St Gildas and the Venerable Bede.
    It is with this in mind that we include three stories from his Historia, the first is from Buckinghamshire where "A most remarkable event took place", the story was told to William in detail by Stephen "an esteemed Archdeacon of that diocese." The story begins with the death of a man who is buried on the 29th May, the following night the dead man enters the room where his wife sleeps and leaps upon her nearly killing her with fright, the next night he does the same. Each night there after the wife had others with her to watch over her and when her dead husband returned he was driven away by shouts and cries, so he then attacked his brothers who soon employed the same method of defence as the wife, next the dead man terrorised any animal in or around peoples houses which meant everyone had to guard each other all night!
    With all this watchfulness by night the dead man then began to walk by day causing much fear, eventually the good villagers went to seek the advice of Archdeacon Stephen who in turn went for guidance from Hugh Bishop of Lincoln. The Bishop found that this occurrence was not unusual and there had been many well known instances, to rid themselves of this evil the villagers had to disinter the dead man and burn his body to ashes, however, the Bishop found this barbaric so instead told the people to open the grave and place a chartula of absolution on the dead man's chest. This they did, when the grave was opened the corpse was still uncorrupted and was just as it had been on the day it was buried, the chartula was placed on the chest and from that day on he never walked again.
William of Newburgh.


    Our second story comes from the border town of Berwick upon Tweed in Northumberland, England and concerns a wealthy merchant who by evil deeds becomes richer. After his death he was seen to rise again and wander the streets at night, where ever he went dogs would howl and who ever met him would become frozen with terror. The great and good of Berwick met to discuss what could be done, they decided not to fight the revenant as it would do much injury to them but they could not leave it as it would spread plague and pollute the air as other revenants were known to have done. Finally they decided that ten brave men would exhume the corpse and dismember it, this they immediately did, after it was cut up each part was thrown into a furnace and burnt up.
    When this had been done "the slaughter ceased" but a terrible pestilence broke out in the town and killed many people, it is said that when the plague victims were being carried to the graveyard people could still hear the barking of dogs and the scream of the revenant.


    The third and last story from William of Newburgh takes us over the border to Melrose in Scotland, at the beginning William states "it is quite true that unless they are amply supported by many examples which have taken place in our own days and by unimpeachable testimony of responsible persons, these facts would not easily be believed, to wit, that the bodies of the dead may arise from their tombs and that vitalised by some supernatural power they speed hither and thither, either greatly alarming or in some cases actually slaying the living and when they return to the grave it seems to open to them of it's own accord."
    The story starts with the death of a high ranking lady's chaplain who was more interested in hunting with horse and hound than in religious matters. After he was buried he was seen trying to force an entrance into Melrose abbey cloisters, night after night he tried and failed to get in. Eventually he began to wander elsewhere terrifying people, he even appeared in the bed chamber of his Lady to whom he had been chaplain.
    Her screams and shouts prevailed and the Hundeprest (hound priest, named because of his passion for hunting) went away, the monks of Melrose held a council to decide what to do. The plan was for four monks to stand guard over the grave of the Hundeprest, nothing happened for some hours and three of the monks went to a nearby cottage to get warm, no sooner had they gone when the Hundeprest attacked the remaining monk.
Melrose Abbey.


    Armed with an axe the monk swung at the advancing revenant striking him in the chest, with an unearthly howl the Hundeprest fled back to it's grave and disappeared. The other three monks hurried back but they waited until day break before opening the grave, when they opened the coffin the Hundeprest's body was still fresh and it as bleeding from a gaping axe wound in it's chest. The monks then pulled the body out of the grave, took it off the abbey grounds and burned the corpse until all that remained was ashes, these ashes were then scattered to the four winds, the people of Melrose now slept peacefully. 


    Walter Map was born in Hereford during the late 1130's and his family were held in high regard by King Henry II, under his patronage Map became Archdeacon of Oxford.   Unlike William of Newburgh Walter Map had a different style of relating history, his style is more in the way of telling a good story than sticking to known facts.
  
Walter Map listen's to King Arthur.


    Walter Map's major work was De Nugis Curialium or Courtier's Trifles, which is a book of stories and anecdotes written between 1180 and 1193. There are three stories that interest us here, the first involves a knight and his lady who have been blessed with a new born baby. The morning after the birth the baby is found in it's cradle with it's throat cut, the next year another child is born and dies in the same way, a third baby is born only to suffer the same. To stop a fourth tragedy the knight lights up the house with lanterns, this light attracts a stranger who asks if he may stay the night, to which the knight agrees.
    During the night everyone falls asleep except the stranger who sees the well respected matron enter the house, she then picks up the baby and is about to cut it's throat when the stranger shouts and wakes the knight up. Seizing the matron the stranger and an increasingly large crowd of people drag her to the church where they brand her in the face with a cross, however, soon the real matron arrives and the Demon, with a howl, escapes by crashing through a window.
    The second story concerns an English soldier called William Laudun who lived in Wales, he had several lodgers in his house but one was a Welsh criminal who died while staying there. Four nights after he was buried the criminal returned and one after another the lodgers sickened and died. By the time Laudun had told his story to the Bishop only three remained, the Bishop gave Laudun some advice and so Laudun dug up the grave, cut through the neck of the corpse and sprinkled holy water on it then reburied it.
    The revenant soon came back, one night Laudun heard his name called three times, he rushed outside with his sword drawn and the revenant fled back toward it's grave, but Laudun was too fast for it and he beheaded the fiend, from then on it was seen no more.


    Our last story tells of an atheist who died but was seen three days later wandering around an orchard dressed in a hair shirt, Bishop Rodger ordered a cross to be erected on it's grave, but when the revenant was followed back to it's grave by a crowd of people he was seen to jump back at the sight of the cross. The cross was then removed and revenant entered it's grave, the cross was put back and the revenants wandering ceased.
    There were many more stories and reports of this type of activity all over Europe and there are many similarities between the medieval revenant and the traditional east European stories of the Vampire, we tend to see the Vampire as a foreign phenomenon and yet these stories of animated corpse's were told from town to town and believed by many right here in Britain nearly six hundred years before the Vampire epidemic of eighteenth century Europe which brought the name Vampire to the English language.