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 - 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.


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.


    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 it wasn't long before 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.

    Fear Incorporated, who describe themselves as a "theatre macabre avant garde band" released a song called "Amelia Dyer" on their "Cloak and Dagger" album (2016), the video can be seen here Fear Incorporated, Amelia Dyer.

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.
    He 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.

The Scratching Begins.

18th century Cock Lane.
    Kent was attending a wedding out of town 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 public house, 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!


    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. 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 centered 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.