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The Book of Dreams and Ghosts by Andrew Lang online

The Book of Dreams and Ghosts by Andrew Lang


At this point the old lady became conscious that she was telling the story, and no more could be got out of her. The name of the lady who keeps a secret of 145 years' standing, is the name of a witness in the trial. The whole affair is thoroughly characteristic of the Highlanders and of Scottish jurisprudence after Culloden, while the verdict of "Not Guilty" (when "Not Proven" would have been stretching a point) is evidence to the "common-sense" of the eighteenth century. {141}

There are other cases, in Webster, Aubrey and Glanvil of ghosts who tried more successfully to bring their murderers to justice. But the reports of the trials do not exist, or cannot be found, and Webster lost a letter which he once possessed, which would have been proof that ghostly evidence was given and was received at a trial in Durham (1631 or 1632). Reports of old men present were collected for Glanvil, but are entirely too vague.

The case of Fisher's Ghost, which led to evidence being given as to a murder in New South Wales, cannot be wholly omitted. Fisher was a convict settler, a man of some wealth. He disappeared from his station, and his manager (also a convict) declared that he had returned to England. Later, a man returning from market saw Fisher sitting on a rail; at his approach Fisher vanished. Black trackers were laid on, found human blood on the rail, and finally discovered Fisher's body. The manager was tried, was condemned, acknowledged his guilt and was hanged.

The story is told in Household Words, where Sir Frederick Forbes is said to have acted as judge. No date is given. In Botany Bay, {142} the legend is narrated by Mr. John Lang, who was in Sydney in 1842. He gives no date of the occurrence, and clearly embellishes the tale. In 1835, however, the story is told by Mr. Montgomery Martin in volume iv. of his History of the British Colonies. He gives the story as a proof of the acuteness of black trackers. Beyond saying that he himself was in the colony when the events and the trial occurred, he gives no date. I have conscientiously investigated the facts, by aid of the Sydney newspapers, and the notes of the judge, Sir Frederick Forbes. Fisher disappeared at the end of June, 1826, from Campbeltown. Suspicion fell on his manager, Worral. A reward was offered late in September. Late in October the constable's attention was drawn to blood-stains on a rail. Starting thence, the black trackers found Fisher's body. Worral was condemned and hanged, after confession, in February, 1827. Not a word is said about _why_ the constable went to, and examined, the rail. But Mr. Rusden, author of a History of Australia, knew the medical attendant D. Farley (who saw Fisher's ghost, and pointed out the bloody rail), and often discussed it with Farley. Mr. Souttar, in a work on Colonial traditions, proves the point that Farley told his ghost story _before_ the body of Fisher was found. But, for fear of prejudicing the jury, the ghost was kept out of the trial, exactly as in the following case.


Perhaps the latest ghost in a court of justice (except in cases about the letting of haunted houses) "appeared" at the Aylesbury Petty Session on 22nd August, 1829. On 25th October, 1828, William Edden, a market gardener, was found dead, with his ribs broken, in the road between Aylesbury and Thame. One Sewell, in August, 1829, accused a man named Tyler, and both were examined at the Aylesbury Petty Sessions. Mrs. Edden gave evidence that she sent five or six times for Tyler "to come and see the corpse. . . . I had some particular reasons for sending for him which I never did divulge. . . . I will tell you my reasons, gentlemen, if you ask me, in the face of Tyler, even if my life should be in danger for it." The reasons were that on the night of her husband's murder, "something rushed over me, and I thought my husband came by me. I looked up, and I thought I heard the voice of my husband come from near my mahogany table. . . . I thought I saw my husband's apparition, and the man that had done it, and that man was Tyler. . . . I ran out and said, 'O dear God! my husband is murdered, and his ribs are broken'."