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Friday, 20 January 2012

A litterary Launceston Ghost Story


The ornate porch of Saint Mary Magdalene Church Launceston - image by Derek Harper [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (www.creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons


"Mrs. Bray, in her General Preface prefixed to the first volume of the reprint, in series, of her Novels and Romances, when giving an account of the circumstances on winch she founded her very graphic and interesting romance of Trelawny of Trelaume, says —

" In Gilbert's Hillary of Cornwall, I saw a brief but striking ace unit, written by a Doctor Ruddell, a clergyman of Launceston, respecting a ghost which (in the year 1665) be had seen and laid to rest, that in the first instance had haunted a poor lad, the son of a Mr. Bligh, in his way to school, in a place called the 'Higher Broom Field.' This grave relation showed, I thought, the credulity of the times in which the author of it lived; and so I determined to have doctor, boy, and ghost in my story. But whereas, in the worthy divine's account of the transaction, the ghost appears to come on earth for no purpose whatever (unless it be to frighten the poor boy), I resolved to give the spirit something to do in such post-mortem visitations, and that the object of them should be of import to the tale. Accordingly, I made boy, doctor, and the woman (who is said after her death to have appeared to the lad) into characters, invented a story for them, and gave them adventures."

Mrs. Bray adds —

" Soon after the publication of Trelawny, my much esteemed friend, the Rev. F. V. I\ Arundell *, informed me, that, whilst engaged in his antiquarian reseaiches in Cornwall, he found among some old and original papers the manuscript account, in Dr. Ruddell's own hand- writing, of his encounter with the ghost in question.

This he lent Gilbert, who inserted it in his History of Cornwall ; and there I first saw it, as stated above. A few months ago, I purchased some of the reprinted volumes ofthe Works of Daniel de Foe. Among these was the Life of Mr. Duncan Campbell, a fortuneteller.

To my great surprise, I found inserted in the Appendix (after verses to Mr. Duncan Campbell), without either name of the author, reference, or introduction, under the heading, ' A remarkable Passage of an Apparition, 1665,' no other than Dr. Ruddell's account of meeting the ghost which had haunted the boy, so much the same as that I had read in Gilbert, that it scarcely seemed to differ from it in a word. The name of Mr. Bligh, the father of the boy, was, however, omitted ; and Dr. Ruddell could only be known as the author of the account by the lad's father calling the narrator Mr. Ruddell, in their discourse about the youth. The account is so strangely inserted in the Appendix to the volume, without comment or reference, that, had I not previously known the circumstances above named by Mr. Arundell, I should have fancied it a fiction of De Foe himself, like the story of the ghost of Mrs. Veal, prefixed to Drelincourt on Death.

" Aware that Mr. Arundell had no idea that Ruddell's ghost story was to be found in any work previous to Gilbert's, I lost no time in communicating to that gentleman what I could not but deem a very curious discovery. He assured me there could be no mistake as to the genuineness of the ghost document he had found, as he had compared the manuscript with Ruddell's hand-writing in other papers, and saw it was one and the same. Soon after, Mr. Arundell favoured me with some further information on the subject, which I here give, as it adds still more to the interest of the story : — ' Looking into Gilbert's History of Cornwall, in the parish of South Petherwin, there is said to be in the old mansion of Botathan five portraits of the Bligh family ; one of them is the likeness of the boy, whose intimacy with the ghost of Dorothy Durant has been spoken of in his first volume, where she is erroneously called Dingley. If this be a fact, it is very interesting ; for it is strange that both Mr. Ruddell, the narrator (whose manuscript 1 lent to Gilbert), and De Foe, should have called her Dingley. I have no doubt it was a fictitious name, for I never heard of it in Launceston or the neighbourhood ; whereas Durant is the name of an ancient Cornish family : and I remember a tall, respectable man of that name in Launceston, who died at a very advanced age ; very probably a connexion of the Ghost Lady. He must have been born about 1730. Durant was probably too respectable a name to be published, and hence the fictitious one.' Mr. Arundell likewise says, ' In Launceston Church is a monument to Charles Bligh and Judith his wife, who died, one in 1716, and the other in 1717. He is said to have been sixty years old, and was probably the brother of Samuel, the hero of Dorothy Dingley. Sarah, the wife of the Rev. John Ruddell, has a monument also in Launceston Church. She died in 1667. Mr. Ruddell was Vicar of Aternon in 1684. He was the minister of Launceston in 1665, when he saw the ghost who haunted the boy.'"

Such is Mrs. Bray's account of these very curious circumstances. The ghost story inserted in Gilbert, as mentioned above, is altogether so much in the style of De Foe, that a doubt remains whether, after all, he may not have been the author of it. Can " D. S.," or any of your readers, throw further light on the subject ? D. S. Y."

NOTES AND QUERIES. [No. 16. Feb. 16. 1850.]

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