Sampford Ghost

Transcribed from Taunton Courier for 30 August 1810


Ann Franklin <A.Franklin[at]tesco[dot]net>

It is related of FOOTE, that in illustrating the credulity of the public to a friend who was with him, they both one night stationed themselves in St. Paul's churchyard, about twelve o'clock. On a man passing them very nearly, FOOTE took out his watch and observed in a tone sufficiently audible for his purpose, at the same time looking up to the gallery on the dome, "that it would now appear in a few minutes." This was quite enough. A second passenger came up, to whom the first related the awful tidings, with some few touches of description as to the form and character of the expectant visitant. An immense crowd soon assembled. The time arrived which Burns describes as, "That hour of night's black arch, the key stone;" and after the powers of vision had been a little time exerted, the solemn whisper ran throught the crowd of "there it is." The authors of the joke slid away exulting in the success of the experiment, and the place was filled, night after night, for several successive weeks, with a wondering multitude, insatiable of the new sights which their creative fancies were continually administering.

Thus it is with the Sampford Ghost. An experiment grounded on the weakness of the public mind, has been in its origin successfully made on a few ignorant persons, and has now diffused its results, not only throughout the West of England, but even in the Metropolis, threatening with rival-ship the best efforts of cabalistic art, and challenging in skilful emulation that astounding personage of most marvellous memory, yelept'd the Cock-Lane Ghost.

We shall use as little ceremony in introducing our Readers to the subject of these remarks, as the subject itself does to persons who are favoured with its visitations. We must give it an hasty slap or two and retire. Mr.CHAVE and his family, (the tenants of the Haunted House,) must therefore be put in the witness-box, and we shall proceed to call a few facts to evidence.

The said Mr.CHAVE then, it appears, has lived in the house he now occupies at Sampford Peverell, about seven months. About seven months, Reader; for we beg that every circumstance, however minute, may be duly attended to. Before he came to this place to exercise his present business of an Huckster, the premises in question were unmolested by its present troublesome guest; - but Mr.CHAVE, the Huckster, brings into the aforesaid premises two servants, the one somewhat stricken in years, the other a girl about eighteen called SALLY. A person named TAYLOR, (Mrs.CHAVE's brother,) is also another inmate of the house, a strapping black-haired young man, about twenty-five years of age, whose employment we cannot learn, or even guess at, from any thing that CHAVE can have for him to do, but who is represented by the honest folks at Sampford, to be a "wildish sort of young man," and of whose previous history Mr.SELLON, grocer, of Honiton, can oblige us with some further particulars.

About a fortnight ago, two Gentlemen, from Taunton, attended the troubled house, and requested permission to pass the night in the haunted room - TAYLOR looked out of his bedroom window, which is next to the haunted room, and only separated from it by a thin partition, and after satisfying himself of the respectability of the persons who applied for admittance, assured them, that it would be of no use for them to sit up unless there were females in the house, for otherwise nothing was ever heard, and there were no women in the house. Entreaties were in vain, and the Gentlemen alluded to retired, after a promise of being admitted the next morning. Accordingly they went to the house early on the next day, and were entertained by Mr.CHAVE with a history, compared with which, Baron Munchausen's Adventures form a series of probabilities. After having had the Monster described, (very much resembling a black rabbit, only wonderfully larger!) And which when pursued escaped through the close palings of his garden in a moment. Permission was allowed to visit the haunted room, but which was delayed by Mr.CHAVE a short time, because the maid servants were not up. Proceeding at last to the chamber, TAYLOR's room was passed through. He was laying in bed with a drawn sword on it. The unfortunate chamber was then examined, and agreeably to the prescribed mode of incantation, the floor was stamped upon, and the Ghost politely entreated to favour his visitors with a few conversational thumps, but it was not so inclined. Not a single knock, tap, groan, or even a social grunt could be extorted from it, and all attempts at a friendly dialogue proved utterly fruitless. In the adjoining room where Taylor slept, some boards had been taken up. A considerable hollow depth appeared underneath, but how far it went Mr.CHAVE did not know! SALLY was interrogated as to the attacks which have been made on her by the monster. She observed it "never came when there was a light in the room. She had caught it twice - that it was very large and heavy, felt like a dog or rabbit, and so powerful that she could not hold it - that it usually came as soon as the light was withdrawn, and vanished on its appearance - that she had been repeatedly slapped by some invisible means - and that she lately saw through the sheet, while her head was under the bedclothes, and man's hand and arm, perfectly white!" All this in the dark too! Oh, SALLY!!!

Since the above stated particulars occurred, it has been ascertained that the Ghost never visits SALLY while she is asleep, for this damsel in the middle of the night lately, while two gentlemen were in the adjoining room, having got into a profound sleep, and the Ghost being perfectly peaceable, the experiment was tried by waking her. Soon after, SALLY, by her representations, evinced that the Ghost had not forgotten her, though, like SALLY, it had thought fit to indulge in a little nap.

Now is it possible for any man, woman, or child, though they should have been nursed in Lapland, or in any more desperate region of abject superstition, to cast their eyes on these disgusting statements without entertaining the utmost contempt for the bungling contrivers of such a wretched plot? A plot that almost supercedes comment, from the thread-bare materials with which it is interwoven!

But what end is proposed in the conduct of so detestable a plan? Our readers must have a little patience. We know the end in view, and the public shall be very soon in full possession of it. For the present, one or two observations must content them, as we can ill spare the room already engrossed by the subject.

Mr.CHAVE, we find, is extremely enraged at the promise we made a fortnight ago to develope the affair. Now by reference to our paper, it will be found that we made not the slightest allusion to him; and, therefore, it cannot fail striking our readers as a circumstance extremely odd, that he should be angry on the occasion. Angry indeed! Here's Mr.CHAVE, the Huckster, who, according to the Rev.Mr.COLTON's affidavit, is sustaining a serious injury in his trade, because nobody will come to his premises after dark - whose servants are deprived of their rest, and who is in all respects a great loser by the Ghost, hears of a friend who promises to banish all his troubles, and instead of expressing his gratitude, he falls into a mighty rage, for all the world as if he was interested in supporting the imposture! Really this Huckster is a hard man to deal with. We promise to take the Ghost off his hands, which, by his account is as great a nuisance to his shop as rotten cheese, and he doubles his fist at us!

Let us look a little at Mr.CHAVE's loss of custom. Since the Ghost has appeared we have had the sun until nearly nine o'clock. People, Mr.CHAVE says, were afraid to come after it was dark, but who are the persons who frequent this shop after nine o'clock at night? Respectable housekeepers do not depend on a Huckster for their supplies, and the labouring poor in a country village are generally in bed before that hour. Thus it seems, that Mr.CHAVE cannot have sustained any loss in this way, and must have some particular motive for representing that his trade is decreasing in its profits from what is going forward in his house. That motive shall be set forth in due time; and in spite of the Ghost's solicitude to be always in the dark, we are mistaken if we do not succeed in bringing it to light.

Of SALLY, TAYLOR, and the Old Woman, we shall say nothing at present. We have gone beyond our limits, and must postpone many other particulars connected with this vile farce until our next.