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Lord St Vincent's Ghost Story






Sir Walter Scott, writing about the disturbances in the house occupied
by Mrs. Ricketts, sister of the great admiral, Lord St. Vincent, asks:
"Who has seen Lord St. Vincent's letters?" He adds that the gallant
admiral, after all, was a sailor, and implies that "what the sailor
said" (if he said anything) "is not evidence".

The fact of unaccountable disturbances which finally drove Mrs.
Ricketts out of Hinton Ampner, is absolutely indisputable, though the
cause of the annoyances may remain as mysterious as ever. The
contemporary correspondence (including that of Lord St. Vincent, then
Captain Jervis) exists, and has been edited by Mrs. Henley Jervis,
grand-daughter of Mrs. Ricketts. {222}

There is only the very vaguest evidence for hauntings at Lady
Hillsborough's old house of Hinton Ampner, near Alresford, before Mr.
Ricketts took it in January, 1765. He and his wife were then
disturbed by footsteps, and sounds of doors opening and shutting.
They put new locks on the doors lest the villagers had procured keys,
but this proved of no avail. The servants talked of seeing
appearances of a gentleman in drab and of a lady in silk, which Mrs.
Ricketts disregarded. Her husband went to Jamaica in the autumn of
1769, and in 1771 she was so disturbed that her brother, Captain
Jervis, a witness of the phenomena, insisted on her leaving the house
in August. He and Mrs. Ricketts then wrote to Mr. Ricketts about the
affair. In July, 1772, Mrs. Ricketts wrote a long and solemn
description of her sufferings, to be given to her children.

We shall slightly abridge her statement, in which she mentions that
when she left Hinton she had not one of the servants who came thither
in her family, which "evinces the impossibility of a confederacy".
Her new, like her former servants, were satisfactory; Camis, her new
coachman, was of a yeoman house of 400 years' standing. It will be
observed that Mrs. Ricketts was a good deal annoyed even _before_ 2nd
April, 1771, the day when she dates the beginning of the worst
disturbances. She believed that the agency was human--a robber or a
practical joker--and but slowly and reluctantly became convinced that
the "exploded" notion of an abnormal force might be correct. We learn
that while Captain Jervis was not informed of the sounds he never
heard them, and whereas Mrs. Ricketts heard violent noises after he
went to bed on the night of his vigil, he heard nothing. "Several
instances occurred where very loud noises were heard by one or two
persons, when those equally near and in the same direction were not
sensible of the least impression." {223}

With this preface, Mrs. Ricketts may be allowed to tell her own tale.

"Sometime after Mr. Ricketts left me (autumn, 1769) I--then lying in
the bedroom over the kitchen--heard frequently the noise of some one
walking in the room within, and the rustling as of silk clothes
against the door that opened into my room, sometimes so loud, and of
such continuance as to break my rest. Instant search being often
made, we never could discover any appearance of human or brute being.
Repeatedly disturbed in the same manner, I made it my constant
practice to search the room and closets within, and to secure the only
door on the inside. . . . Yet this precaution did not preclude the
disturbance, which continued with little interruption."

Nobody, in short, could enter this room, except by passing through
that of Mrs. Ricketts, the door of which "was always made fast by a
drawn bolt". Yet somebody kept rustling and walking in the inner
room, which somebody could never be found when sought for.

In summer, 1770, Mrs. Ricketts heard someone walk to the foot of her
bed in her own room, "the footsteps as distinct as ever I heard,
myself perfectly awake and collected". Nobody could be discovered in
the chamber. Mrs. Ricketts boldly clung to her room, and was only now
and then disturbed by "sounds of harmony," and heavy thumps, down
stairs. After this, and early in 1771, she was "frequently sensible
of a hollow murmuring that seemed to possess the whole house: it was
independent of wind, being equally heard on the calmest nights, and it
was a sound I had never been accustomed to hear".

On 27th February, 1771, a maid was alarmed by "groans and fluttering
round her bed": she was "the sister of an eminent grocer in
Alresford". On 2nd April, Mrs. Ricketts heard people walking in the
lobby, hunted for burglars, traced the sounds to a room whence their
was no outlet, and found nobody. This kind of thing went on till Mrs.
Ricketts despaired of any natural explanation. After mid-summer,
1771, the trouble increased, in broad daylight, and a shrill female
voice, answered by two male voices was added to the afflictions.
Captain Jervis came on a visit, but was told of nothing, and never
heard anything. After he went to Portsmouth, "the most deep, loud
tremendous noise seemed to rush and fall with infinite velocity and
force on the lobby floor adjoining my room," accompanied by a shrill
and dreadful shriek, seeming to proceed from under the spot where the
rushing noise fell, and repeated three or four times.

Mrs. Ricketts' "resolution remained firm," but her health was
impaired; she tried changing her room, without results. The
disturbances pursued her. Her brother now returned. She told him
nothing, and he heard nothing, but next day she unbosomed herself.
Captain Jervis therefore sat up with Captain Luttrell and his own man.
He was rewarded by noises which he in vain tried to pursue. "I should
do great injustice to my sister" (he writes to Mr. Ricketts on 9th
August, 1771), "if I did not acknowledge to have heard what I could
not, after the most diligent search and serious reflection, any way
account for." Captain Jervis during a whole week slept by day, and
watched, armed, by night. Even by day he was disturbed by a sound as
of immense weights falling from the ceiling to the floor of his room.
He finally obliged his sister to leave the house.

What occurred after Mrs. Ricketts abandoned Hinton is not very
distinct. Apparently Captain Jervis's second stay of a week, when he
did hear the noises, was from 1st August to 8th August. From a
statement by Mrs. Ricketts it appears that, when her brother joined
his ship, the Alarm (9th August), she retired to Dame Camis's house,
that of her coachman's mother. Thence she went, and made another
attempt to live at Hinton, but was "soon after assailed by a noise I
never before heard, very near me, and the terror I felt not to be
described". She therefore went to the Newbolts, and thence to the old
Palace at Winton; later, on Mr. Ricketts' return, to the Parsonage,
and then to Longwood (to the _old_ house there) near Alresford.

Meanwhile, on 18th September, Lady Hillsborough's agent lay with armed
men at Hinton, and, making no discovery, offered 50 pounds (increased
by Mr. Ricketts to 100 pounds) for the apprehension of the persons who
caused the noises. The reward was never claimed. On 8th March, 1772,
Camis wrote: "I am very sorry that we cannot find out the reason of
the noise"; at other dates he mentions sporadic noises heard by his
mother and another woman, including "the murmur". A year after Mrs.
Ricketts left a family named Lawrence took the house, and, according
to old Lucy Camis, in 1818, Mr. Lawrence very properly threatened to
dismiss any servant who spoke of the disturbances. The result of this
sensible course was that the Lawrences left suddenly, at the end of
the year--and the house was pulled down. Some old political papers of
the Great Rebellion, and a monkey's skull, not exhibited to any
anatomist, are said to have been discovered under the floor of the
lobby, or of one of the rooms. Mrs. Ricketts adds sadly, "The
unbelief of Chancellor Hoadley went nearest my heart," as he had
previously a high opinion of her veracity. The Bishop of St. Asaph
was incredulous, "on the ground that such means were unworthy of the
Deity to employ".

Probably a modern bishop would say that there were no noises at all,
that every one who heard the sounds was under the influence of
"suggestion," caused first in Mrs. Ricketts' own mind by vague tales
of a gentleman in drab seen by the servants.

The contagion, to be sure, also reached two distinguished captains in
the navy, but not till one of them was told about disturbances which
had not previously disturbed him. If this explanation be true, it
casts an unusual light on the human imagination. Physical science has
lately invented a new theory. Disturbances of this kind are perhaps
"seismic,"--caused by earthquakes! (See Professor Milne, in The
Times, 21st June, 1897.)





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