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The Botathen Ghost

Scary Books: The Haunters & The Haunted
: the Rev. S.R. HAWKER

The legend of Parson Rudall and the Botathen Ghost will be recognised by

many Cornish people as a local remembrance of their boyhood.

It appears from the diary of this learned master of the

grammar-school--for such was his office, as well as perpetual curate of

the parish,--"that a pestilential disease did break forth in our town in

the beginning of the year A.D. 1665; yea, and it likewise

invaded my scho
l, insomuch that therewithal certain of the chief

scholars sickened and died." "Among others who yielded to the malign

influence was Master John Eliot, the eldest son and the worshipful heir

of Edward Eliot, Esquire of Trebursey, a stripling of sixteen years of

age, but of uncommon parts and hopeful ingenuity. At his own especial

motion and earnest desire I did consent to preach his funeral sermon."

It should be remembered here that, howsoever strange and singular it may

sound to us that a mere lad should formally solicit such a performance

at the hands of his master, it was in consonance with the habitual usage

of those times. The old services for the dead had been abolished by law,

and in the stead of sacrament and ceremony, month's mind and year's

mind, the sole substitute which survived was the general desire "to

partake," as they called it, of a posthumous discourse, replete with

lofty eulogy and flattering remembrance of the living and the dead. The

diary proceeds:

"I fulfilled my undertaking and preached over the coffin in the presence

of a full assemblage of mourners and lachrymose friends. An ancient

gentleman who was then and there in the church, a Mr Bligh of Botathen,

was much affected by my discourse, and he was heard to repeat to himself

certain parentheses therefrom, especially a phrase from Maro Virgilius,

which I had applied to the deceased youth, 'Et puer ipse fuit cantari


"The cause wherefore this old gentleman was thus moved by my

applications was this: He had a first-born and only son--a child who,

but a very few months before, had been not unworthy of the character I

drew of young Master Eliot, but who, by some strange accident, had of

late quite fallen away from his parent's hopes, and become moody, and

sullen, and distraught. When the funeral obsequies were over, I had no

sooner come out of the church than I was accosted by this aged parent,

and he besought me incontinently, with a singular energy, that I would

resort with him forthwith to his abode at Botathen that very night; nor

could I have delivered myself from his importunity, had not Mr Eliot

urged his claim to enjoy my company at his own house. Hereupon I got

loose, but not until I had pledged a fast assurance that I would pay

him, faithfully, an early visit the next day."

"The Place," as it was called, of Botathen, where old Mr Bligh resided,

was a low-roofed gabled manor-house of the fifteenth century, walled and

mullioned, and with clustered chimneys of dark-grey stone from the

neighbouring quarries of Ventor-gan. The mansion was flanked by a

pleasaunce or enclosure in one space, of garden and lawn, and it was

surrounded by a solemn grove of stag-horned trees. It had the sombre

aspect of age and of solitude, and looked the very scene of strange and

supernatural events. A legend might well belong to every gloomy glade

around, and there must surely be a haunted room somewhere within its

walls. Hither, according to his appointment, on the morrow, Parson

Rudall betook himself. Another clergyman, as it appeared, had been

invited to meet him, who, very soon after his arrival, proposed a walk

together in the pleasaunce, on the pretext of showing him, as a

stranger, the walks and trees, until the dinner-bell should strike.

There, with much prolixity, and with many a solemn pause, his brother

minister proceeded to "unfold the mystery."

"A singular infelicity," he declared, "had befallen young Master Bligh,

once the hopeful heir of his parents and of the lands of Botathen.

Whereas he had been from childhood a blithe and merry boy, 'the

gladness,' like Isaac of old, of his father's age, he had suddenly of

late become morose and silent--nay, even austere and stern--dwelling

apart, always solemn, often in tears. The lad had at first repulsed all

questions as to the origin of this great change, but of late he had

yielded to the importunate researches of his parents, and had disclosed

the secret cause. It appeared that he resorted, every day, by a pathway

across the fields, to this very clergyman's house, who had charge of his

education, and grounded him in the studies suitable to his age. In the

course of his daily walk he had to pass a certain heath or down where

the road wound along through tall blocks of granite with open spaces of

grassy sward between. There in a certain spot and always in one and the

same place, the lad declared that he had encountered, every day, a woman

with a pale and troubled face, clothed in a long loose garment of

frieze, with one hand always stretched forth, and the other pressed

against her side. Her name, he said, was Dorothy Dinglet, for he had

known her well from his childhood, and she often used to come to his

parents' house; but that which troubled him was, that she had now been

dead three years, and he himself had been with the neighbours at her

burial; so that, as the youth alleged, with great simplicity, since he

had seen her body laid in the grave, this that he saw every day must

needs be her soul or ghost. 'Questioned again and again,' said the

clergyman, 'he never contradicts himself; but he relates the same and

the simple tale as a thing that cannot be gainsaid. Indeed, the lad's

observance is keen and calm for a boy of his age. The hair of the

appearance, sayeth he, is not like anything alive, but it is so soft and

light that it seemeth to melt away while you look; but her eyes are set,

and never blink--no, not when the sun shineth full upon her face. She

maketh no steps, but seemeth to swim along the top of the grass; and her

hand, which is stretched out alway, seemeth to point at something far

away, out of sight. It is her continual coming; for she never faileth to

meet him, and to pass on, that hath quenched his spirits; and although

he never seeth her by night, yet cannot he get his natural rest.'

"Thus far the clergyman; whereupon the dinner clock did sound, and we

went into the house. After dinner, when young Master Bligh had withdrawn

with his tutor, under excuse of their books, the parents did forthwith

beset me as to my thoughts about their son. Said I, warily, 'The case is

strange, but by no means impossible. It is one that I will study, and

fear not to handle, if the lad will be free with me, and fulfil all that

I desire.' The mother was overjoyed, but I perceived that old Mr Bligh

turned pale, and was downcast with some thought which, however, he did

not express. Then they bade that Master Bligh should be called to meet

me in the pleasaunce forthwith. The boy came, and he rehearsed to me his

tale with an open countenance, and, withal, a modesty of speech. Verily

he seemed 'ingenui vultus puer ingenuique pudoris.' Then I signified to

him my purpose. 'To-morrow,' said I, 'we will go together to the place;

and if, as I doubt not, the woman shall appear, it will be for me to

proceed according to knowledge, and by rules laid down in my books.'"

The unaltered scenery of the legend still survives, and, like the field

of the forty footsteps in another history, the place is still visited by

those who take interest in the supernatural tales of old. The pathway

leads along a moorland waste, where large masses of rock stand up here

and there from the grassy turf, and clumps of heath and gorse weave

their tapestry of golden purple garniture on every side. Amidst all

these, and winding along between the rocks, is a natural footway worn by

the scant, rare tread of the village traveller. Just midway, a somewhat

larger stretch than usual of green sod expands, which is skirted by the

path, and which is still identified as the legendary haunt of the

phantom, by the name of Parson Rudall's Ghost.

But we must draw the record of the first interview between the minister

and Dorothy from his own words. "We met," thus he writes, "in the

pleasaunce very early, and before any others in the house were awake;

and together the lad and myself proceeded towards the field. The youth

was quite composed, and carried his Bible under his arm, from whence he

read to me verses, which he said he had lately picked out, to have

always in his mind. These were Job vii. 14, 'Thou scarest me with

dreams, and terrifiest me through visions'; and Deuteronomy xxviii. 67,

'In the morning thou shalt say, Would to God it were the evening, and in

the evening thou shalt say, Would to God it were morning; for the fear

of thine heart wherewith thou shalt fear, and for the sight of thine

eyes which thou shalt see.'

"I was much pleased with the lad's ingenuity in these pious

applications, but for mine own part I was somewhat anxious and out of

cheer. For aught I knew this might be a _daemonium meridianum_, the most

stubborn spirit to govern and guide that any man can meet, and the most

perilous withal. We had hardly reached the accustomed spot, when we both

saw her at once gliding towards us; punctually as the ancient writers

describe the motion of their 'lemures, which swoon along the ground,

neither marking the sand nor bending the herbage.' The aspect of the

woman was exactly that which had been related by the lad. There was the

pale and stony face, the strange and misty hair, the eyes firm and

fixed, that gazed, yet not on us, but something that they saw far, far

away; one hand and arm stretched out, and the other grasping the girdle

of her waist. She floated along the field like a sail upon a stream, and

glided past the spot where we stood, pausingly. But so deep was the awe

that overcame me, as I stood there in the light of day, face to face

with a human soul separate from her bones and flesh, that my heart and

purpose both failed me. I had resolved to speak to the spectre in the

appointed form of words, but I did not. I stood like one amazed and

speechless, until she had passed clean out of sight. One thing

remarkable came to pass. A spaniel dog, the favourite of young Master

Bligh, had followed us, and lo! when the woman drew nigh, the poor

creature began to yell and bark piteously, and ran backward and away,

like a thing dismayed and appalled. We returned to the house, and after

I had said all that I could to pacify the lad, and to soothe the aged

people, I took my leave for that time, with a promise that when I had

fulfilled certain business elsewhere, which I then alleged, I would

return and take orders to assuage these disturbances and their cause.

"January 7, 1665.--At my own house, I find, by my books, what is

expedient to be done; and then, Apage, Sathanas!

"January 9, 1665.--This day I took leave of my wife and family, under

pretext of engagements elsewhere, and made my secret journey to our

diocesan city, wherein the good and venerable bishop then abode.

"January 10.--_Deo gratias_, in safe arrival at Exeter; craved and

obtained immediate audience of his lordship; pleading it was for counsel

and admonition on a weighty and pressing cause; called to the presence;

made obeisance; and then by command stated my case--the Botathen

perplexity--which I moved with strong and earnest instances and solemn

asseverations of that which I had myself seen and heard. Demanded by his

lordship, what was the succour that I had come to entreat at his hands?

Replied, licence for my exorcism, that so I might, ministerially, allay

this spiritual visitant, and thus render to the living and the dead

release from this surprise. 'But,' said our bishop, 'on what authority

do you allege that I am intrusted with faculty so to do? Our Church, as

is well known, hath abjured certain branches of her ancient power, on

grounds of perversion and abuse.' 'Nay, my Lord,' I humbly answered,

'under favour, the seventy-second of the canons ratified and enjoined on

us, the clergy, anno Domini 1604, doth expressly provide, that "no

minister, _unless he hath_ the licence of his diocesan bishop, shall

essay to exorcise a spirit, evil or good." Therefore it was,' I did here

mildly allege, 'that I did not presume to enter on such a work without

lawful privilege under your lordship's hand and seal.' Hereupon did our

wise and learned bishop, sitting in his chair, condescend upon the theme

at some length with many gracious interpretations from ancient writers

and from Holy Scripture, and I did humbly rejoin and reply, till the

upshot was that he did call in his secretary and command him to draw the

aforesaid faculty, forthwith and without further delay, assigning him a

form, insomuch that the matter was incontinently done; and after I had

disbursed into the secretary's hands certain moneys for signitary

purposes, as the manner of such officers hath always been, the bishop

did himself affix his signature under the _sigillum_ of his see, and

deliver the document into my hands. When I knelt down to receive his

benediction, he softly said, 'Let it be secret, Mr R. Weak brethren!

weak brethren!'"

This interview with the bishop, and the success with which he

vanquished his lordship's scruples, would seem to have confirmed Parson

Rudall very strongly in his own esteem, and to have invested him with

that courage which he evidently lacked at his first encounter with the


The entries proceed: "January 11, 1665.--Therewithal did I hasten home

and prepare my instruments, and cast my figures for the onset of the

next day. Took out my ring of brass, and put it on the index-finger of

my right hand, with the _scutum Davidis_ traced thereon.

"January 12, 1665.--Rode into the gateway at Botathen, armed at all

points, but not with Saul's armour, and ready. There is danger from the

demons, but so there is in the surrounding air every day. At early

morning then, and alone,--for so the usage ordains,--I betook me towards

the field. It was void, and I had thereby due time to prepare. First, I

paced and measured out my circle on the grass. Then did I mark my

pentacle in the very midst, and at the intersection of the five angles I

did set up and fix my crutch of _raun_ (rowan). Lastly, I took my

station south, at the true line of the meridian, and stood facing due

north. I waited and watched for a long time. At last there was a kind of

trouble in the air, a soft and rippling sound, and all at once the shape

appeared, and came on towards me gradually. I opened my parchment

scroll, and read aloud the command. She paused, and seemed to waver and

doubt; stood still; then I rehearsed the sentence, sounding out every

syllable like a chant. She drew near my ring, but halted at first

outside, on the brink. I sounded again, and now at the third time I gave

the signal in Syriac,--the speech which is used, they say, where such

ones dwell and converse in thoughts that glide.

"She was at last obedient, and swam into the midst of the circle, and

there stood still, suddenly. I saw, moreover, that she drew back her

pointing hand. All this while I do confess that my knees shook under me,

and the drops of sweat ran down my flesh like rain. But now, although

face to face with the spirit, my heart grew calm, and my mind was

composed. I knew that the pentacle would govern her, and the ring must

bind, until I gave the word. Then I called to mind the rule laid down of

old, that no angel or fiend, no spirit, good or evil, will ever speak

until they have been first spoken to. _N.B._--This is the great law of

prayer. God Himself will not yield reply until man hath made vocal

entreaty, once and again. So I went on to demand, as the books advise;

and the phantom made answer, willingly. Questioned wherefore not at

rest? Unquiet, because of a certain sin. Asked what, and by whom?

Revealed it; but it is _sub sigillo_, and therefore _nefas dictu_; more

anon. Inquired, what sign she could give that she was a true spirit and

not a false fiend? Stated, before next Yule-tide a fearful pestilence

would lay waste the land and myriads of souls would be loosened from

their flesh, until, as she piteously said, 'our valleys will be full.'

Asked again, why she so terrified the lad? Replied: 'It is the law; we

must seek a youth or a maiden of clean life, and under age, to receive

messages and admonitions.' We conversed with many more words, but it is

not lawful for me to set them down. Pen and ink would degrade and defile

the thoughts she uttered, and which my mind received that day. I broke

the ring, and she passed, but to return once more next day. At

even-song, a long discourse with that ancient transgressor, Mr B. Great

horror and remorse; entire atonement and penance; whatsoever I enjoin;

full acknowledgment before pardon.

"January 13, 1665.--At sunrise I was again in the field. She came in at

once, and, as it seemed, with freedom. Inquired if she knew my thoughts,

and what I was going to relate? Answered, 'Nay, we only know what we

perceive and hear; we cannot see the heart.' Then I rehearsed the

penitent words of the man she had come up to denounce, and the

satisfaction he would perform. Then said she, 'Peace in our midst.' I

went through the proper forms of dismissal, and fulfilled all as it was

set down and written in my memoranda; and then, with certain fixed

rites, I did dismiss that troubled ghost, until she peacefully withdrew,

gliding towards the west. Neither did she ever afterward appear, but was

allayed until she shall come in her second flesh to the valley of

Armageddon on the last day."

These quaint and curious details from the "diurnal" of a simple-hearted

clergyman of the seventeenth century appear to betoken his personal

persuasion of the truth of what he saw and said, although the statements

are strongly tinged with what some may term the superstition, and others

the excessive belief, of those times. It is a singular fact, however,

that the canon which authorises exorcism under episcopal licence is

still a part of the ecclesiastical law of the Anglican Church, although

it might have a singular effect on the nerves of certain of our bishops

if their clergy were to resort to them for the faculty which Parson

Rudall obtained. The general facts stated in his diary are to this day

matters of belief in that neighbourhood; and it has been always

accounted a strong proof of the veracity of the Parson and the Ghost,

that the plague, fatal to so many thousands, did break out in London at

the close of that very year. We may well excuse a triumphant entry, on a

subsequent page of the "diurnal," with the date of July 10, 1665: "How

sorely must the infidels and heretics of this generation be dismayed

when they know that this Black Death, which is now swallowing its

thousands in the streets of the great city, was foretold six months

agone, under the exorcisms of a country minister, by a visible and

suppliant ghost! And what pleasures and improvements do such deny

themselves who scorn and avoid all opportunity of intercourse with souls

separate, and the spirits, glad and sorrowful, which inhabit the unseen