“This agency stands flat-footed upon the ground and there it must remain.
The world is big enough for us.
No ghosts need apply.”
(“The Adventure of the Sussex Vampire”)
So Sherlock Holmes famously declares to Watson when the pair go to solve the case of what, at first, appears to be a case of vampirism. Of course, Holmes never imagined for a second that an actual member of the undead was draining members of the Ferguson household of blood; nor did he believe that a spectral hound was haunting the Baskerville family. Sherlock Holmes was a man of science and, when it came to the supernatural, the ultimate sceptic. Still, he lived in an age when many Britons, regardless of background, were ready and willing to believe in the ghostly–witness the Spiritualist beliefs of Watson’s literary agent, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle–so he could hardly escape hearing about the hauntings, groanings, rappings, and mediumistic hijinks occurring (supposedly) all around him.
But I am a sucker for ghosts and scary stuff, so occasionally in this blog, we’ll have a look at some of the ghost tales Sherlock Holmes would have encountered in the 19th and early 20th century portions of his career. This first one is from a paper in Hull, a town in Yorkshire, the county in which Baring-Gould and other Sherlockians believe that Holmes may have grown up in that family of “country squires.” It appeared in 1864, when he would have been 10 years old. Given his youthful familiarity with the typefaces used in various papers, it is likely he read Miss Campbell’s story; one wonders if, even then, he could imagine the many possible motives behind it.
Mary Ellen Campbell, Toxteth-street, Toxteth-park, sued Arthur Grindrod, St. James’s-place, Toxteth-park, her master, for 11 s. 6 d, wages. The plaintiff, who is about twenty years of age, and had been in defendant’s service for two years, alleged that she was turned out of her situation on the 16th of June without any notice, and she therefore claimed a month’s wages. Defendant’s wife on the other hand affirmed that the servant left of her own accord, and that she was sorry when she went. The girl had frequently told her that she could not live in the house, because a murder had been committed in her bed-room, and she had seen a ghost there. She said that a man had told her that a murder had been committed there, but she refused to tell his name.–
Defendant: Two persons were murdered, one in my bed-room, and one in the room under. They were buried in the kitchen, and I was dreadfully alarmed. I saw something like a ghost in my bedroom; it was like a man.–His Honour: And that frightened you did it?–Plaintiff: No, but what a girl told me afterwards did. She told me that someone had been murdered.–His Honour: I hope you have more sense than to believe what you have heard. Plaintiff: I can’t help it; I can’t stand it.–A young man was call in as a witness, who denied that the plaintiff had been turned out of doors; but said that she told him that two of the bodies were buried in the kitchen, one on the west, and one on the south-east. The girl too him that she would be content to live there if the kitchen was examined, and the ground underneath, where the bodies rested, dug up. The plaintiff left the service on account of having seen a ghost.–Plaintiff: Not on account of the ghost, Sam.–His Honour: What was it, then?–Plaintiff: Because I had heard that a murder had been committed in the house. You have sworn false, Sam. I could live very well in the family, but not in the house. I am not afraid of ghosts but of the murder.–His Honour (addressing defendant): But there has been no murder committed there, has there?–Defendant: Undoubtedly not.–His Honour, to plaintiff: But even supposing there had been, Why should you let that disturb your sleep?–Defendant: No one could have taken more trouble to prove to her the fallacy of ghosts than I have, but she persisted in saying that she would convince me that she had seen one. On Saturday night I had great trouble in getting her and her fellow servant to bed on account of these ghost stories, and it was two o’clock on Sunday morning before they went to bed. I told them they must either go to bed or leave the house, upon which plaintiff said that she would rather leave the house, but that Mrs. Grindrod would not allow her.–His Honor gave it as his opinion that the plaintiff had discharged herself in consequence of her fears being excited; but before he gave a verdict he suggested that defendant should pay the poor girl her wages.–Defendant said he would most readily have done so, had not the plaintiff made reflections on his wife’s character.–Verdict for the defendant.–Liverpool Albion.