Now, before going to work in right earnest, I do not think it is generally known that my father, the late Captain Marryat, was not only a believer in ghosts, but himself a ghost-seer. I am delighted to be able to record this fact as an introduction to my own experiences. Perhaps the ease with which such manifestations have come to me is a gift which I inherit from him, anyway I am glad he shared the belief and the power of spiritual sight with me. If there were no other reason to make me bold to repeat what I have witnessed, the circumstance would give me courage.
My father was not like his intimate friends, Charles Dickens, Lord Lytton, and many other men of genius, highly strung, nervous, and imaginative. I do not believe my father had any "nerves," and I think he had very little imagination. Almost all his works are founded on his personal experiences. His forte lay in a humorous description of what he had seen. He possessed a marvellous power of putting his recollections into graphic and forcible language, and the very reason that his books are almost as popular to-day as when they were written, is because they are true histories of their time. There is scarcely a line of fiction in them.
His body was as powerful and muscular as his brain. His courage was indomitable – his moral courage as well as his physical (as many people remember to their cost to this day), and his hardness of belief on many subjects is no secret. What I am about to relate therefore did not happen to some excitable, nervous, sickly sentimentalist, and I repeat that I am proud to have inherited his constitutional tendencies, and quite willing to stand judgment after him.
"I have come to tell you that I am dead!”
I have heard that my father had a number of stories to relate of supernatural (as they are usually termed) incidents that had occurred to him, but I will content myself with relating such as were proved to be (at the least) very remarkable coincidences. In my work, The Life and Letters of Captain Marryat, I relate an anecdote of him that was entered in his private "log", and found amongst his papers.
He had a younger brother, Samuel, to whom he was very much attached, and who died unexpectedly in
whilst my father, in command of H.M.S. Lame, was engaged in the first Burmese war. His men broke out with scurvy and he was ordered to take his vessel over to Pulu Pinang for a few weeks in order to get the sailors fresh fruit and vegetables. As my father was lying in his berth one night, anchored off the island, with the briljant tropical moonlight making everything as bright as day, he saw the door of his cabin open, and his brother Samuel entered and walked quietly up to his side. He looked just the same as when they had parted, and uttered in a perfectly distinct voice: “Fred! I have come to tell you that I am dead!” England
When the figure entered the cabin my father jumped up in his berth, thinking it was some one coming to rob him, and when he saw who it was and heard it speak, he leaped out of bed with the intention of detaining it, but it was gone. So vivid was the impression made upon him by the apparition that he drew out his log at once and wrote down all particulars concerning it, with the hour and day of its appearance. On reaching
after the war was over, the first dispatches put into his hand were to announce the death of his brother, who had passed away at the very hour when he had seen him in the cabin. England
The Brown Lady of Rainham
But the story that interests me most is one of an incident which occurred to my father during my lifetime, and which we have always called The Brown Lady of Rainham. (See also: The Ghost Photograph of the Brown Lady of Raynham)
I am aware that this narrative has reached the public through other sources, and I have made it the foundationof a Christmas story myself. But it is too well authenticated to be omitted here.
The last fifteen years of my father's life were passed on his own estate of Langham, in
, and amongst his county friends were Sir Charles and Lady Townshend of Rainham Hall. At the time I speak of, the title and property had lately changed hands, and the new baronet had re-papered, painted, and furnished the Hall throughout, and come down with his wife and a large party of friends to take possession. But to their annoyance, soon after their arrival, rumors arose that the house was haunted, and their guests began, one and all (like those in the parable), to make excuses to go home again. Sir Charles and Lady Townshend might have sung Friend after friend departs, with due effect, but it would have had none on the general exodus that took place from Rainham. And it was all on account of a Brown Lady, whose portrait hung in one of the bedrooms, and in which she was represented as wearing a brown satin dress with yellow trimmings, and a ruff around her throat – a very harmless, innocent-looking young woman. But they all declared they had seen her walking about the house – some in the corridor, some in their bedrooms, others in the lower premises, and neither guests nor servants would remain in the Hall. Norfolk
The baronet was naturally very much annoyed about it, and confided his trouble to my father, and my father was indignant at the trick he believed had been played upon him. There was a great deal of smuggling and poaching in Norfolk at that period, as he knew well, being a magistrate of the county, and he felt sure that some of these depredators were trying to frighten the Townshends away from the Hall again. The last baronet had been a solitary sort of being, and lead a retired life, and my father imagined some of the tenantry had their own reasons for not liking the introduction of revelries and “high jinks” at Rainham. So he asked his friends to let him stay with them and sleep in the haunted chamber, and he felt sure he could rid them of the nuisance. They accepted his offer, and he took possession of the room in which the portrait of the apparition hung, and in which she had been often seen, and slept each night with a loaded revolver under his pillow.
For two days, however, he saw nothing, and the third was to be the limit of his stay. But on this third night, two young men (nephews of the baronet) knocked at his door as he was undressing to go to bed, and asked him to step over to their room (which was at the other end of the corridor), and give them his opinion on a new gun just arrived from London. My father was in his shirt and trousers, but as the hour was late, and everybody had retired to rest except themselves, he prepared to accompany them as he was. As they were leaving the room, he caught up his revolver, “in case we meet the Brown Lady,” he said, laughing. When the inspection of the gun was over, the young men in the same spirit declared they would accompany my father back again, “in case you meet the Brown Lady”. The three gentlemen therefore returned in company.
The corridor was long and dark, for the lights had been extinguished, but as they reached the middle of it, they saw the glimmer of a lamp coming towards them from the other end. “One of the ladies going to visit the nurseries,” whispered the young Townshends to my father. Now the bedroom doors in that corridor faced each other, and each room had a double door with a space between, as is the case in many old-fashioned country houses. My father (as I have said) was in a shirt and trousers only, and his native modesty made him feel uncomfortable, so he slipped within one of the outer doors (his friends following his example), in order to conceal himself until the lady should have passed by.
I have heard him describe how he watched her approaching nearer and nearer, through the chink of the door, until, as she was close enough for him to distinguish the colors and style of her costume, he recognized the figure as the facsimile of the portrait of “the Brown Lady”. He had his finger on the trigger of his revolver, and was about to demand it to stop and give the reason for its presence there, when the figure halted of its own accord before the door behind which he stood, and holding the lighted lamp she carried to her features, grinned in a malicious and diabolical manner at him. This act so infuriated my father, who was anything but lamb-like in disposition, that he sprang into the corridor with a bound, and discharged the revolver right in her face. The figure instantly disappeared – the figure at which for the space of several minutes three men had been looking together – and the bullet passed through the outer door of the room on the opposite side of the corridor, and lodged in the panel of the inner one. My father never attempted again to interfere with “the Brown Lady of Rainham”, and I have heard that she haunts the premises to this day. That she did so at that time, however, there is no shadow of doubt.
But Captain Marryat not only held these views and believed in them from personal experience – he promulgated them in his writings. There are many passages in his works which, read by the light of my assertion, prove that he had faith in the possibility of the departed returning to visit this earth, and in the theory of re-incarnation or living more than one life upon it, but nowhere does he speak more plainly than in the following extract from The Phantom Ship:
"Think you, Philip" (says Amine to her husband), "that this world is solely peopled by such dross as we are? – things of clay, perishable and corruptible, lords over beasts and ourselves, but little better? Have you not, from your own sacred writings, repeated acknowledgments and proofs of higher intelligences, mixing up with mankind, and acting here below? Why should what was then not be now, and what more harm is there to apply for their aid now than a few thousand years ago? Why should you suppose that they were permitted on the earth then and not permitted now? What has become of them? Have they perished ? Have they been ordered back? to where? – to heaven? If to heaven, the world and mankind have been left to the mercy of the devil and his agents. Do you suppose that we poor mortals have been thus abandoned? I tell you plainly, I think not. We no longer have the communication with those intelligences that we once had, because as we become more enlightened we become more proud and seek them not, but that they still exist a host of good against a host of evil, invisibly opposing each other, is my conviction.”
One testimony to such a belief, from the lips of my father, is sufficient. He would not have written it unless he had been prepared to maintain it. He was not one of those wretched literary cowards who we meet but too often now-a-days, who are too much afraid of the world to confess with their mouths the opinions they hold in their hearts. Had he lived to this time I believe he would have been one of the most energetic and outspoken believers in Spiritualism that we possess. So much, however, for his testimony to the possibility of spirits, good and evil, revisiting this earth. I think it will be found to gainsay the assertion that where he trod, his daughter need not be ashamed to follow.
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