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Dorothy Durant, Ghost of Botathen


There is an old story concerning the ghost of Dorothy Durant who was said to haunt a field at Botathen (Botathan, Botaden)in the 17th century. The following account appeared in The Haunted Homes and Family Traditions of Great Britain (1897) by John Ingram who in turn took it from the History of Cornwall by Hitchins and Drew (1824). The story has however appeared in The Haunters and the Haunted (1921) by Ernest Rhys, Footprints of Former Men in Far Cornwall (1870) by R S Hawker and in All the Year Around 1867.

According to Ingram, Hitchen appears to have derived his account direct from one of the persons chiefly concerned that is to say, from the Rev. John Ruddle, Head Master of the Grammar School at Launceston, Vicar of Altemon, and Prebendary of Exeter.

"Young Mr. Bligh, a lad of bright parts and of no common attainments, became on a sudden pensive, dejected, and melancholy. His friends, observing the change without being able to discover the cause, attributed his behaviour to laziness, an aversion to school, or to some other motive which they suspected he was ashamed to avow. He was, however, induced to inform his brother, after some time, that in a field through which he passed to and from school" that is to say, to and from Launceston Grammar School, of which, as has alreadv been observed, Mr. Raddle was Head Master "he was invariably met by the apparition of a woman, whom he personally knew while living, and who had been dead about eight years." Young Bligh is said to have been at this time about sixteen. "Ridicule, threats, and persuasions were alike used in vain by the family to induce him to dismiss these absurd ideas. Mr. Ruddle was, however, sent for, to whom the lad ingenuously communicated the time, manner, and frequency of this appearance. It was in a field called Higher Broomfield. The apparition, he said, appeared dressed in female attire, met him two or three times while he passed through the field, glided hastily by him, but never spoke. He had thus been occasionally met about two months before he took any particular notice of it; at length the appearance became more frequent, meeting him both morning and evening, but always in the same field, yet invariably moving out of the path when it came close to him. He often spoke, but could never get any reply. To avoid this unwelcome visitor he forsook the field, and went to school and returned from it through a lane, in which place, between the quarry pack and nursery, it always met him. Unable to disbelieve the evidence of his own senses, or to obtain credit with any of his family, he prevailed upon Mr. Ruddle to accompany him to the place.

"I arose,” says this clergyman, “the next morning, and went with him. The field to which he led me I guessed to be about twenty acres, in an open country, and about three furlongs from any house. We went into the field, and had not gone a third part before the spectrum, in the shape of a woman, with all the circumstances he had described the day before, so far as the suddenness of its appearance and transition would permit me to discover, passed by.

"I was a little surprised at it, and though I had taken up a firm resolution to speak to it, I had not the power, nor durst I look back; yet I took care not to show any fear to my pupil and guide, and therefore, telling him that I was satisfied in the truth of his statement we walked to the end of the field and returned nor did the ghost meet us that time but once.

"On the 27th July, 1665, I went to the haunted field by myself, and walked the breadth of it without any encounter. I then returned and took the other walk, and then the spectre appeared to me, much about the same place in which I saw it when the young gentleman was with me. It appeared to move swifter than before, and seemed to be about ten feet from me on my right hand, insomuch that I had not time to speak to it, as I had determined with myself beforehand. The evening of this day, the parents, the son, and myself, being in the chamber where I lay, I proposed to them our going all together to the place next morning. We accordingly met at the stile we had appointed; thence we all four walked into the field together. We had not gone more than half the field before the ghost made its appearance. It then came over the stile just before us, and moved with such rapidity that by the time we had gone six or seven steps it passed by. I immediately turned my head and ran after it, with the young man by my side. We saw it pass over the stile at which we entered, and no farther. I stepped upon the hedge at one place and the young man at another, but we could discern nothing; whereas I do aver that the swiftes horse in England could not have conveyed himself out of sight in that short space of time. Two things I observed in this day's appearance: first, a spaniel dog, which had followed the company unregarded, barked and ran away as the spectrum passed by; whence it is easy to conclude that it was not our fear or fancy which made the apparition. Secondly, the motion of the spectrum was not gradatim or by steps, or moving of the feet, but by a kind of gliding, as children upon ice, or as a boat down a river, which punctually answers the description the ancients give of the motion of these Lamures. This ocular evidence clearly convinced, but withal strangely affrighted, the old gentleman and his wife. They well knew this woman, Dorothy Durant, in her life-time; were at her burial, and now plainly saw her features in this apparition.

"The next morning, being Thursday, I went very early by myself, and walked for about an hour's space in meditation and prayer in the field next adjoining. Soon after five I stepped over the stile into the haunted field, and had not gone above thirty or forty paces before the ghost appeared at the further stile. I spoke to it in some short sentences with a loud voice; whereupon it approached me, but slowly, and when I came near it moved not. I spoke again, and it answered in a voice neither audible nor very intelligible. I was not in the least terrified, and therefore persisted until it spoke again and gave me satisfaction; but the work could not be finished at this time. Whereupon the same evening, an hour after sunset, it met me again near the same place, and after a few words on each side it quietly vanished, and neither doth appear now, nor hath appeared since, nor ever will more to any man's disturbance. The discourse in the morning lasted about a quarter of an hour.

"These things are true,” concludes the Rev. John Ruddle, “and I know them to be so, with as much certainty as eyes and ears can give me; and until I can be persuaded that my senses all deceive me about their proper objects, and by that persuasion deprive me of the strongest inducement to believe the Christian religion, I must and will assert that the things contained in this paper are true".

Note: I do not know the exact location of Higher Broomfield where the apparition was said to appear some 300 years ago. The map indicates a field between Botathan Farm and Launceston just to give a general geographical indication.


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Re: Dorothy Durant, Ghost of Botathen

Rev Sabine Baring-Gould (born 28 January 1834 – died 2 January 1924) fleshed out the story more in his 1909 book ‘Cornish Characters and Strange Events’ and uncovered a little more of its history.

IN April, 1720, Daniel Defoe published his History of the Life and Adventures of Mr. Duncan Campbell. In August a second edition was called for, of which some copies included a pamphlet that had been printed in June: “Mr Campbell's Pacquet, for the Entertainment of Gentlemen and Ladies," and this '' Pacquet " contains " A Remarkable Passage of an Apparition, related by the Rev. Dr.Ruddle, of Launceston, in Cornwall, in the year 1665." It has been assumed that this ghost story was a bit of invention of the lively imagination of Defoe. Mrs. (Anna Eliza) Bray in her Trelawny of Trelawne stated that the story could not be true, as no such a name as Dingley, which was that of the ghost, was known in Launceston. As it happened, James Dingley had been instituted to the vicarage of the very parish of South Petherwin, in which the ghost appeared, in the same reign in which the apparition occurred, and he assisted Ruddle in his ministrations in Launceston, and the name occurs to this day in the town and neighbourhood. In fact, Dingley, Pethebridge, and Dingley are bankers there.

In the same heedless fashion Cyrus Redding wrote in 1842 that the story was told with so much simplicity of truth that it is difficult to believe that the tale is not, as novel writers say, “founded on fact.'" And he goes on to state : "No clergyman of the name of Ruddle had been incumbent in Launceston for two hundred years past, at least in St. Mary's Church." Yet the monument of Parson Ruddle is in the church, and he occupied the living from 1663 to his death in 1699.

Again, Samuel Drew, in his History of Cornwall, blunders as to the locality, making the apparition appear in the parish of Little Petherick, near Padstow.

Next Mr. Hawker, of Morwenstow, fabricated a ''Diurnall" of Ruddle, which adopted Drew's error, and by altering the date made the story as given by him disagree with the facts as they stand upon record.

The "Remarkable Passage of an Apparition" was no invention of Defoe; it was a genuine narrative written by the hand of John Ruddle himself. This has been conclusively demonstrated by the late Mr. Alfred Robbins in the Cornish Magazine, 1898.

John Ruddle, M.A. of Caius College, Cambridge, was instituted to the vicarage of Altarnon on May 24th, 1662 ; and the incumbency of St. Mary Magdalen, Launceston, becoming vacant by the ejection of the independent intrusive pastor, Ruddle was appointed to it, and "began his ministry at Launceston on the Feast of Our Saviour's Nativity, 1663." At the same time he received the appointment to the Launceston Free School as master.

Now it so fell out that he was invited on the 20th June, 1665, to preach a funeral sermon on the occasion of the burial of John Eliot at South Petherwin. John was the son of Edward Eliot, of Trebursey, who was the third son of Sir John Eliot, who died in the Tower of London.

After the conclusion of the service, Parson Ruddle was leaving the church, when an "ancient gentleman" addressed him, and. Ruddle says, "With an unusual importunity almost forced against my humour to see his house that night ; nor could I have rescued myself from his kindness, had not Mr. Eliot interposed and pleaded title to me for the whole of the day." However, Ruddle promised to call on the old gentleman, whose name was Bligh, and whose house was Botathan.

The Blighs were an ancient family, well connected and owning a good estate, but Botathan was not a house of any pretence, and it is now the dwelling of a farmer, and has not the appearance of having been the residence of a county family.

On the following Monday John Ruddle went to Botathan, where he partook of an early dinner, and a neighbouring parson had been invited to meet him.

"After dinner this brother of the coat undertook to show me the gardens, when, as I was walking, he gave me the first discovery of what was mainly intended in all this treat and compliment. First he began to tell the infortunity of the family in general, and then gave an instance in the youngest son. He related what a hopeful, sprightly lad he lately was, and how melancholic and sottish he was now grown. Then did he with much passion lament that his ill-humour should so incredibly subdue his reason; for, says he, the poor boy believes himself to be haunted with ghosts, and is confident that he meets with an evil spirit in a certain field about half a mile from this place as often as he goes that way to school.

In the midst of our twaddle the old gentleman and his lady came up to us. Upon their approach, and pointing me to the arbour, the parson renews the relation to me; and they (the parents of the youth) confirmed what he said, and added many minute circumstances. In fine, they all three desired my thoughts and advice in the affair."

Neither the parents nor the parson who made this communication believed that the boy saw anything; they shrewdly suspected that he was lazy, and made the apparition an excuse for not going to school.

Ruddle, however, saw the boy, and was convinced of his sincerity. " He told me with all naked freedom, and a flood of tears, that his friends were unkind and unjust to him, neither to believe nor pity him; and that if any man (making a bow to me) would but go with him to the place, he might be convinced that the thing was real.

'''This woman which appears to me,' saith he, 'lived a neighbour here to my father, and died about eight years since ; her name, Dorothy Dingley. She never speaks to me, but passeth by hastily, and always leaves the footpath to me, and she commonly meets me twice or three times in the breadth of the field.

" It was about two months before I took notice of it, and though the shape of the face was in my memory, yet I did not recall the name of the person, but I did suppose it was some woman who lived there about, and had frequent occasion that way. Nor did I imagine anything to the contrary before she began to meet me constantly, morning and evening, and always in the same field (the Higher Brown Quartils), and sometimes twice or thrice in the breadth of it.

"'The first time I took notice of her was about a year since, and when I first began to suspect it to be a ghost, I had courage enough not to be afraid, but kept it to myself a good while, and only wondered very much about it. I did often speak to it, but never had a word in answer. Then I changed my way, and went to school the under Horse Road, and then she always met me in the narrow lane, between the Quarry Park and the Nursery, which was worse. At length I began to be terrified at it, and prayed continually that God would either free me from it or let me know the meaning of it. Night and day, sleeping and waking, the shape was ever running in my mind, when, by degrees, I grew pensive, inasmuch that it was taken notice of by all our family whereupon, being urged to it, I told my brother William of it, and he privately acquainted my father and mother, and they kept it to themselves for some time.

" The success of this discovery was only this : they did sometimes laugh at me, sometimes chide me, but still commanded me to keep to my school, and put such fopperies out of my head. I did accordingly go to school often, but always met the woman by the way."

When Parson Ruddle had heard this story he promised the boy to go with him next morning to the field, and went with the lad to the hall, whither the parents and the parson, the Rev. Samuel Williams, came to meet them from the parlour. They began at once to importune Ruddle about the interview and to pass remarks on the boy, who fled from them to his own room. The vicar of Launceston begged them to restrain their curiosity till he had made further investigation into the matter.

"The next morning, before five o'clock, the lad was in my chambers, and very brisk. I arose and went with him. The field he led me to I guessed to be twenty acres, in an open country, and about three furlongs from any house. We went into the field, and had not gone above a third part before the spectrum, in the shape of a woman, with all the circumstances he had described her to me the day before, met us and passed by. I was a little surprised at it, and though I had taken up a firm resolution to speak to it, yet I had not the power, nor indeed durst I look back; yet I took care not to show any fear to my pupil and guide, and therefore telling him that I was satisfied in the truth of his complaint, we walked to the end of the field and returned, nor did the ghost meet us that time above once.

“At our return the gentlewoman watched to speak with me. I gave her a convenience, and told her that my opinion was that her son's complaint was not to be slighted, yet that my judgment in his case was not settled. I gave her caution that the thing might not take wind, lest the whole country should ring with what we had yet no assurance of.

“In this juncture of time I had business which would admit no delay, wherefore I went to Launceston that evening, but promised to see them again next week. Yet I was prevented by an occasion which pleaded a sufficient excuse. However, my mind was upon the adventure. I studied the case, and about three weeks after went again, resolving, by the help of God, to see the utmost.

"The next morning, the 27th day of July, 1665, I went to the haunted field by myself, and walked the breadth of the field without any encounter. I returned and took the other walk, and then the spectrum appeared to me, much about the same place where I saw it before, when the young gentleman was with me. In my thoughts it moved swifter than the time before, and about ten feet distant from me on my right hand, insomuch that I had not time to speak, as I had determined with myself beforehand.

"The evening of this day, the parents, the son, and myself being in the chamber where I lay, I propounded to them our going all together to the place next morning, and after some asseveration that there was no danger in it, we all resolved upon it. The morning being come, lest we should alarm the servants, they went under the pretence of seeing a field of wheat, and I took my horse and fetched a compass another way, and so met at the stile we had appointed.

** Thence we all four walked leisurely into the Quartils, and had passed above half the field before the ghost made appearance. It then came over the stile just before us, and moved with that swiftness that by the time we had gone six or seven steps it passed by. I immediately turned head and ran after it, with the young man by my side ; we saw it pass over the stile by which we entered, but no farther. I stepped upon the hedge at one place, he at another, but could discern nothing ; whereas I dare aver that the swiftest horse in England could not have conveyed himself out of sight in that short space of time. Two things I observed in this day's appearance, (1) That a spaniel dog, who followed the company unregarded, did bark and run away as the spectrum passed by ; whence it is easy to conclude that it was not our fear or fancy which made the apparition. (2) That the motion of the spectrum was not by steps and moving of the feet, but a kind of gliding, as children upon ice or a boat down a swift river.

" But to proceed. This ocular evidence clearly convinced, but strangely frightened, the old gentleman and his wife, who knew this Dorothy Dingley in her lifetime, were at her burial, and now plainly saw her features in this present apparition.

"The next morning, being Thursday, I went out very early by myself, and walked for about an hour's space in meditation and prayer in the field next adjoining the Quartils. Soon after five I stepped over the stile into the disturbed field, and had not gone above thirty or forty paces before the ghost appeared at the farther stile. I spake to it with a loud voice, whereupon it approached, but slowly, and when I came near it moved not. I spake again, and it answered, in a voice neither very audible nor intelligible. I was not in the least terrified, and therefore persisted until it spake again and gave me satisfaction. But the work could not be finished at this time; wherefore the same evening, an hour after sunset, it met me again near the same place, and after a few words on each side it quickly vanished, and neither doth appear since, nor ever will more to any man's disturbance. The discourse in the morning lasted about a quarter of an hour.

“These things are true, and I know them to be so, with as much certainty as eyes and ears can give me ; and until I can be persuaded that my senses do deceive me about their proper object, and by that persuasion deprive myself of the strongest inducement to believe the Christian religion, I must and will assert that these things in this paper are true."

It must be noted that Defoe in his printed account omits the names of the family of Bligh, and that he changes Dorothy Dingley into Mrs. Veale. Parson Ruddle's original MS. is not in existence ; it was probably given to Defoe; but a copy is preserved made by the son of the Rev. John Ruddle. Defoe was in Launceston acting as a spy for the minister Harley in August, 1705, and at that time he must have got hold of the MS. After the signature "John Ruddle " at the end of the narrative and the date is the sentence : ''This is a copy of it I found written by my father and signed John Ruddle. Taken by me, William Ruddle," who had become vicar of South Petherwin in 1695, and who became subsequently incumbent also of St. Thomas-by-Launceston. This copy bears the following attestation: "The readers may observe I borrowed the remarkable passage of the grandson of John Ruddle who had it from his Uncle William Ruddle. I think I'm exact in its transcription. I well know the John Ruddle to have had (and I daresay deserved) the character of a learned and eminent Divine, and I also knew his son sayd William Ruddle, a Divine whose character was so bright I have no room to add to its lustre, and I hereby certify copyed this from the very hand-writing of the sayd William Ruddle. Qtimto die Fehruarii Anno Dni, 1730, James Wakeman."

As Mr. Robbins says: "The completeness of the body of proof of the Ruddle authorship leaves nothing therefore to be desired."

Parson John Ruddle eventually became prebend of Exeter, and held the vicarage of Altarnon along with that of Launceston to his death.

Ruddle does not state that the boy Bligh was his pupil at Launceston Free School, but one does not see to what other school he can have gone, and the readiness with which the lad opened his heart to him leads to the notion that they had some previous acquaintance. His way to Launceston would be over the common, on which stand three barrows, to the road at Penfoot, where he would strike the road. When he endeavoured to avoid the ghost he took the Under Horse Road between Quarry Park and the Nursery. The Quarry is still visible with a pool in it, and a stream flowing into it that rises on the moor where he saw the ghost, and Under Horse Road still bears its name. The lad endeavoured to take a short cut, though not as short as across the Higher Brown Quartils, to reach the Launceston road without having to go through South Petherwin village.

Parson Ruddle does not give the Christian name of the boy who saw the ghost, and we are thrown into perplexity at once.

The ''ancient gentleman" may have been Thomas Bligh of Botathan, Esq., but he was aged no more than fifty-three. Colonel Vivian's pedigree of the Blighs in his Visitation of Cornwall is most unsatisfactory.

Thomas Bligh was buried at South Petherwin, April loth, 1692. There is no entry in Vivian's pedigree of Walter Bligh, gentleman, who was buried January 29th, 1667-8. Besides, there are many entries of an Edmund Bligh and Katherine, his wife, and their children. Thomas Bligh seems to have lived at one time at S. Martin's-by-Looe. Dr. Lee in his Glimpses of the Supernatural calls Dorothy Dingley, Dorothy Durant ; but on what authority I do not know. There is an entry in the South Petherwin register of the burial of Dorothy Durant, widow, 1st May, 1677, but according to the story of the boy, Dorothy Dingley died in or about 1657. Unfortunately the South Petherwin registers do not go back beyond August, 1656, but there is no entry in them in 1656 or 1657 of the burial of Dorothy Dingley.

The Dingleys had been settled in Lezantand Linkinhorne from 1577, and owned the place Hall in the latter parish; but they had connections in Worcestershire; and Dorothy was the youngest daughter of Francis Dingley, baptized at Cropthorne, in the latter county, in 1596. She married Richard, son of George Durant, of Blockly, Worcestershire. As no further trace of her can be found in the register there, it is not unfair to suppose that having kinsfolk in Cornwall she may have journeyed there, and both were buried at South Petherwin, Dorothy Durant, as already stated, in 1677. She was then aged eighty-seven. She cannot have been the ghost. But was the ghost that of her mother, a Dorothy, who came to South Petherwin with her, and died there about the year 1655? We cannot tell, as we do not know her mother's Christian name. Dr. Lee clearly confused the Dorothy Durant with the Dorothy Dingley, the ghost.

The Rev. P. T. Pulman, vicar of South Petherwin, writes to me: "In December, 1896, a labourer died here, aged seventy-two. For upwards of forty years he had worked at Botathan. He told me that one of the fields was called the Higher Brown Park (he did not know the name of Quartells) until the field was ploughed up. He told me there was a little path in it which they called old Dorothy Dinglet's [sic] path, and that they used to frighten the farm apprentices with stories about her, but he had never met her himself. The farm has been sold of recent years. There is a part of the old house left used for a cider cellar. They call it Dorothy Dingley's chamber."

The Rev. James Dingley was vicar of South Petherwin from 1682 until 1695. He was born 1655, just ten years before the apparition was seen by young Bligh.



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