John Daniel’s Apparition, Beaminster
The following 18th century experience which concerns Beaminster School and the Grade I listed 15th century St Mary’s Church, appeared in the Gentleman’s Magazine (1774) and reprinted in John Ingram’s ‘The Haunted Homes and Family Traditions of Great Britain’ (1897). It is an interesting case and if the Gentlemans Magazine is to be believed a very singular story that comes well authenticated. Several children all claimed to to have shared an identical event in which they jointly witnessed an apparition. Personally I wonder what control measures if any were employed when interviewing the witnesses to ensure against collusion and whether the children had time to discuss their experience with each other before having their statements taken.
According to the Gentleman’s Magazine 1774 and ‘The Haunted Homes and Family Traditions of Great Britain’ (1897); The school of Beminster (Beaminster), says the account, is held in a gallery of the parish church to which there is a distinct entrance from the churchyard. Every Saturday the key of it is delivered to the clerk of the parish by one or the other of the schoolboys. On Saturday, June the 22nd, 1728, the master had dismissed his lads as usual. Twelve of them loitered about in the churchyard to play at ball. It was just about noon. After a short space, four of the lads returned into the school to search for old pens, and were startled by hearing in the church a noise which they described as that produced by striking a brass pan. They immediately ran to their playfellows in the churchyard and told them of it. They came to the conclusion that someone was in hiding in order to frighten them, and they all went back into the school together to discover who it was, but could not find anyone. As they were returning to their sport, on the stairs that lead into the churchyard, they heard in the school a church, and when at the belfry, or west door, they heard what seemed to them the sound of someone preaching, which was succeeded by another sound as of a congregation singing psalms. Both of these noises lasted but a short time.
With the thoughtlessness of youth the lads soon resumed their sport, and after a short time one of them went into the school for his book, when he saw a coffin lying on one of the benches, only about six feet away. Surprised at this, he ran off and told his playfellows what he had seen, on which they all thronged to the school- door, whence of the twelve saw the apparition of John Daniel, who had been dead more than seven weeks, sitting at some distance from the coffin, further in the school. All of them saw the coffin, and it was conjectured that why all did not see the apparition was because the door was so narrow they could not all approach it together. The first who knew it to be the apparition of their deceased schoolfellow was Daniel’s half-brother, and he, on seeing it, cried out, “There sits our John, with just such a coat on as I have” (in the lifetime of the deceased boy the half-brothers were usually clothed alike)” with a pen in his hand, and a book before him, and a coffin by him. I’ll throw a stone at him.” The other boys tried to stop him, but he threw the stone, as he did so saying, “Take it!” upon which the apparition immediately disappeared.
The immense excitement this created in the place may be imagined. The lads, whose ages ranged between nine and twelve, were all magisterially examined by Colonel Broadrep, and all agreed in their relation of the circumstances, even to the hinges of the coffin; whilst their description of the coffin tallied exactly with that the deceased lad had been buried in. One of the lads who saw the apparition was quite twelve years of age, and was a quiet sedate lad for his age ; he entered the school after the deceased boy had left it (on account of illness about a fortnight before his death), and had never seen Daniel in his life-time. This lad, on examination, gave an exact description of the person of the deceased, and took especial notice of one thing about the apparition which the other boys had not observed, and that was, it had a white cloth or rag bound round one of its hands. The woman who laid out the corpse of John Daniel for interment deposed on oath that she took such a white cloth from its hand, it having been put on the boy’s hand (he being lame of it) about four days or so before his death.
Daniel’s body had been found in an obscure place in a field, at about a furlong distant from his mother’s house, and had been buried without an inquest, in consequence of his mother alleging that the lad had been subject to fits. After the appearance of the apparition the body was disinterred, a coroner’s inquest held, and a verdict returned to the effect that the boy had been “strangled”. This verdict appears to have been mainly arrived at in consequence of the depositions of two women “of good repute” that two days after the corpse was found they saw it, and discovered a “black list” round its neck; and likewise of the joiner who put the body into the coffin, and who had an opportunity of observing it, as the shroud was not put on in the usual way, but was in two pieces, one laid under and the other over the body. A “chirurgeon” who gave evidence could not or would not positively affirm to the jury that there was any dislocation of the neck. So far as can be learnt, no steps were taken to bring anyone to justice on account of the suggested death by violence of the lad.