Frightened to Death – by Ghosts

by MJ Wayland

Elizabeth Bishop and Robert Mitchell may seem fairly unremarkable names, however both of them died of fright after encounters with ghosts.

In my book “Real Christmas Ghost Stories” I researched not traditional stories of Christmas hauntings but stories that took place around Christmas time. One of the real stories in my book took place just a few days before Christmas 1856, when Robert Mitchell (aged 15) visited two friends at a farmhouse near Alfreton, Derbyshire.

As the night became late the discussion turned to ghosts and particularly the hauntings of the farm. Quite scared of the stories, Mitchell unknowing that his two friends were about to play a trick that would cost him his life, left the house to walk home in the winter’s dark.

After leaving the farmhouse, one of Mitchell’s friend dressed in a white cloth “appeared” in the lane ahead. As Mitchell approached the ‘ghost’ his friend gave out a groan and then ran off.

The inquest reported, “He (Mitchell) was all of a tremble, looked white, and stared wildly and on being interrogated by his father related what had occurred, though he did not believe it to be Percival (his friend) and he could not remember how he got home.”

Robert Mitchell then deteriorated and refused to eat and went to bed. The next day he began vomiting and complained of a pain in his throat. Through the following day he became worse and raved in his bed about what had happened, sadly dying the evening after. An inquest into Mitchell’s death charged Percival with manslaughter but a year later no sentence was given as it was a practical joke gone wrong.

In 1894, this time in Misterton, Somerset a large inquest was held into the death of Elizabeth Bishop, a 17 year old girl who died after witnessing the ghost of the Captain who had died when his ship sunk in the Bristol Channel.

The story began the week before Christmas 1893, when Elizabeth fell ill at the home in which she was in service. Worried about her condition, Elizabeth’s mistress sent her back to her parent’s house.  She had only been home for a day when she complained of suffering from a bad cold and went to bed. The next day she intended to visit her local Doctor’s surgery but instead stayed in bed and by the night she was delirious. She began scream out in fear and said she was frightened, by half past nine the following morning she was dead.

The mother of Elizabeth testified, “About ten o’clock her husband woke her and said that the deceased was dreaming. Witness got out of bed and heard deceased scream. Went into her room and found her senseless. She did not open her eyes nor speak afterwards. There was no repetition of the screaming.”

The Doctor who visited her at night also witnessed incredible behaviour by Elizabeth, “He arrived at the house about quarter to twelve on Sunday night. Deceased was then perfectly sensible. She could not speak, but evidently understood what was said to her. She was making a noise – half groaning and half screaming – through her teeth. When he told her to stop the noise she did so.”

The Doctor checked her vital signs and did not believe Elizabeth to be in an danger except for severe fright caused by an incident while she was in service.  Dr Worth told the inquest, “I understood that about a month ago the sailing ship “Olive Branch” was lost, the brother of her master at Lyme Regis being the captain. Deceased heard a great deal about it, and on one occasion, when she was left alone in the house, she saw the shadow of a man on the blind. She took it to be the ghost of the captain of the “Olive Branch”.  That frightened her so much that her master and mistress could not get her out of the room for a long time. Since then she had several times at night said that she had seen the ghost of her cousin who had been dead about two years.”

The inquest’s final conclusion was that Elizabeth had died of severe fright that caused heart failure.

Within the space of a hundred years so much has changed in how as a society we approach the sighting of a ghost. My research into “Ghost Mobs” of the Victorian era, has shown the brutal violence of large gangs of people committing near riot violence on the streets of London after the appearance of a ghost. And yet now people are more than happy to pay £7 for a tour with the hope of witnessing a spectre.

However it is only in the last fourteen(ish) years that mentioning to friends or family that you have experienced something ghostly has become more accepted rather than ridiculed.  It is easy to say that this is due to the “Most Haunted” TV show and the like, but I believe that it is far more than that.  Since the turn of the Millennium there has been a subtle paradigm shift in the acceptance of the “otherworld” – society is splitting diversely more than ever into sceptic or believer, with the in-between being the most uncomfortable place to be.  The last fourteen years have seen the globalisation of the news, so that something that happened in Japan, is now something you read in the palm of your hand within minutes of it happening.  This affects us mentally, whether we realise it or not – 911, the 2004 Tsunami and the recent Japanese Tsunami have changed the global consciousness and this has lead to the polarisation of belief in the afterlife as we try to understand these horrors.

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