The Ghost of John Daniel
Location: St. Mary's Church, Beaminster
In 1728, school boys who attended the St. Mary's church for schooling. Witnessed the apparition of the former pupil, who was murdered in suspicious circumstances, a month earlier nearby his home at Knowle.
The following account of the Beaminster Ghost Story first appeared in the Gentleman's Magazine in 1774.
"The following very singular story comes well authenticate' In many respects the story may be deemed unique in the history of the supernatural. The apparition appears in broad daylight, and is seen of five children, one of whom did not even know the individual it represented when alive, and yet proved its identity by a wonderful piece of circumstantial evidence. The intense pathos of the unfortunate and evidently murdered lad, reappearing amidst the scenes of his childish occupations, and where he had been wont to play with those boys who now could only look upon him as a passing shadow, is most suggestive.
The school of 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 other of the schoolboys. On Saturday, June 27th, 1728, the master had dismissed his lads as usual. Twelve of them loitered about in the churchyard to play 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 some one was in hiding in order to frighten them, and they all went back in 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 in to the churchyard they heard in the school a second noise. Terrified at that, they ran round the church, and when at the belfry, or west door, they heard what seemed to them the sound some one 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 five 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 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 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 Broadrepp, and all agreed in their relation of the circumstance, 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; 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 lifetime. 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 was held, and a verdict returned to the effect that the body 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 in 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."