The Ghost With the Crooked Toes: 1875-78

Mrs Florence Marryat

Mrs Florence Marryat


My sister Emily was the third daughter of my late father, and several years older than myself. She was a handsome woman—strictly speaking, perhaps, the handsomest of the family, and quite unlike the others. She had black hair and eyes, a pale complexion, a well-shaped nose, and small, narrow hands and feet. But her beauty had slight detractions—so slight, indeed, as to be imperceptible to strangers, but well known to her intimate friends. Her mouth was a little on one side, one shoulder was half an inch higher than the other, her fingers were not quite straight, nor her toes, and her hips corresponded with her shoulders. She was clever, with a versatile, all-round talent, and of a very happy and contented disposition. She married Dr. Henry Norris of Charmouth, in Dorset, and lived there many years before her death. She was an excellent wife and mother, a good friend, and a sincere Christian; indeed, I do not believe that a more earnest, self-denying, better woman ever lived in this world. But she had strong feelings, and in some things she was very bigoted. One was Spiritualism. She vehemently opposed even the mention of it, declared it to be diabolical, and never failed to blame me for pursuing such a wicked and unholy occupation. She was therefore about the last person whom I should have expected to take advantage of it to communicate with her friends.

My sister Emily died on the 20th of April, 1875. Her death resulted from a sudden attack of’ pleurisy, and was most unexpected. I was sitting at an early dinner with my children on the same day when I received a telegram from my brother-in-law to say, “Emily very ill; will telegraph when change occurs,” and I had just dispatched an answer to ask if I should go down to Charmouth, or could be of any use, when a second message arrived, “All is over. She died quietly at two o’clock.”

Those who have received similar shocks will understand what I felt. I was quite stunned, and could not realize that my sister had passed away from us, so completely unanticipated had been the news. I made the necessary arrangements for going down to her funeral, but my head was filled with nothing but thoughts of Emily the while, and conjectures of how she had died and of what she had died (for that was, as yet, unknown to me), and what she had thought and said; above all, what she was thinking and feeling at that moment. I retired to rest with my brain in a whirl, and lay half the night wide awake, staring into the darkness, and wondering where my sister was. Now was the time (if any) for my cerebral organs to play me a trick, and conjure up a vision of the person I was thinking of. But I saw nothing; no sound broke the stillness; my eyes rested only on the darkness. I was quite disappointed, and in the morning I told my children so. I loved my sister Emily dearly, and I hoped she would have come to wish me good-bye.

On the following night I was exhausted by want of sleep and the emotion I had passed through, and when I went to bed I was very sleepy. I had not been long asleep, however, before 1 was waked up—I can hardly say by what—and there at my bedside stood Emily, smiling at me. When I lost my little “Florence,” Emily had been unmarried, and she had taken a great interest in my poor baby, and nursed her during her short lifetime, and, I believe, really mourned her loss, for (although she had children of her own) she always wore a little likeness of “Florence” in a locket on her watch-chain.

When Emily died I had of course been for some time in communication with my spirit-child, and when my sister appeared to me that night, “Florence” was in her arms, with her head resting on her shoulder. I recognized them both at once, and the only thing which looked strange to me was that Emily’s long black hair was combed right back in the Chinese fashion, giving her forehead an unnaturally high appearance. This circumstance made the greater impression on me, because we all have such high foreheads with the hair growing off the temples that we have never been able to wear it in the style I speak of. With this exception my sister looked beautiful and most happy, and my little girl clung to her lovingly. Emily did not speak aloud, but she kept on looking down at “Florence,” and up at me, whilst her lips formed the words “Little Baby,” which was the name by which she had always mentioned my spirit-child. In the morning I mentioned what I had seen to my elder girls, adding, “I hardly knew dear Aunt Emily, with her hair scratched back in that fashion.”

This apparition happened on the Wednesday night, and on the Friday following I travelled down to Charmouth to be present at the funeral, which was fixed for Saturday. I found my sister Cecil there before me. As soon as we were alone, she said to me, “I am so glad you came to-day. I want you to arrange dear Emily nicely in her coffin. The servants had laid her out before my arrival and she doesn’t look a bit like herself. But I haven’t the nerve to touch her.”

It was late at night, but I took a candle at once and accompanied Cecil to the death-chamber. Our sister was lying, pale and calm, with a smile upon her lips, much as she had appeared to me, and with all her black hair combed back from her forehead. The servants had arranged it so, thinking it looked neater. It was impossible to make any alteration till the morning, but when our dear sister was carried to her grave, her hair framed her dead face in the wavy curls in which it always fell when loose; a wreath of flowering syringa was round her head, a cross of violets on her breast, and in her waxen, beautifully-moulded hands, she held three tall, white lilies. I mention this because she has come to me since with the semblance of these very flowers to ensure her recognition.

After the funeral, my brother-in-law gave me the details of her last illness. He told me that on the Monday afternoon, when her illness first took a serious turn and she became (as he said) delirious, she talked continually to her father, Captain Marryat (to whom she had been most reverentially attached), and who, she affirmed, was sitting by the side of the bed. Her conversation was perfectly rational, and only disjointed when she waited for a reply to her own remarks. She spoke to him of Langham and all that had happened there, and particularly expressed her surprise at his having a beard, saying, “Does hair grow up there, father?” I was the more impressed by this account, because Dr. Norris, like most medical men, attributed the circumstance entirely to the distorted imagination of a wandering brain. And yet my father (whom I have never seen since his death) has been described to me by various clairvoyants, and always as wearing a beard, a thing he never did during his lifetime, as it was the fashion then for naval officers to wear only side whiskers. In all his pictures he is represented as clean shorn, and as he was so well-known a man, one would think that (were they dissembling) the clairvoyants, in describing his personal characteristics, would follow the clue given by his portraits.

For some time after my sister Emily’s death I heard nothing more of her, and for the reasons I have given, I never expected to see her again until we met in the spirit-world. About two years after her death, however, my husband, Colonel Lean, bought two tickets for a series of seances to be held in the rooms of the British National Association of Spiritualists under the mediumship of Mr. William Eglinton. This was the first time we had ever seen or sat with Mr. Eglinton, but we had heard a great deal of his powers, and were curious to test them. On the first night, which was a Saturday, we assembled with a party of twelve, all complete strangers, in the rooms I have mentioned, which were comfortably lighted with gas. Mr. Eglinton, who is a young man inclined to stoutness, went into the cabinet, which was placed in the centre of us, with spectators all round it. The cabinet was like a large cupboard, made of wood and divided into two parts, the partition being of wire-work, so that the medium might be padlocked into it, and a curtain drawn in front of both sides. After a while, a voice called out to us not to be frightened, as the medium was coming out to get more power, and Mr. Eglinton, in a state of trance and dressed in a suit of evening clothes, walked out of the cabinet and commenced a tour of the circle. He touched every one in turn, but did not stop until he reached Colonel Lean, before whom he remained for some time, making magnetic passes down his face and figure. He then turned to re-enter the cabinet, but as he did so, some one moved the curtain from inside and Mr. Eglinton actually held the curtain to one side to permit the materialized form to pass out before he went into the cabinet himself. The figure that appeared was that of a woman clothed in loose white garments that fell to her feet. Her eyes were black and her long black hair fell over her shoulders. I suspected at the time who she was, but each one in the circle was so certain she came for him or for her, that I said nothing, and only mentally asked if it were my sister that I might receive a proof of her identity. On the following evening (Sunday) Colonel Lean and I were “sitting” together, when Emily came to the table to assure us that it was she whom we had seen, and that she would appear again on Monday and show herself more clearly. I asked her to think of some means by which she could prove her identity with the spirit that then spoke to us, and she said, “I will hold up my right hand.” Colonel Lean cautioned me not to mention this promise to any one, that we might be certain of the correctness of the test. Accordingly, on the Monday evening we assembled for our second seance with Mr. Eglinton, and the same form appeared, and walking out much closer to us, held up the right hand. Colonel Lean, anxious not to be deceived by his own senses, asked the company what the spirit was doing. “Cannot you see?” was the answer. “She is holding up her hand.” On this occasion Emily came with all her old characteristics about her, and there would have been no possibility of mistaking her (at least on my part) without the proof she had promised to give us.

The next startling assurance we received of her proximity happened in a much more unexpected manner. We were staying, in the autumn of the following year, at a boarding-house in the Rue de Vienne at Brussels, with a large party of English visitors, none of whom we had ever seen till we entered the house. Amongst them were several girls, who had never heard of Spiritualism before, and were much interested in listening to the relation of our experiences on the subject. One evening when I was not well, and keeping my own room, some of these young ladies got hold of Colonel Lean and said, “Oh! do come and sit in the dark with us and tell us ghost stories.” Now sitting in the dark and telling ghost stories to five or six nice looking girls is an occupation few men would object to, and they were all soon ensconced in the dark and deserted salle-a-manger.

Amongst them was a young girl of sixteen, Miss Helen Hill, who had never shown more interest than the rest in such matters. After they had been seated in the dark for some minutes, she said to Colonel Lean, “Do you know, I can see a lady on the opposite side of the table quite distinctly, and she is nodding and smiling at you.”

The colonel asked what the lady was like.

“She is very nice looking,” replied the girl, “with dark eyes and hair, but she seems to want me to notice her ring. She wears a ring with a large blue stone in it, of such a funny shape, and she keeps on twisting it round and round her finger, and pointing to it. Oh! now she has got up and is walking round the room. Only fancy! she is holding up her feet for me to see. They are bare and very white, but her toes are crooked!”

Then Miss Hill became frightened and asked them to get a light. She declared that the figure had come up, close to her, and torn the lace off her wrists. And when the light was procured and her dress examined, a frill of lace that had been tacked into her sleeve that morning had totally disappeared.

The young ladies grew nervous and left the room, and Colonel Lean, thinking the description Helen Hill had given of the spirit tallied with that of my sister Emily, came straight up to me and surprised me by an abrupt question as to whether she had been in the habit of wearing any particular ring (for he had not seen her for several years before her death). I told him that her favorite ring was an uncut turquoise—so large and uneven that she used to call it her “potato.”

“Had she any peculiarity about her feet?” he went on, eagerly.

“Why do you wish to know?” I said. “She had crooked toes,that is all.”

“Good heavens!” he exclaimed, “then she has been with us in the salle-de-manger.”

I have never met Miss Hill since, and I am not in a position to say if she has evinced any further possession of clairvoyant power; but she certainly displayed it on that occasion to a remarkable degree; for she had never even heard of the existence of my sister Emily, and was very much disturbed and annoyed when told that the apparition she had described was reality and not imagination.

There is No Death, Florence Marryat, 1891

Mrs. Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: Where to start with the scandal underlying this gripping account of the proofs of life after death?  Florence Marryat’s father Captain Frederick Marryat [1792-1848] was a distinguished British naval officer, friend of Charles Dickens, and author of many books including Mr Midshipman Easy. He and his wife separated when their children were young.

Florence educated herself, having the run of her father’s library, which, no doubt contained many volumes not suitable for a young woman. She married in her early 20s, then went to India with her husband, who was stationed there. She had a breakdown of some sort and returned to England with several of her children. She and her husband never lived together again.

William Eglinton was a famous British medium [1857-1933] who, despite initial glowing reviews, was eventually (and repeatedly) unmasked as a fraud. Supposedly he converted Prime Minister Gladstone to Spiritualism. He was also involved with Madame Blavatsky, which perhaps tells you all you need to know about the gentleman.

Col. Lean was Colonel Francis Lean of the Royal Marine Light Infantry, with whom, scandalously, Marryat lived while still married to her husband, calling herself “Mrs Lean.” Her husband divorced her and she was married to Lean at the time of the events recounted above, but separated from him after about a year. Marryat herself was a very popular author, Spiritualist advocate, and actress. Many of her books had daring themes such as adultery and divorce.  As an actress, she was famous for her readings and seems to have invented the so-called “one-woman show.” She has much to answer for.


One thought on “The Ghost With the Crooked Toes: 1875-78

  1. Pingback: “Call me ‘Eddy:’” A Seance with the Duke of Clarence: 1895 | Mrs Daffodil Digresses

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