..The Intuitive Times


The Binstead Hauntings Revisited

by Dr. Edward MacDonald

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The following excerpts are reprinted from "The Island Magazine " number 23, Spring/Summer, 1988 published by the PEI Museum and Heritage Foundation with the permission of the author, Dr. Edward MacDonald, Charlottetown.

"Tree-shrouded and years-laden, Binstead House sits alone on a gentle swell of land overlooking the Hillsborough River in Marshfield. It is invisible from the highway. Only by following along a long clay lane can you catch glimpses through the leaves of white walls and shuttered windows. When constructed some 150 years ago, Binstead was deep in the countryside, four dusty miles from Charlottetown. In recent decades, though, the city has been creeping ever closer and now, modern subdivisions inch their way across the fields from St. Peter's Road towards the estate. But they keep their distance still, and the open fields somehow preserve the illusion of isolation.

A century's worth of renovations and additions masks the original architecture of the early-19th century building. Nevertheless, it remains a handsome house behind its palisade of hardwood trees. Nothing about it - except, perhaps, its age - suggests that Binstead was ever haunted. It was."

"What follows is a rare firsthand account of the Binstead haunting. It was written by a woman who seemed perfectly willing to believe in the supernatural and published by a scholarly Society that was prepared to take her seriously."

The haunting at Binstead was recounted by Mrs. Arthur Pennee, a respectable English matron of good Victorian stock. We know little enough about her or her husband; we know a good deal more about her family. Her father, William Ward (1787-1849), had been a Director of the Bank of England and a deeply conservative Tory MP for London. (A touch of historical whimsy: he was also one of his era's most celebrated cricketers). The eldest of her four brothers, William George Ward (1812-1882), gained a different sort of notoriety. He began his career as a fellow of Balliol College, Oxford and in 1840, was ordained an Anglican priest. To his family's dismay, he became a leading figure in the Oxford Movement within the Church of England, was degraded from his university degrees for his heretical views, and converted to Roman Catholicism in 1845. A colleague of Cardinals Newman, Manning, and Wiseman, "Ideal Ward" left his mark as an outspokenly conservative, Catholic theologian and philosopher.

What effect all of this had on Ward's sister is unknown. Her family's prominence (another brother, Rev. Arthur B. Ward, had a distinguished career at Cambridge University) does suggest, however, that she was a woman of good breeding and social standing. She was born Georgina Mary Ward. It is typical of the Victorian era that she is remembered only by her husband's name. She married Arthur Pennee (or Penny) in 1850. He appears to have been one of those Victorian gentlemen of indeterminate occupation. In the summer of 1855, he brought his wife and servant to Prince Edward Island. Six years later they moved on to St. Anne de Beaupre, Quebec.

William George Ward spent his declining years at his estate, Weston Manor, near Freshwater on the Isle of Wight, where he lived, his biographer states, "in the intimate society of his near neighbour", Alfred, Lord Tennyson, English Poet Laureate. It was while visiting her family there, in 1884, that Mrs. Pennee wrote her account of the haunting at Binstead, reputedly at Lord Tennyson's own request. A few years later, W. G. Ward's son, Wilfrid, forwarded her testimony to the English Society for Psychical Research (SPR). Her story served to fatten its growing files on psychic phenomena.

Established in 1882, the Society for Psychical Research was dominated by a group of distinguished scholars and scientists who bound themselves "to examine without prejudice or prepossession and in a scientific spirit those faculties of man, real or supposed, which appear to be inexplicable on any generally recognized hypothesis." Among its early members, the Society also counted notables like Prime Minister W. E. Gladstone, future Prime Minister Arthur J. Balfour - and Alfred, Lord Tennyson. Their prestige and the professional reputations of the SPR's investigators lent the Society a necessary measure of credibility.

Although its approach was self-consciously scientific, the SPR's inspiration was essentially religious. Distressed at how recent scientific developments were undermining orthodox religion, many of the Society's founders sought to employ scientific methods to demonstrate that the world was governed by other forces than just the physical laws of matter and motion. They were determined to be critical and inclined to be cautious, but they were ready to believe.

The SPR tackled its self-appointed task with tremendous energy during the 1880s, investigating several categories of psychic phenomena (and exposing many frauds in the process). One of the SPR's activities was the systematic collection of case histories from persons that had encountered apparitions firsthand. Each was carefully classified and analyzed. Among them was Mrs. Pennee's account of the Binstead haunting.

Pennee's testimony was published in the SPR's Proceedings for July, 1889 as part of a report somewhat ponderously titled "On Recognized Apparitions Occurring More than a Year after Death." On November 28, 1889, the Charlottetown Daily Examiner published the account verbatim (with a short introduction) under the headline "A Real Ghost!".

As befits a report to a scientific society, Mrs. Pennee's account is relatively straightforward, even understated. Only in seeking to explain what she observed does she slip into lurid Victorian melodrama. This is what the Daily Examiner published:

A Real Ghost!

It was in the year 1856 that my husband took me to live at a house called Binstead, about five miles from Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island. It was a good sized house, and at the back had been considerably extended to allow of extra offices, since there were about 200 acres of farmland around it., necessitating resident farming men. Although forming part of the house these premises could only be entered through the inner kitchen, as no wall had ever been broken down to form a door or passage from up stairs. Thus the farming men's sleeping rooms were adjacent to those occupied by the family and visitors, although there was no communication through the upstairs corridor.

It was always in or near the sleeping apartment immediately adjacent to the men's that the apparition was seen, and, as that was one of our spare bedrooms, it may have frequently been unperceived.

About ten days after we had established ourselves at Binstead we commenced hearing strange noises. For many weeks they were of very frequent occurrence and were heard simultaneously in every part of the house, and always appeared to be in close proximity to each person. The noise was more like a rumbling, which made the house vibrate, like that produced by dragging a heavy body, which one so often hears in ghost stories.

As spring came on we began to hear shrieks which would grow fainter or louder, as if some one was being chased around the house, but always culminating in a volley of shrieks, sobs, moans, and half-uttered words, proceeding from beneath a tree that stood at a little distance from the dining room window, and whose branches nearly touched the window of the bedroom I have mentioned.

It was in February (I think), 1857, that the first apparition came under my notice. Two ladies were sleeping in the bedroom. Of course, for that season of the year a fire had been lighted in the grate, and the fireplace really contained a grate and not an American substitute for one.

About two o'clock Mrs. M. was awakened by a bright light which pervaded the room. She saw a woman standing by the fireplace. On her left arm was a young baby, and with her right hand she was stirring the ashes, over which she was slightly stooping.

Mrs. M. pushed Miss C. to awaken her, and just then the figure turned her face toward them, disclosing the features of quite a young woman with a singularly anxious pleading look upon her face. They took notice of a little check shawl which was crossed over her bosom. Miss C. had previously heard some tales concerning the house being haunted (which neither Mrs. M. nor I had ever heard), so jumping to the conclusion that she beheld a ghost she screamed and pulled the bedclothes tightly over the heads of herself and her companion, so that the sequel of the ghost's proceedings is unknown.

The following spring I went home to England, and just before starting I had my own experience of seeing a ghost. I had temporarily established myself in the room and one evening, finding my little daughter (now Mrs. Amyot) far from well, had her bed wheeled in beside mine that I might attend to her. About twelve o'clock I got up to give her some medicine, and was feeling for the matches when she called my attention to a brilliant light shining under the door. I exclaimed that it was her papa, and threw open the door to admit him. I found myself face to face with a woman. She had a baby on her left arm, a check shawl crossed over her bosom, and all around her shone a bright, pleasant light, whence emanating I could not say. Her look at me was one of entreaty - almost agonizing entreaty. She did not enter the room but moved across the staircase, vanishing into the opposite wall, exactly where the inner man's servants [sic] room was situated.

Neither my daughter nor myself felt the slightest alarm; at the moment it appeared to be a matter of common occurrence. When Mr. Pennie came up stairs and I told him what we had seen he examined the wall, the staircase, the passage, but found no traces of anything extraordinary. Nor did my dogs bark.

On my return from England in 1858 1 was informed that "the creature had been carrying on," but it was the screams that had been the worst. However, Harry (a farm servant) had had several visits, but would tell no particulars. I never could get Harry to tell me much. He acknowledged that the woman had several times stood at the foot of his bed, but he would not tell me more. One night Harry had certainly been much disturbed in mind, and the other man heard voices and sobs. Nothing would ever induce Harry to let anyone share his room, and he was most careful to fasten his door before retiring. At the time I attached no importance to "his ways," as we called them.

In the autumn of the following year, 1859, my connection with Binstead ceased, for we gave up the house and returned to Charlottetown.

I left Prince Edward Island in 1861, and went to Quebec. In 1877 1 happened to return to the Island, and spent several months there. One day I was at the Bishop's residence, when the parish priest came in with a letter in his hand. He asked me about my residence at Binstead, and whether I could throw any light on the contents of his letter. It was from the wife of the then owner of Binstead, asking him to come out and try to deliver them from the ghost of a young woman with a baby in her arms, who had appeared several times.

After I went to live in Charlottetown I became acquainted with the following facts, which seem to throw light on my ghost story. The ground on which Binstead stood had been cleared in about 1840 by a rich Englishman, who had built a very nice house. Getting tired of colonial life, he sold the property to a man whose name I forget, but I will call Pigott (that was like the name). He was a man of low tastes and immoral habits, but a capital farmer. It was he who added all the back wing of the house and made the necessary divisions, etc., for farming the land. He had two sisters in his service, the daughters of a laborer who lived in a regular hovel about three miles nearer town. After a time each sister gave birth to a boy.

Very little can be learned of the domestic arrangements, since Pigott bore so bad a name that the house was avoided by respectable people; but it is certain that one sister and one baby disappeared altogether, though when and how is a complete mystery. When the other baby was between one and two years old Pigot Isic] sold Binstead to an English gentleman named Fellowes, from whom we hired it, with the intention of eventually buying it. The other sister returned to her father's house, and leaving the baby with Mrs. Newbury, her mother, went to the States and has never returned. Before leaving she would reveal nothing, except that the boy was her sister's, her own being dead. It was this very Harry Newbury that we had unwittingly engaged as farm servant. He came to bid me farewell a few months after I left Binstead saying he would never return there. In 1877 1 inquired about him, and found that he had never been seen since in Prince Edward Island.

The SPR's Proceedings included two addenda, which the Daily Examiner did not print. In a letter dated September 24, 1887, Mrs. Pennee added: 'Another fact has come to my notice. A young lady, then a child of from 5 to 10, remembers being afraid of sleeping alone when on a visit at Binstead on account of the screams she heard outside, and also the "woman with a baby," whom she saw passing through her room. Her experience goes back some 10 to 15 years before mine.'

The SPR also cited the contents of a second letter, dated St. Anne de Beaupre, January 23, 1889, which stated:

(1) Mrs. Pennee interviewed Father Boudreault, the priest sent for by the C. family to exorcise the house. Father B., however, was on his death-bed; and although he remembered the fact that he had been sent for to Binstead for this purpose, he could not recollect what had been told him as to apparitions, etc.

(2) Mrs. M., who first saw the figure, has gone to England, and cannot now be traced. Mrs. Pennee adds: 'The lady in question told several people that she saw a woman with a baby in her arms when she slept at Binstead, and, like myself, she noticed a frilled cap on the woman. The woman whose ghost we imagine this to be was an Irish woman, and perhaps you have noticed their love of wide frills in their head-gear.'

(3) Mrs. Pennee revisited Binstead in 1888, and says, 'The tree whence the screams started is cut down; the room where all saw the ghost is totally uninhabited, and Mrs. C. would not let us stay in it, and entreated us to talk no further on the subject. From the man we got out a little, but she followed us up very closely. He says that since the priest blessed the house a woman has been seen (Or said to have been seen, he corrected himself) round the front entrance, and once at an upper window.'

There, apparently, Mrs. Pennee's investigations ended.

(There are reports that the Binstead ghost is still active today. We will share that story with you in the future. Editor)

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