Binstead Hauntings Revisited
by Dr. Edward
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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.
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.
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."
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."
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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:
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
the autumn of the following year, 1859, my connection with Binstead
ceased, for we gave up the house and returned to Charlottetown.
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.
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.
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.
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.'
SPR also cited the contents of a second letter, dated St. Anne
de Beaupre, January 23, 1889, which stated:
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.
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.'
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.'
apparently, Mrs. Pennee's investigations ended.
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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