Ballechin House : A bizarre haunting of a Highland mansion in Perthshire, Scotland, allegedly caused because the wish of the house’s owner to return to life in the body of one of his dogs was denied him. Hauntings were reported at the house for more than two decades, until they broke into public light in 1897. Ballechin House was built in 1806 on property that since the 16th century had belonged to the Steuart family, descendants of King Robert II of Scotland. The mansion replaced an older manor house which was demolished.
In 1834, the property was inherited by Major Robert Steuart upon the death of his father. Steuart, who was posted with the army of the East India Company and lived in India, let the house to tenants. In 1850, he retired after a service of 25 years and returned to the Scottish estate. He lived in a cottage for several years, until the main house was free of its tenants.
The Major, as he was called, had a pronounced limp and was known as a local character and eccentric. He kept many dogs. While in India, he had become a believer in Reincarnation and transmigration, the ability of the soul to inhabit nonhuman bodies. His wish was that upon his death, his spirit would return to occupy the body of his favorite black spaniel.
The Major was unmarried and for 26 years lived alone at Ballechin House except for the company of his young housekeeper, Sarah, who died suddenly and mysteriously at the age of 27 in 1873. His only family consisted of two brothers and six sisters, one of whom, Isabella, became a nun. Isabella assumed the name of Frances Helen and lived in a nunnery until her death in 1880. In a will made in 1853, the Major left the house to the five children of his married sister, Mary.
The eldest son died without heirs, and the Major later excluded the three younger children in a codicil to the will. When the Major died in 1876, the estate was inherited by Mary’s second son, John, who was married and had several children. The family abhorred the notion of the Major coming back to life in one of his dogs, no matter how preposterous, and ordered every one of them shot.
Later, the theory was put forth that the Major was then forced to remain a disembodied spirit, and he haunted the house to protest. The Major was buried next to young Sarah. Almost immediately after his death, strange happenings began, including rappings and knockings, sounds like explosions and the sound of people quarrelling. John’s wife was in the Major’s study one day when she experienced an overpowering smell of dogs. She also felt herself being pushed against by an invisible dog. These and other events were so frightening that servants and governesses would not stay in the house.
Speculation arose about the relationship between the Major and Sarah. She had died in the main bedroom, which became the most haunted room in the house, and it was said that the Major’s ghost could often be heard limping around the bed. Although the John Steuarts managed to live at the estate for 21 years, John was forced to build a new wing Ballechin House 37 in 1883 for his children to live in, outside the haunted area. He allowed the cottage where the Major had lived to be used as a retreat by nuns.
One morning in 1895, John was talking on the telephone to his agent before leaving for London on family business. Their conversation was interrupted by three loud, violent knocks. Later that day, John was fatally struck by a cab on a busy London street. Believers in ghosts took the knocks to be a warning of doom. By this time, Ballanchin House had gained the reputation of a haunted house, as frightening tales told by former guests circulated in the community.
In 1892, Father Hayden, a Jesuit priest, slept there in two different rooms after hearing loud noises consisting of animal-like sounds, raps and shrieks. The next year, Hayden met a woman who had been a governess in the house for 12 years, but who had left because of the strange noises heard in the very same two rooms. In 1896, a family rented the house for one year, but left after only 11 weeks. Family members reported being terrorized by poltergeist activity that included inexplicable rattles, knocks, thumps, footsteps, bedclothes pulled off beds by unseen hands, rustling sounds, groans, heavy breathing, an icy coldness and even two apparitions—one in the form of an indeterminate mist and one in the shape of a man.
Lord Bute, an avid ghost-hunter of the day, agreed to sponsor an investigation. He rented the house for two investigators, Colonel Lemesurier Taylor and Miss A. Goodrich-Freer. On their first morning, the researchers heard clanging sounds repeated at two-hour intervals, the sound of voices, footsteps, dragging and pattering, loud bangs, thumps and knockings. The investigators invited 35 guests to stay at the house, all of whom were unaware of the house’s reputation.
The guests reported numerous supernatural activities, including strange Rappings and knocks, the sound of someone reading aloud in the manner of a priest saying his office, a spectral hunchback seen walking up the stairs, the apparition of a black spaniel, and phantom dogs’ tails heard striking doors and other objects. Goodrich-Freer, who had brought her own dog with her, was awakened one night by its whimpering. Following its gaze, she saw two disembodied dog’s paws on the table beside the bed. A male guest reportedly saw a detached hand in the air at the foot of his bed, holding a crucifix.
A maid saw the upper half of a woman’s figure wearing a gray shawl, seemingly suspended in the air. The investigators conducted sessions with a Ouija board and also received Automatic Writing messages. One message instructed the researchers to go to a nearby glen at dusk. Doing so, Goodrich-Freer saw a figure dressed as a nun move slowly up the glen and then disappear under a tree. She saw the same figure other times, either weeping or talking. Other reports described the figure as a young woman with a pale face, long hair and wearing a hood, and who disappeared quickly when people approached.
Some people speculated that the figure was that of Isabella, who, for some unknown reason, was weeping in the snow-covered glen. The entire account of the experiment was reported in The Times newspaper and was recorded in a book, The Alleged Haunting of B-House, published in 1899. The Steuart family raised so much opposition to the publicity, however, that all proper names had to be excluded from the story. The result was that hauntings had to be reported as “alleged,” and the full story never gained credence as a true haunting.
- Canning, John, ed. 50 Great Ghost Stories. New York: Bonanza Books, 1988. First published 1971.
- Harper, Charles G. Haunted Houses: Tales of the Supernatural With Some Accounts of Hereditary Curses and Family Legends. Rev. and enlarged ed. London: Cecil Palmer, 1924.
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