The landscape around St Agnes is dotted with the shafts of disused tin mines. Polbreen Mine, at the foot of St Agnes Beacon, was haunted by a spirit called Dorcas. In life she had inhabited one of the small cottages adjacent to the mine, but one night, for a reason that has gone unrecorded, she threw herself down one of the shafts. Her dead and broken body was discovered, brought up to the surface, and buried.
Her spirit, however, still remained in the mine. She seemed to take pleasure in tormenting the miners, calling them by name, and luring them from their work. She was usually only a voice. Though a few claimed they had seen her, the miners in general put this down to nerves. ‘But’, says Robert Hunt, telling this story in 1865, ‘it is stated as an incontrovertible fact, that more than one man who has met the spirit in the levels of the mine has had his clothes torn off his back.’
Only on one occasion had Dorcas appeared to act kindly. Two miners, to whom Hunt gives the names Martin and Jack, were working together in the mine when they distinctly heard a voice calling ‘Jacky!’ Martin said Jacky should go and see who was calling him, but Jacky was afraid, or perhaps thought his senses were deceiving him. Again came the call: ‘Jacky! Jacky! Jacky!’ this time more vehemently. Jacky threw down his hammer and went to look. He had not gone many yards when a mass of rock fell from the roof of the level onto the spot where he had been working. A projecting rock had deflected it from Martin, who, though they had to dig him out, was unhurt. Jacky declared to his dying day that he owed his life to Dorcas. Hunt adds, ‘Although Dorcas’s shaft remains a part of Polbreen Mine, I am informed by the present agent that her presence has departed.’
Because of the dangerous nature of their work, tin miners, like coal miners elsewhere, had a deeply rooted belief in presages, and in Cornwall as in other counties there were tales of haunted mines inhabited by warning spirits, sometimes explained, like Dorcas, as ghosts. (See also SHILBOTTLE, Northumberland.)