Only in Whispers: Perth’s Supernatural Exhibition
This month I thought that I would go and check out the “Only in Whispers” exhibition at the Perth Museum and Art Gallery. This display focuses on the Myths and Legends of Perthshire which I am sure you know by now I am very interested in.
This display in the museum is very different from your typical museum experience, where you look at an exhibit enclosed in a glass cabinet. For as you enter the display, you transported back in time into a life-size mock-up of an impression of the interior of Ballechin House. This building once stood between Logierait and Grandtully. Ballechin House was the scene of a famous haunting in the late 1800s. There is plenty to do in this mock house, from answering phones and listening to whispered conversations on the line or looking through keyholes into other rooms, trying doors to see what lies at the other side and opening a cabinet and reading letters about the hauntings. There is also a collection of weird and macabre objects and information and models relating to the best-known myths and legends of Perthshire. The pupils of Fairview School helped by animator Jim Stirk put together a short film to go with the exhibition which is well worth a look.
This is a fantastic display and one that the kids would love, with lots to see and explore. At £5.00 adults and £3.00 with a group of four costing £15, it is reasonably priced for this day and age, there is plenty of other exciting things to see in the museum for free. On the 11th and 12th of April, there are torchlight tours in the museum to coincide with the exhibition where yours truly will be doing some storytelling in the museum vaults. This is a unique chance to see some of the artefacts in the basement that are not usually on display. All the information on tickets for the exhibition and torchlight tours can be found here.
The Haunting of Ballechin House
The display is focused on the haunting of Ballechin House and here is the story of the strange events that captivated late Victorian Britain. The origins of the activity reported to originate from Ballechin House was centred on a man called Robert Steuart who had made his fortune while working for the East India Company. Robert moved to the house in 1850, he was a bit strange and seemed to shun the company of his peers preferring his many dogs, some fourteen in all. He was involved in a scandalous affair with one of his maids, who was later to die in one of the rooms in the house after a short illness. Robert was very interested in the afterlife and particularly on reincarnation, he always stated that when he died, he would return in the spirit of a dog. Robert did die in 1876 and the house passed to his nephew John Steuart, hearing about his uncles’ desire to return from the grave in the form of a dog John had the animals shot.
Strange things started to happen in the house with reports of bangs, raps and sightings of a spectral dog were reported. In 1897 an investigation into the ghostly goings-on was carried out by John Crichton Stuart the Marquess of Bute he was helped by Ada Goodrich Freer from the Society for Psychical Research. Freer kept a diary during her investigation, she recorded sounds off “knockings, crashes, bangs, groans and thuds. She stated that were heard at all hours of the day and night. Freer declared that others in the house heard voices and footsteps. One lady was said to have been woken during the night by the feeling that her bed was shaking, and a maid had her clothing pulled by unseen hands.
Mrs Freer stated that she saw the ghostly figure of an old woman, this ghost was also seen by a maid, but in the second instance, the old woman had no legs. Phantom dogs were also observed in and around the house and a ghostly nun called Ishbel was also spotted along with a woman dressed in grey. The Scotsman Newspaper on the 5th of July 1899 reporting on the incidents a few years later stated that during the hauntings the house was blessed by a Bishop and Priest in an attempt to stop this paranormal activity.
When the findings of the alleged hauntings were published, the results were widely ridiculed. The Scotsman Newspaper mentioned above was extremely sceptical as to the authenticity of the ghostly goings-on. Ada Goodrich Freer and her research into Ballechin House was discredited and her peers in the Society for Psychical Research turned on her.
The house was demolished after being uninhabited for many years and after being severely damaged in a fire.
So was there ever any ghostly activity at Ballechin House, well it seems that the house did have a reputation of being haunted before the investigation in 1897. Perhaps Freer did greatly exaggerate the amount of activity in the house. But it seems the house did have a history of ghostly activity long before the alleged hauntings was documented, it remains an intriguing story.
Written by Gary Knight
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If you enjoyed this article, why not take a look at Garys book ‘No Fair City’?
Battles, regicides, executions, conspiracies, murders, floods, fires, crimes, punishments, and mayhem No Fair City by Gary Knight has them all. Delve into the darker side of historical Perth, where witches, smugglers, grave robbers, murderers, and thieves conduct their ghastly business. Learn how the guilty (and innocent) were tried, punished, and executed. Read how, in a world before health and safety, plague, fire, the merciless River Tay, and the Perth s lade, railways and roads, took their daily toll of townsfolk and visitors.
You can find it here.
Or if you want to read similar stories from across Scotland, take a look in his new Scottish History Fanzine ‘For the Lion’ available at www.forthelionfanzine.com.