Ryde Social Heritage Group research the social history of the citizens of Ryde, Isle of Wight. Documenting their lives, businesses and burial transcriptions.
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A Remarkable Circumstance

Extract from the Terrific Register or Record of Crimes, Judgements, Providences and Calamities Vol. II 1825

In the month of September, 1824, the body of a young woman, dressed in black silk, with a watch, a ring, and a small sum of money was found floating near Spithead by a lieutenant of the impress, and conveyed to Ryde in the Isle of Wight. As no person owned it, a parish officer, who was also an undertaker, took upon himself to inter the body, for the property that was attached to it, which was accordingly performed.

One evening, about a fortnight after the event, a poor man and woman were seen to come into the village, and on application to the undertaker for a view of the property which belonged to the unfortunate drowned person, they declared it to have been their daughter, who was overset in a boat as she was going to Spithead to see her husband. They also wished to pay whatever expense the undertaker had been at, and to receive the trinkets, etc. which had so lately been the property of one so dear to them; but this the undertaker would by no means consent to. They repaired, therefore, to the churchyard, where the woman, having prostrated herself on the grave of the deceased, continued some time in silent mediation or prayer; then crying, Pillilew! after the manner of the Irish at funerals, she sorrowfully departed with her husband.

The curiosity of the inhabitants of Ryde, excited by the first appearance and behaviour of this couple, was changed into wonder, when returning, in less than three weeks, they accused the undertaker of having buried their daughter without a shroud! saying, she had appeared in a dream, complaining of the mercenary and sacrilegious undertaker, and lamenting the indignity, which would not let her spirit rest!

The undertaker stoutly denied the charge. But the woman having secretly purchased a shroud (trying it on herself), at Upper Ryde, was watched by the seller, and followed about twelve o’clock at night into the church-yard. After lying a short time on the grave, she began to remove the mound with her hands, and incredible as it may seem, by two o’clock had uncovered the coffin, which with much difficulty, and the assistance of her husband, was lifted out of the grave. On opening it, the stench was almost intolerable, and stopped the operation for some time; but, after taking a pinch of snuff, she gently raised the head of the deceased, taking from the back of it, and the bottom of the coffin, not a shroud, but a dirty piece of flannel, with part of the hair sticking to it, and which the writer of this account saw lying on the hedge so lately as last month. Clothing the body with the shroud, every thing was carefully replaced; and, on a second application, the undertaker, overwhelmed with shame, restored the property. The woman (whose fingers were actually worn to the bone with the operation) retired with her husband, and was never heard of since.

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