The Ghost of Sergeant Arthur Davis by M J Steel Collins
|Sir Walter Scott|
Sir Walter Scott, in his Letters of Demonology and Witchcraft mentions the curious case of Sergeant Alfred Davis, whose ghostly appearance to three Highlanders led to their appearance as witnesses in the trial of the two men accused of Sergeant Davis’ murder. It’s rather a peculiar incident in Scottish criminal history.
“Upon the 10th of June, 1754, Duncan Terig, alias Clark, and Alexander Bain MacDonald, two Highlanders, were tried before the Court of Justiciary, Edinburgh, for the murder of Arthur Davis, sergeant in Guise’s regiment, on the 28thSeptember 1749. The accident happened not long after the civil war, the embers of which were still reeking, so there existed too many reasons on account of which an English soldier, straggling far from assistance, might be privately cut off by the inhabitants of these wilds. It appears that Sergeant Davis was missing for years, without any certainty as to his fate.”
In the atmosphere of immediate post-Culloden Scotland, martial law had been declared in the Highlands, and Gaelic culture suppressed. English regiments were sent North to enforce the new regime. Sergeant Davies was amongst those troops, in charge of a small group, or piquet, of eight soldiers, at a farm called Dubrach near the tiny settlement of Inverey, Aberdeenshire. They would regularly patrol the area, communicating with other similar groups of soldiers. Sergeant Davis was something of an ostentatious character. He made great show of the 15 and half guineas he carried about in a green velvet purse. In addition, he wore two gold rings, two silver buckles on his shoes and carried a large silver watch. As mentioned in Notices Relative to the Bannatyne Club, his widow later stated that “It was generally known by all the neighbourhood that the sergeant was worth money and carried it about with him.”
Sergeant Davis was also a keen hunter, and would often go off in search of game. Early in the morning of 28 September 1749, the flamboyant Sergeant and four soldiers set out from Dubrach to rendezvous with another group of soldiers at Glenshee. At one point, the Sergeant apparently was in the mood for a hunt, and left his men to try and bag some game, planning on rejoining them later on the way to Glenshee.
The four soldiers made the rendezvous, and returned home, without meeting their Sergeant. Later, he did appear at Glenshee, and was rebuked by the leader of the other group for going off alone. Sergeant Davis scoffed, saying that thanks to his weapons, he wasn’t scared of anyone. He then headed back in the direction of Dubrach, and wasn’t seen again. A search was made, but the Sergeant wasn’t found, and was presumed murdered. Meanwhile, a nude ghost began to appear in the isolated glen, and would disappear when approached.
|Glenshee (Photograph courtesy of Scott Robinson, Geograph)|
In June 1750, Donald Farquharson of Glen Dee, who had known Sergeant Davis in life, was visited by a man named Alexander MacPherson. He claimed that he had been haunted by the ghost Sergeant Davis. The ghost first came to MacPherson, when the latter was lying in bed; the spirit wore a blue coat and identified itself as the Sergeant. The apparition later returned naked, and instructed MacPherson to see Donald Farquharson, and it would show them where it’s body was, begging for its bones to be buried. Alexander MacPherson’s employer, Mistress Isobel McHardie, also saw the ghost’s naked form enter their sheiling. Though sceptical, Farquharson accompanied MacPherson, and went to a local landmark, the Hill of Christie, where they found decayed human remains, with a blue coat and other clothing, but no valuables. They buried the body on the spot where it lay.
Locally, rumours began doing the rounds regarding the involvement of Duncan Terig. Terig was known to be impoverished, but had apparently been profligate with money of late. His new wife also wore a ring that looked like one of those worn by the missing Sergeant Davis. Eventually, Terig was arrested, along with one Alexander MacDonald. They had been arrested for wearing tartan, but were found to have Sergeant Davis’ rings and some silver buttons he was known to wear; they were charged with his murder and taken to Edinburgh to stand trial at the High Court of Justiciary on 10 June 1754. Several witnesses testified as to the suspicious behaviour of the men following Sergeant Davis’ disappearance, including their being witnessed with his possessions. They had also been seen in the area where the Sergeant had disappeared, at around the same time. Further, one of their relatives asserted that they were the murderers. It was looking quite bad for Terig and MacDonald.
Then Donald Farquharson, Alexander MacPherson and Mistress McHardie were brought to the witness stand and told their story. Sir Walter Scott takes up what happened next:
“...the story of the apparition threw an air of ridicule on the whole evidence for the prosecution. It was followed up by the counsel for the prisoners asking, in the cross examination of MacPherson, “What language did the ghost speak in?” The witness, who was himself ignorant of English, replied, “As good Gaelic as I ever heard in Lochaber.” “Pretty well for the ghost of an English sergeant,” answered the counsel.”
As it turned out, Sergeant Davis was indeed lacking in the Gaelic. Duncan Terig and Alexander MacDonald were found not guilty. As for the ghost of the unfortunate Sergeant Davis, it’s blue coated form is still said to wander the hills round Glenshee, asking for a Christian burial.
Sources: Scott, Walter (1830) Letters on Demonology and Witchcraft Kindle Public Domain.
Underwood, Peter (1974) A Gazetteer of Scottish Ghosts Fontana/Collins
Underwood, Peter (2013) Where the Ghosts Walk Souvenir Press
Whitaker, Terence (1991) Scottish Ghosts and Apparitions Robert Hale
Maidment, J (ed) (1836) Notices Relative to the Bannatyne Club Private Publication, Edinburgh (accessed https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=ru4HAAAAQAAJ&printsec=frontcover#v=onepage&q&f=false)
About the Author
MJ Steel Collins hails from Paisley, and now migrated to the Govan area of Glasgow. She has a life long interest in ghosts and hauntings, and very keen on Highland folklore. She is Scottish Editor for The Spooky Isles, and writes on folklore for The Modern Scotsman.
You can find her spreading ghostly lore and plenty of more on Twitter!
Written content of this post copyright © MJ Steel Collins, 2016.