Thursday, October 3, 2013

Unsolved Mysteries: The Moving Coffins of Chase Vault

The Moving Coffins of Chase Vault
Unsolved Mysteries - Mysteries that once were or still are unsolved!

Here is a interesting tale that made the rounds in many newspapers over the time of the events in question. To begin with, I'll let one newspaper story open this article:


"A tale of the mysterious movement of coffins in a sealed vault in the parish of Christchurch, Barbados, has long been told in the Island. Fresh authentic evidence just brought to light and published in the 'West India Committee Circular,' confirms the story, and renders it mysterious in the extreme.

On successive occasions, when the Chase family vault in the churchyard near Distin's Town was opened, the coffins were found to be disarranged. A manuscript account by the Hon. Nathan Lucas, who witnessed the opening of the vault in 1820, has been unearthed. The document states that the vault was opened several times for the interment of bodies in 'the first decade of the nineteenth century. Each time, the coffins were found in extraordinary positions, and after a burial In 1819 the matter became a much-talked-of mystery.

Mr. Lucas was discussing it with friends in 1820, and they decided then and there to open the vault and see if the coffins had moved again. They found the heavy slabs over the entrance untouched, and no marks of violence were anywhere visible. But in the vault itself the six coffins were once again disarranged, lying on top of each other and at curious angles.

The vault was in such a position that water - of which there were no signs, could not have flooded it. There had been no earthquake to account for the mystery and no attempt to rob the corpses.

Locals fear of the dead rendered it certain that they had no hand in it, and the theory of a practical joke was never entertained. 'All I know,' runs the document, 'is that it happened, and that I was an eyewitness of the fact.'"
(The Daily News, 17 March 1908)

There is a bit of strange history surrounding this vault, starting before the apparent shifting coffins. When the Chase family had aquired the vault it was already eighty years old. Originally built by James Elliot, the first occupant was his wife Elizabeth who was interred within in the mid to late 18th century.

The vault was then purchased by the Walrond Family, and when a relative/friend Thomasina Goddard passed away, the vault was opened and shockingly, Elizabeth‘s body was no longer to be found... she had disappeared!

It is important to note that the vault was sealed with a very large marble slab, and upon this latest opening no evidence was found to suggest it had been tampered with. With such a mystery, the legend took on a somewhat supernatural twist with many of the superstitious locals believing that Elizabeth Elliot was a vampire!

Thomasina Goddard was sealed within the vault and the missing Elizabeth was all but forgotten about.

The Chase family very soon after came to ownership of the vault, and before long were interring their own family within. It was the opening of the vault to receive its fourth body (Mr Thomas Chase) that the coffins located inside were found to be in a disrupted state. No evidence of break in, no evidence of tampering with the actual bodies... just coffins not where they should be.

The theme continued with each new interment, the vault would be opened and coffins would be strewn about. At one time a wooden coffin had all but been smashed when one of the heavier, lead coffins had crashed into it.

It was decided to get to the bottom of this mystery and a kind of investigation was carried out. The coffins were relocated to their original positions (two stacks of two, larger coffin at the bottom, smaller on top), the walls were 'sounded' to ensure no hidden passages, and after that the floor was covered in a fine sand and the vault cover layed back over, sealing the coffins inside. Mortar was applied to the slab and the Lord Governer impressed his own seal within. This time, if there was any tampering, it would be easy to tell.

Eight months later the vault was once again opened. No sign had been found of tampering with the mortar or seals, but when entering the vault itself, the coffins were once again found to be in utter chaos. The sand on the floor was undisturbed, no one had been inside and no flood had taken place.

The Chase family have since been removed from the vault and buried in the cemetery.

It was and still is a mystery, though many theories have been put forward over the years including flooding, earthquakes and magnetism.

Ashley Hall 2013

Photo: The Chase Family Vault.
Inset Left: A headline from 'The Cumberland Argus and Fruitgrowers Advocate'
Inset Right: Images depicting locations of coffins before and after, within the vault.

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