The Quarrelling Coffins of Barbados – Chase Vault
If you go to Christ Church in Oistins (on the south coast, about 7 miles from Bridgetown), go through the front gates of the churchyard, turn right, and further up on your right you will come across a rather neglected looking vault; you should be able to make out the word CHASE at the top of the structure. This vault has been abandoned for good reason.
Despite being referred to as the ‘Chase Vault’, this sturdy structure of coral, stone, and concrete was opened in 1807 to receive the body of Mrs. Thomasina Goddard *** in a simple wooden coffin.
The Chase family then acquired the vault and decided not to disturb Mrs Goddard’s coffin.Two year old Mary Ann Chase was placed in the vault in 1808. Four years later, in 1812, her older sister Dorcas Chase was interred – like her baby sister – in a lead coffin. Some reports say that Dorcas had such a bad relationship with her authoritarian father (Thomas Chase) that she had starved herself to death. Indeed, by many accounts it seems that Thomas Chase was an extremely cruel man, despised by many – especially by his servants. A few weeks after Dorcas’s death, Thomas Chase himself died – possibly through suicide.
When the vault was opened for the burial of Thomas Chase, the eight pallbearers who carried Chase’s heavy coffin into the vault saw that the two lead coffins already in the tomb were not where they had been left a month earlier, with little Mary Ann’s coffin now lying upside-down in the far corner from where it had been placed.
The coffins were returned to their side-by-side positions, and the small coffin of Mary Ann was placed on top of one of the larger ones. The crypt was re-sealed. Rumours spread. Noises could be heard from within the tomb. It was said that a woman on horseback heard strange groans emanating from the tomb as she passed it. Her horse started panicking and frothing at the mouth. There were stories that other horses in the area went berserk and charged into the bay, where they drowned.
In 1816, the vault was opened for the burial of another family member (eleven year old Charles Brewster Ames). Once again the coffins appeared to have been ‘thrown about’, including Thomas Chase’s heavy lead coffin which had needed eight pallbearers. The coffins were arranged back in order and the vault resealed. Within a few weeks, Samuel Brewster was to be buried inside the Chase Vault – and the vault – now with a large group of interested people crowding around to witness any disturbance – was re-opened. Again the lead coffins were strewn around, and Mrs. Goddard’s wooden coffin had been badly damaged by the movement of the others.
There was no evidence of entry to the vault, nor of the cause of the disturbance. In 1819 the vault was re-opened and all coffins were again discovered to have been thrown around, apart from the fragile wooden coffin belonging to Mrs. Goddard.
The coffins were restacked with Mrs. Goddard’s wooden coffin being placed against a wall. Fine sand was put on the floor to catch the footprints of anyone who was able to break in. The vault was then re-sealed, and some present – including the governor (using his personal seal) – made markings in the wet mortar so that any subsequent break-in would be evident.
In 1820 the governor and several friends traveled to the vault (this time for curiosity rather than for another burial) and found his seal unbroken. But when the vault was opened, the way in was blocked: Thomas Chase’s coffin had been thrown up against the marble entrance. When they were able to move it to gain entry, once again they could see that the other coffins had been thrown around – even turned upside down. There were no footprints in the sand.
At this point it was decided that enough was enough, and the coffins were removed and buried in different plots. The Chase Vault has been left empty ever since.
Various theories have been put forward, including earthquakes and underground flooding (which would have had to drain away leaving no trace in the sand), giant fungi growing underneath the coffins, and magnetic forces – though one would expect reports of other graves in the vicinity being similarly disturbed.
An Evelyn family anecdote has it that the Evelyns and Chases could not stand each other, and that the movement of the coffins was down to the querulous nature of the Chases – even when dead.
Whatever the cause – all seems to be quiet now.
*** Re. Mrs. Thomasina Goddard, readers of ‘The Turtle Run’ might be interested to know that Goddard is a good old ‘Redleg’ name.