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Stoking the imagination

TCD MUN SOC HIST Officers 1872-73
Bram Stoker seated centre

Today is the 165th anniversary of the birth of Bram Stoker (1847-1912), well-known civil servant and author of The Duties of Clerks of Petty Sessions in Ireland, which he published to some acclaim in 1879. He wrote the more popular, but considerably less practical, novel, Dracula, almost 20 years later. Stoker was a graduate of Trinity, a top-class student athlete (despite being quite ill for most of his early childhood) and a member of the student societies the Hist and the Phil. The Library has a good collection of manuscript material relating to the Stoker family generally, although only a small amount of it relates to the great man himself.

One of the items in the collection supposedly links the idea of Dracula – with its themes of blood infection and the ‘undead’ – to an epidemic of cholera which was witnessed by Stoker’s mother, Charlotte Thornley, in Sligo in 1832. Stoker scholars believe Charlotte’s vivid descriptions of the suffering she had seen may have fuelled her son’s Gothic imagination in later life. Among the papers in the Library is a copy of Charlotte’s account of the onslaught of the disease.

Cholera epidemics were not unheard-of in the nineteenth century but the one in 1832 was particularly virulent; infection was believed to be so rapid that a man, becoming infected on one side of town, was said to have fallen from his horse, dead, at the other. It was thought more than 1,500 people died from the epidemic; that carpenters were unable to keep up with the demand for coffins and local legend suggested that some people were buried alive, so great was the haste to dispose of the corpses.

TCD MS 11076/2/3
TCD MS 11076/2/3 f2 Stoker, Mrs CMB (Thornley) Experiences of the Cholera in Ireland ?1832

Jane Maxwell

Sir Walter Raleigh’s Ghost

TCD MS 862 f232
TCD MS 862 f232

Sir Walter Raleigh, soldier, courtier and explorer, was beheaded on 29 October 1618 after imprisonment in the Tower of London. His fame and popularity ensured a posthumous reputation as an English martyr, a national hero executed to appease the Spanish in revenge for his attack on one of their new-world ports.  There was a belief that his death had been engineered by the Conde de Gondomar, the Machiavellian Spanish ambassador to the court of King James I. Such beliefs were dangerous.

The document imaged above, ‘Vox Spiritus or Sir Walter Raleigh’s Ghost’ (TCD MS 862 232r-275v) is a handwritten pamphlet, produced in 1620 to promote the ideals of the late Sir Walter, namely the mistrust of Catholicism and all things Spanish.

‘Raleigh’s Ghost’ imagines a meeting between Gondomar and a Jesuit priest on 20 November 1620 which is interrupted by the apparition of Raleigh who calls upon officials to defend England against the spread of ‘popery’. The vengeful ghost pointing an accusing finger at its quaking murderer is a classic dramatic device which crops up in contemporary tragedies.

The author could have been either Thomas Gainsford, described as a ‘poore Captaine about London’, who was discovered with the seditious manuscript and imprisoned; or Thomas Scott, a minister who fled to Utrecht to continue his anti-Spanish writings. Gainsford died of the plague in 1642 and Scott was assassinated in 1626. ‘Raleigh’s Ghost’ was only available in manuscript form until it was published in 1983.

When not haunting Spanish ambassadors, Sir Walter Raleigh’s actual ghost is said to reside in the Tower of London.

Estelle Gittins