Classically in Victorian Literature, moorland is presented as a desolate and gothic place. A place where the sublime wilderness meets dangerous marshland. What I wanted to know is whether or not the moors had more use than just symbolically representing death and despair?
Victorian novelists used the moors as the setting for their fictional tales of love and death. A key example of this is the presentation of the Yorkshire moors in Wuthering Heights. However, Bodmin Moor in Cornwall was the setting for a real life tale of love and murder. When Charlotte Dymond was murdered on Bodmin Moor in 1844, her body was not discovered for over a week. If people lived and worked upon the moors, why was her body not found sooner?
|An image of Wuthering Heights|
As you can see from the image above, the desolation is clearly shown through the single woman (which is likely to be the character of Cathy from Wuthering Heights) stood alone. The artist also uses dark colours to represent the despair and obvious darkness of the moorland in the Victorian era. Pictures like this are created by an artist's imagination after reading the text. This clearly shows the author's intentions of the setting. Wuthering Heights opens with:
“I have just returned from a visit to my landlord–the solitary neighbour that I be troubled with. This is certainly a beautiful country. In all England, I do not believe that I could have fixed on a situation so completely removed from the stir of society.” (Brontë, 1)
This opening supports the idea of the moors being a place of beauty, but also a desolate place of solitude. Furthermore, it is made clear here that the community on the moor is very secluded. Even though Yorkshire Moor and Bodmin Moor were approximately 400 miles away from each other, through research, I have also discovered that Bodmin moor was similar in the fact that the community was quite secluded. Everyone within the community knew everyone else.
Bodmin Moor can be seen as being more secluded because it is in Cornwall, which in the Victorian era was virtually cut off from the British mainland by the Tamar River (Munn, 14). It was not until 1859 that the Royal Albert Bridge that crosses the Tamar River was constructed. This created a railway connection between Cornwall and the rest of Britain. Throughout the Victorian era railway links were being developed. However, due to this lack of transport in the Victorian period, the majority of the poor and the working class would walk from place to place, often across moorland. The use of walking as a primary mode of transport is shown in chapter 4 of Wuthering Heights where Mr. Earnshaw says “I’m going to Liverpool to-day […] I shall walk there and back: sixty miles each way, that is a long spell!” (Brontë, 37) This shows how even though the character states how this is a long way to go, it is still not considered unusual to walk there.
|A print from the original copy of Sherlock Holmes and The Hound of The Baskervilles|
Another iconic image of the moorland Dartmoor where Sir Arthur Conan Doyle sets the famous Sherlock Holmes story The Hound of The Baskervilles. In this story, the moorland is terrorised by a giant hound and a roaming convict who has escaped from the prison. The fear of the moor is shown when Dr. Mortimer says "I assure you that there is a reign of terror in the district, and that it is a hardy man who will cross the moor at night." (Conan Doyle, 27). This fear is shown in the darkness of the image above. In this case, Dartmoor is the setting for a fictional murder whereas the real life murder of Charlotte Dymond happened further south west in Cornwall on Bodmin Moor.
The Poem and The Story
I have already briefly alluded to the murder of Charlotte Dymond. This murder is a key historical event in Cornish heritage, a story which is passed down through generations. The popularity of the story reached the poet Charles Causley who wrote “The Ballad of Charlotte Dymond” in the twentieth century. In his poem he clearly tells the events which led up to and followed the murder. Here is a summary of the events that happened on the 14th April 1844 and the dates following:
On a Sunday evening, Charlotte Dymond, a domestic servant, and Matthew Weeks, a fellow live-in servant at Penhale Farm, left where they lived for a walk on the moor:
"[...] As she walked out one evening
Her lover at her side”
Two eyewitnesses stated at the inquest that they saw a young couple which could be Matthew and Charlotte together walking across the moors. These eyewitnesses being on the moors shows how the moors was often walked on during the Victorian era. Later that evening, Matthew returned to the farm without Charlotte. This is shown in stanza seven:
“Matthew, where is Charlotte
and wherefore has she flown?
For you walked out together
And now are come alone.”
|Rough Tor Ford|
This suggests Matthew is suspected of being guilty or at least knows some of the events that led up to her disappearance. Charlotte Dymond’s body was found several days later lying close to a small stream at Rough Tor, her throat slashed from ear to ear. (Sly, 44) Her body was found close to Rough Tor Ford. As you can see from the photo, the track bridge that goes over the ford suggests that it was often used for transport. Charlotte's body was discovered over a week after she originally went missing intact and with no sign of being eaten by wild animals or birds. Matthew has already gone to Plymouth to stay with relatives to escape speculation about his involvement. Due to The Tamar River separating Cornwall and Devon, Plymouth felt a long way away from the murder. My main query with this story of the murder of Charlotte Dymond is the length of time it took for her body to be discovered. If the moors were used as a thoroughfare and lived on by locals, why did it take so long for her body to be discovered?
Matthew was then arrested in Plymouth, found guilty and executed at Bodmin Jail. His execution is recorded in The Cornishman from the 22nd August 1878 in a list titled “Executions at Bodmin Since 1790”. When Matthew Weeks was executed, it us suggested that people walked miles to attend and watch the hanging. In one case, “at least one lady is known to have walked the eleven miles from Liskeard to Bodmin for the occasion.” (Munn, 145) The execution was reported to have brought in a massive crowd. This supports the idea that the poor and working class often walked to where they needed to go in the Victorian era.
As well as being reported in regional newspapers, the murder was also mentioned in The Morning Post in London. On Wednesday 1st May 1844. This shows that even though Cornwall was considered to be cut off from the rest of Britain, what happened in Cornwall still reached London. The article, titled “DREADFUL MURDER in CORNWALL” begins "On Wednesday an inquest was held [...] in the parish Davidstow, on the body of Charlotte Dymond, aged nineteen years." This shows that even though the news of the murder reached London, there is still misinformation as it Charlotte Dymond died at eighteen (Munn, 100). The article then continues to give the reader a brief summary of what happened, but also shows how Weeks is guilty. The journalist has therefore written the report subjectively (from a specific viewpoint) instead of objectively (just writing the facts).
|The monument at the foot of Rough Tor|
In conclusion, I believe that the only way for Charlotte's body to have not been found or attacked by the wild animals that inhabited the moors is that she was murdered elsewhere by another person and then her body moved. Matthew could not have done this as he was in Devon at the time the body was found. I think this because from what I have found, the moors were so commonly used in the 19th century it would have been near impossible for nobody to find her body. This murder is renowned in Cornwall and has a lasting legacy, this is partially because of the uncertainty over whether Matthew Weeks was truly guilty. It is now said that there have been many sightings of the ghost of Charlotte Dymond around the monument where her body was found (Sly, 44). It could be believed that this is because she knows of Matthew's innocence and cannot rest until the truth comes out.
Brontë, Emily. Wuthering Heights. London: The Great Writers Library, 1987.
Munn, Pat. The Charlotte Dymond Murder, Cornwall 1844. Cornwall: Bodmin Books Limited, 2010.
"Royal Albert Bridge". Wikipedia. Web. 2015. <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Royal_Albert_Bridge>
Conan Doyle, Sir Arthur. The Hound of The Baskervilles. New York: Prestwick House, 2007.
Causley, Charles. "The Ballad of Charlotte Dymond". Cornwalls. Web.
Sly, Nicola. A Ghostly Almanac of Devon & Cornwall. Gloucestershire: The History Press, 2009.
"Executions at Bodmin since 1790". Cornishman. 22 August 1878. The British Newspaper Archive.
"Dreadful Murder in Cornwall". Morning Post. 1 May 1844. The British Newspaper Archive.
BlackShadow, Vincent. "Wuthering Heights - Emily Brontë". Online Image. 10 April 2006. <http://www.brownnoiseunit.com/books/wuthering_heights_emily_bronte/>
Paget, Sidney. "I saw the figure of the man upon the Tor". Online Image. 1891. <http://www.victorianweb.org/art/illustration/pagets/238.html>
Hairnicks. "Roughtor Ford". Online Image. 19 November 2003. <https://www.flickr.com/photos/hairnicks/8479886212>
Stratmann, Linda. "Monument to Charlotte Dymond". Online Image. 2012-2014. <http://www.lindastratmann.com/articles/the-murder-of-charlotte-dymond.aspx>