A Political Ghost Story

Major Rasch
Major Rasch

This is a true story about a former MP for our area – Major Sir Frederick Carne Rasch.

Rasch seemed to have had a pretty good life. He went to Eton and then Trinity College Cambridge, and did a lot of rowing there (that?s rowing boats , not rowing in arguments). He spent ten years in the Dragoon Guards, became a director of a couple of breweries, and then went into parliament as a Conservative, representing Essex South-East from 1886 until 1900, and then Chelmsford until 1908.

A magazine article on 1896 described him as ?an Essex man and wholesome, bluff, genial fellow of strong opinions; who calls himself a Democratic Tory.? The very first question he asked in the House of Commons was about cavalry saddles, and you can imagine him in one of the Commons bars having a cigar and a few whiskies with his friends and talking about horses, rowing and country pursuits.

Rasch clearly had a social conscience, for example , speaking up several times in the House of Commons for poor farm labourers in Canewdon. But he definitely wasn?t a progressive- he was very much against giving the children of agricultural workers much of an education : ?I know very well I am not an enthusiast, a crank, or a fanatic on the subject of education in the agricultural districts. To speak plainly, I detest it so far as I am concerned. I am here simply as an agricultural Member, principally to keep the rates down, and particularly the rates for education.?

So all in all he was a very down-to-earth chap. Not the kind of person you?d connect with any kind of paranormal events. And yet…..

It was the spring of 1905. The MP Sir Gilbert Parker described what happened as follows:

“I wished to take part in the debate in progress, but missed being called. As I swung round to resume my seat I was attracted first by seeing Sir Carne Rasch out of his place, and then by the position he occupied. I knew that he had been very ill, and in a cheery way nodded towards him and said, `Hope you are better.’
“But he made no sign and uttered no reply. This struck me as odd. My friend’s position was his and yet not his. His face was remarkably pallid. His expression was steely. It was a altogether a stony presentment — grim, almost resentful.
“I thought for a moment. Then I turned again toward Sir Carne Rasch, and he had disappeared. That puzzled me, and I at once went in search of him. I expected, in fact, to overtake him in the lobby. But Rasch was not there. No one had seen him. I tried both the Whips and the doorkeeper, equally without avail. No one had seen Sir Carne Rasch.
“I went round the House, inquiring in all the corridors and to the same end — Sir Carne Rasch had not been seen. Going again to the lobby, I heard that Sir Henry Meysey-Thompson, who was at the lobby post office, had also been inquiring for the major, but without result.
“I joined Sir Henry, and we exchanged views.”

Sir Gilbert was interested in psychic phenomena and wondered if Rasch had died and appeared as a ghost! Rasch was actually at home, ill with influenza, but he was neither dead nor dying. He seemed have been amused by the whole affair and couldn?t resist having a friendly dig at the Liberals:

“I was rather ill at the time, and had to keep my bed, and why I should have gone to the House of Commons that night I don’t know. However, the Express of Friday says that I did. I am worth a good many dead ones yet, I hope. At any rate, I mean to go on a little longer.
“I feel, however, that I ought to apologize to the Liberal Party for not having died when I suppose I ought. Had I done so it would have saved them a good deal of trouble. If I have another chance perhaps I will endeavor to oblige them.”

Rather unexpectedly, there was a response from the Liberals that confirmed this ghostly sighting. A letter from Colonel Sir Arthur Hayter, published in the Daily News said:

“Sir, On my way home to Southhill Park today I noticed in The Daily News that Sir Carne Rasch had been seen in the House of Commons by Sir Gilbert Parker when he was reported to be lying ill at home, and that further evidence in confirmation was required.
“I beg to say that I not only saw Sir Carne Rasch myself sitting below the gangway (not in his usual seat), but that I called the attention of Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman to whom I was talking on the Front Opposition Bench, saying that I wondered why all the papers inserted notices of Sir Carne Rasch’s illness, while he was sitting opposite apparently quite well. Sir Henry replied that he hoped his illness was not catching. — Yours, etc.?

Sir Henry Campbell Bannerman became Prime Minister the next year, so should certainly trusted as a witness….

The full story can be found here.