11 October 2013


In his round up of 25 years ago, John Rimmer referred to my article 'Off Limits'. In that I made comment on the case of Tawana Brawley and its similarities to that of Elizabeth Canning. Tawana was a fifteen year old black girl who disappeared for a few days in November 1987 and reappears in a small town in New York. She was covered in dog faeces and racist graffiti, and tells a tale of abduction and rape by white men in a black car, like the ones MIB use. But there was no physical evidence, her schoolbooks mysteriously reappeared at school. She refused to speak, and the case became a racial and political cause célebre. Eventually her story broke down due to the lack of any evidence of assault and other circumstantial factors, although Brawley maintained her claims.

You can read a fuller account of the case on Wikipedia:

A similar case from the eighteenth century, that of Elizabeth Canning, is described here http://gaslight.mtroyal.ca/canning.htm in an account by Andrew Lang. He links this to  a similar case from late nineteenth century Cheshire and gives a brief account of it .

This is the story of Rosa Day, the story of which is told here from the Cheshire Observer and Manchester Evening News of the period. Whatever the nature of this incident, it marked a change in Rosa’s life, as she moved from being a governess to, in 1901 being a nurse in the David Lewis Northern Hospital in Liverpool, and in 1911 as “sick trained nurse” at the “The Hospice” in Marlowe Hill, Wycombe Abbey,  High Wycombe. Wycombe Abbey was a prestigious girls’ school of the period and Rosa seems to have been the assistant matron. Rosa died on 11 October 1937 at Rowton. 

Cheshire Observer 4 Feb 1899, page 8.

The peace of the quiet little village of Rowton was rudely disturbed on Sunday by the spread of the news that Miss Rosa Day had disappeared. Her step-mother (Mrs. Day), and the Misses K. and N. Day, went to church as usual, but Miss Rosa stayed at home that morning, and at about eleven o'clock declared her intention of going out to skate. Her brother had gone out for a similar purpose to a large pond near the house, where others were also skating, and expected his sister to join him there. She did not do so. No one saw her leave the house, but when Mgrs. Day and the others arrived home from church it was found that Miss Rosa had disappeared, and that her hat and skates were also missing.

A search was at once instituted, and at (the) places in the district where it was possible or probable she had gone to make a visit enquiries were made. All efforts to trace her in this way were unavailing, and, as the afternoon progressed and no news as to her whereabouts was forthcoming, search parties were organised, and, until a late hour at night, the fields and ponds in the locality were well explored, but without tangible result.
On Monday the search was renewed, and, during the day, dragging operations were conducted in several pits, while similar attempts were made on Tuesday. On Wednesday a boat was procured, and the great hole in the quarry examined. Afterwards the canal from the Bonework's Bridge down to Christleton Lock was dragged, and the next day the police continued the search in the direction of Hunting- ton and the river. But it has been all to no purpose, and just as nearly all hope of finding her in the locality had been given up, matters were to some extent explained.


Miss Day came back on Thursday night, and the story of her return is as extraordinary and as inexplicable as her disappearance seemed at first. Shortly before ten o'clock one of the maids was going out of the house for some purpose or other, and noticed a lady's hat on the ground. Startled, she rushed back into the house with the information, and the inmates at once went in the yard, to find Miss Day lying in an unconscious heap. She was immediately taken inside, restoratives were applied, and medical aid sent for.  Dr. Taylor and Dr. Griffin arrived during the night, and Miss Day, whose appearance bore unmistakable evidence that nothing less than brutality must have been used towards her, was brought round so much as to be enabled to answer Dr. Taylor's careful questioning.

Her story which, as can only be expected at present, is not complete, is to the effect that shortly after eleven o'clock she went to the pit in their own field .to skate. Thinking that the ice was unsafe she went about half-a-mile further on to the lilt pit n Beech's field, not caring to go to another pond where several men, one or two young ladies, and her brother were playing hockey. Sitting down at the edge of the Lily Pit in order to put on her skates she was horror-struck when some man came up suddenly from behind and blindfolded her. He wanted money, but Miss Day had left her purse behind, and was unable to give him any. Thereupon he used dreadful language, tied her hands behind her back, and generally abused her, saying, "If you scream I’ll shoot you."

It is presumed that the shocking wound on Miss Day’s forehead was inflicted at this point. The wound extends over the greater part of the forehead, and the skin has been penetrated to the bone. Subsequent to this treatment Miss Day has but a dim remembrance of being taken for what seemed to be an interminable distance to a kind of [shed]. She recovered a little, and found herself in a loft. There she lay until Thursday, alternating between semi-consciousness and insensibility, and not knowing whether she was or whether she was being watched. On Thursday she made a hole in the roof — it was only a small place in which there was scarcely room to move — climbed up, and dropped to the ground outside. By and bye she came to a stream which she knew, and she followed its course so far as it led her in the direction of home.

The journey was a terrible one. Miss Day fell from exhaustion time after time; now and again she absolutely could not move* and when at last she did reach home, she was so overcome that on arriving in the yard the only thing she could do was to stagger in the direction of the door, and sink to the ground in a faint. Had it not chanced that the servant came out a few minutes afterwards, it is probable that Miss Day would not have been found until the next morning. Considering the severe frost it is apparent that then it would have been too late.

Miss Day was in a deplorable condition. Besides the wound in her head she had sustained many bruises, her fur-boa bore a quantity of clotted blood, and her features were greatly swollen. Thus it is not to be wondered at that she lies in a somewhat dangerous condition. The medical gentlemen, however, hold out great hope and the hope is everywhere manifested that if such an outrage has been committed the villain will meet with justice. If expressed intention goes for much, the male inhabitants of the villages round would lynch him at a moment's notice. The police yesterday were engaged in investigating the country connected with Miss Day's narration, but up to the time of going to press nothing further has been heard. It seems plain that the assailant's object was murder, and that he left his victim for dead.

Our reporter telegraphed shortly before two o'clock yesterday (Friday) that Miss Day was much better.
The paper lists some parallels to the case of Elizabeth Canning, and then adds this.


Even the date January 29 fits into the two cases, although in the one instance it marks the beginning and in the other instance the end of the adventure. There have always been doubts as to whether Elizabeth Canning’s story was true, and as a matter of fact she ranks among famous "impostors," and suffered seven years transportation for perjury. But it. has always appeared to us that she was the victim of injustice and prejudice, and now that Miss Day's extraordinary similar experience has occurred we are more than ever convinced that Elizabeth Canning's story was true. We trust that Miss Day will he enabled to demonstrate the facts in her own case, and to see the perpetrators of a cruel outrage fittingly punished.


The Deputy Chief Constable of Cheshire (Colonel Cope) has been making personal investigations into the extraordinary mystery, but nothing has been discovered so far which can in any way elucidate it. Miss Day has not, recovered sufficiently to be able to be further interrogated, and as a consequence her first statement cannot be subjected to the test of close repetition. She describes her assailant as a dark man with a big lower lip, about 30 years of age, and dressed like a labourer. Sue remarked to herself at the time that he was like a woman she knew, which was not flattering to the person she mentioned, as she added that he was a horrid-looking man.

She further said he asked her for her money and her watch, but she had neither with her. She still, however, wears a gold brooch, which she had when she left her home, and the only article missing are her skates. The motive of robbery is therefore absent, and it is an important element, for there is no suggestion of outrage. She described in detail hew she escaped from the shed by clambering through a hole in the roof, and from her own story the shed cannot be far from her home. It has to be remembered in this connection that the bands of searchers who have been dragging all the ponds in the district for miles around also made a close search of all the sheds and outbuildings in the same wide area, but without result.

Miss Day has two nasty wounds on her forehead, and is in a very fatigued and collapsed condition. No explanation has been given as to how she subsisted during the four-and-a-half bitter winter days she was away. The correspondent states that shortly before Christmas Miss Day had a narrow escape from falling into a deep quarry while collecting greenery for decorating a church. She hung on to some bushes for twenty minutes, and was rescued from what appeared to be certain death "by two men. Since then she has been in failing health, and it is feared that her mind had been affected by the incident’
Manchester Evening News 4 Feb 1899 page 3.
The mysterious circumstances surrounding the disappearance for five days of Miss Rosa Day, of Rowton, and her own strange story of her adventure when she returned home, are still exercising the minds of the people, not only of Rowton, but of Chester and all the villages around the city; for, if the young lady's story be true, it must be a matter of serious concern to parents that a ruffian such as she describes should be still at large. For the present, however, further questioning of the young lady is forbidden by Dr. Taylor, who informed a press representative at Chester on Saturday that in addition to the wound on the head already reported, Miss Day is also suffering from a fractured skull. The fracture, of course, indicates great violence; but Dr. Taylor is not prepared to suggest how the injury may have been inflicted, and until his patient's condition has been materially improved he refuses to allow any more questions to be put to her.

Rowton is a small village just outside Chester, and is but little known, although the Chester city guides never fail to remind the visitor that the top of the Phoenix Tower is the place from where King Charle3 saw his army defeated on Rowton Moor, in September, 1645.

A visit to the Lily Pits on Saturday - on the bank of one of which pits Miss Day says she was blindfolded and hand-tied - revealed no trace of a struggle; but the frozen nature of the ground rendered this circumstance of no importance. It is, however, strange that the police have so far failed to find "a shed, barn, or outhouse” that will tally with Miss Day's description of the scene of her imprisonment and method of her escape - i.e., by making a hole through the roof and then dropping to the ground. Colonel Hammersley, the chief constable of Cheshire, has himself visited Rowton, and his officers are still investigating the strange affair.

Manchester Evening News 6 Feb 1899, page 4

On Saturday a Chester reporter had an interview with the young lady's stepmother, and in the main Mrs. Day's account of the matter corroborated the previously published reports. “Rosa had not commenced to put on her skates," she said,” but was standing up looking at the ice, when this man came up behind her and asked what was the time. Although Rosa had not taken her watch, she instinctively put her hand to her pocket, and the wretch then suddenly tied her hands behind her and placed a handkerchief over her eyes, threatening her with the words, “Don't make a sound, or I'll shoot you.” Then he said “Now, go,” and she, being blindfold, terrified, and not knowing whether he had a pistol or not, went on before him.

She says it was a long distance," went on Mrs. Day. "but one field would seem a long way when she could not see. Well, when they had walked a long time he asked her for money. The poor girl had none, and when he found that out he cursed and swore horribly. She just thinks she can remember receiving a blow, and then she knew nothing further. When she came to herself she found she was in a dark hole. She had no idea of the day of the week, and groped about, but could find no way out. I asked her how many times she tried, and she said about twelve or thirteen, but she cannot remember. This was a last despairing effort, and if she had not found a weak place in the roof and fallen outside she would have been too weak to have done anything more, and in that case.

“Can you say anything as to how she found her way home?" Mrs. Day, replied, with emotion, that the poor girl had wandered about the fields trying to find some place she knew. “Then she saw the stream and came home, falling at every step. At first I thought that she had recovered consciousness on the Monday, then on the Tuesday, but now I think it must not have been until Thursday. I do not know how she would have lived for hunger and thirst, especially thirst, if this had not been so. Poor girl! She told me that once she took off her boot to warm her foot and that the agony of putting it on again made her afraid of doing the same to the other foot. The place where she lay must have been full of old dust, because her dress was covered with it. Her journey home took her about five hours. Her ankles were much swollen, but they do not appear to have been tied. The man, I have no doubt whatever, left her for dead in the shed, but whether he took the handkerchief and skates with him I cannot say. Possibly they will be found in the shed."

Mrs. Day, referring to the statement that Miss Rosa was covered with bruises, said this was not so. “Beyond what I have told you and the wound on her forehead she bore no bruises. The wound is a round one in the centre. The doctor tells me that her skull is fractured and that it will be many months before it is all right and heals up. He says it is a wound of several days' standing, and was not done on Thursday. Had this been so it would not have been so serious? On the other hand, had the blow, which might have been struck with the butt end of a revolver, or by some heavy instrument, been given, say, at the side of the head, it probably would have been fatal. Dr. Taylor also says that it could not have been caused in any other way, except by a very high fall, and in that case there would have been other injuries. Perhaps this will be some answer to some of the unkind theories some people are expressing."

From the infamous Illustrated Police News, February 11, 1899

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