Jef the Talking Mongoose

Lydekker_-_Egyptian_Mongoose

The following article appeared in the June 1952 edition of FATE. 

ONE of the strangest phenomena of physico-psychical nature that I have investigated in the past 35 years was on the Isle of Man in the Irish Sea. This island is some 30 miles long by about 12 miles wide and lies 76 miles out, by steamship, from the port of Liverpool, Eng. This romantic and rather eerie island is about a day-and-a-half by rail and steamship from London and only a few hours by air. Its wild glens and rugged coves, washed by the often tempestuous Irish Sea, have been the home of Norse and Viking pirates in the remote past.

The fishermen and farmers, who speak a language called Manx, tell you of mermen and mermaids seen sporting in their wild coves and swear they speak the truth! There are also tales of giant men who lived on the island both before and after the Great Flood that sank Atlantis. And there are weird traditions of great tunnels, stretching far underground beneath the island.

A pair of strange brass shoes of monstrous size was dug up 200 years ago from under the ancient churchyard of Kirkcarbra and a human skull of amazing size was also exhumed by gravediggers. At another old churchyard at Kirkbradden, leg-bones of giant men—4 feet long from ankle to knee—have been found.

Some Manxmen still believe that Peel Castle is haunted by the fearsome spectre of a great coal black dog — called the “Moddhy Dhu” — that has fiery carbuncle eyes.

Three miles from this century-old Peel Castle, on the west coast of the island, reached by a rugged path, which ascends steep cliffs, is a lonely farmhouse on a high down, about 740 feet above a cove of the wild Irish Sea. In summer time, when I was there, the fishermen told me that not long before they had seen an undine, or female water sprite, in that cove, called Glen Maye. It is, thus, exactly the setting for a strange adventure. Beautiful fuchsias grow wild and burgeon on the sod-banks. As I climbed the path, I was struck by the number of small stone and slate farmhouses abandoned by men unable to wrest a living from the unfertile and scanty soil of these lonely downs and uplands.

Strange Happenings in Doarish Cashen

I was bound for Doarlish Cashen, or the Gap of Cashen, a fairy-sounding name. A seemingly fantastic story had been told in the London and North of England newspapers concerning this place. It was said that a “talking mongoose” had suddenly and unaccountably appeared in the farmhouse.

The nearest auto road lay some four miles away in the valley and I could not see even a wagon-road anywhere in sight on the wild downs. I caught sight of a grey stone house, very like the farmhouses in the wild hills of Wales. Sombre and stern, its walls were of slate-slabs with narrow oblong windows not made to open for gales and lashing rains blow and sting most of the year. Doarlish Cashen has only two stories and, as you approach, seems to be built on great slabs of concrete that show signs of cracking. A porch stands in front built to keep out the driving rains from the sea which otherwise would meet the occupants full-face when they come out the door.

The farmer I had gone to see was James T. Irving. Before the first World War he had been European agent for a firm of Canadian piano-makers. The war killed his trade and, as his wife is a native of the Isle of Man, he settled there.

James Irving was 64 years old when I met him and he had travelled widely in Turkey, Germany and Russia. He could speak some German and Russian and knew a little Urdu—the vernacular dialect of India.

His ducks, geese and hens were in yards and pens behind the house. Inside Mr. Irving had the rooms lined with match boarding to keep out drafts. The space thus made was ideal for a small animal. A dark stairway leads up to two bedrooms. I had to grope because the ceilings had low beams and the ground floor room was dark. The only illumination was a smallish petroleum lamp. But there was an air of neatness about the place and signs of refinement very unusual in either a Welsh or Manx farmhouse. On the walls of the lower rooms were water colors and the living rooms were nicely furnished. Upstairs, in the Irvings’ bedroom Indian rugs lay on the floor. He struck me as an intelligent, articulate man, well able to keep the diaries and records on which this story is based.

A Full-Grown Rat or a Hedgehog

Here is his story:

“In the fall of 1931, one night we heard a noise that seemed to come from behind the matchboard partition in the parlor. It lasted some time, then ceased. Not long after, my daughter Voirrey and I were in the bedroom of the house when we both caught sight of an animal. I should say it was as large as a nearly full-grown rat; but the flat snout suggested a hedgehog. My daughter saw it before I did and she said it had a yellow face and flat snout.”

Up to this time, as Mr. Irving’s documents show, he did not suspect that there was anything supernormal or mystical about the animal. An idea struck him. He began to mimic the calls and cries of farm animals and poultry. Then he found that if he merely named the animal or bird the strange animal responded with an appropriate call. It now seemed that this weird animal was unusually intelligent!

Rather unpleasant things followed:

“This eerie weasel, as I thought he might be, began to keep us awake at night by blowing, spitting and growling behind the matchboard partition of the lower rooms. My daughter Voirrey tried nursery rhymes on it and it repeated them! It could now talk. Its voice was at least two octaves higher than any human voice, clear and distinct. It was not at all under our control. Far from it, indeed! It had begun to announce its presence but I never could tell whether it was in the house or outside. It called Me ‘Jim,’ and my wife, ‘Maggie.’ If we even whispered it heard at what seemed 20 feet away and repeated what we had said!”

This eerie animal began to act like a poltergeist, and made such a nuisance of itself that Irving thought that the family would be forced to quit the farmhouse. He spread some rat poison behind the partition and he says:

“One night after we had gone to bed — my wife was then miles away from home — we were wakened by a most horrid screaming. It lasted 20 minutes. I said to Voirrey, who was in the next room, ‘I put some rat poison down and I reckon that infernal animal has taken some.’ I thought it had died but a few nights later, it resumed the nocturnal disturbances. By this time it could carry on a long conversation with us.”

One night soon it set up a diabolical howling and sighing and moaning, as if to “pay out” Irving for the attempted poisoning! It kept the racket up for half an hour and more without stop. It sounded as if some human being was at the point of agonizing death.

The Farm with the Eerie Talking Weasel

No doubt Irving would have packed up and quit the farm, so little sleep could the family get, but there might have been serious impediments against selling a farm that was not merely remote but now seemed to have become “haunted”! By now the news had spread, not only all over the Isle of Man but had been wired and cabled to newspapers in Liverpool, Manchester, Sheffield, Leeds and London. The London Daily Sketch — a picture tabloid — came out with a story about “A Talking Weasel Farm,” with a photo. The Manchester Daily Dispatch sent a man down to the farm. He was mystified and wrote:

“January 10, 1932: … Here at Doarlish Cashen, the farm of the ‘Talking Weasel,’ this mysterious beast has spoken to me, today! My investigation of the most remarkable animal story ever given publicity — a story which is finding credence all over the Isle of Man — leaves me in a state of considerable perplexity. Have I heard a weasel speak? I do not know, but I do know that I heard, today, a voice I never imagined could issue from a human throat. The people here at the farm who claim it is the voice of a strange animal seem sane, honest and responsible folk not likely to indulge in difficult long-drawn-out practical jokes to make the theme the talk of the world and I find that others, too, have had my strange experience.”

The reporter was quite correct. The Irving family are normal folk.

“No,” said Irving to the reporter, “there are no spooks here! This farm is not haunted. All that has happened is that a strange animal has taken up its abode here.”

Killing Rabbits and Eavesdropping on Neighbors

However, before long Irving had reason to suppose that this “talking weasel” might be something other than a weasel. It had some poltergeistic features, but it did what no poltergeist has been known to do, it killed rabbits for the family table, wandered the Isle of Man, hid in motor garages, eavesdropped on the operatives there, repeated their talk including technical terms, and returned to Doarlish Cashen farmhouse to relate what it had seen and heard! It even visited the airfields on the island, watched planes landing and taking off, listened to the talk of pilots, and according to Irving even developed such an interest in automobiles as to distinguish their makes!

One can believe or not, what the same reporter said:

“The weasel even gave me a tip for a winner in the Grand National horse race!”

Next day the reporter was alone in a room in the farmhouse with Voirrey, Irving’s young daughter, then aged 13. He heard a piercing and uncanny voice talking with Mrs. Irving in the room adjoining. Meantime the girl sat on a chair a few feet from the reporter. Her lips did not move but she was sucking a piece of string. The reporter stated:

“I edged into the next room where the weasel was talking and the voice ceased. Voirrey remained motionless, taking no notice of us.”

Later on other things happened which strongly suggest that the phenomena of the “mongoose” was not connected, as many poltergeist phenomena are, with the paranormal, or parapsychological force of which some young boys and girls approaching puberty seem to be the medium. It continued long after Voirrey had passed this stage of her growth.

Irving now heard that another farmer named Irvine (sic) whose land lay near Doarlish Cashen had in 1914 turned loose in a field mongooses he bought for the purpose of killing rabbits which were a pest. I am told by an Isle of Man resident that a farmer on the island actually shot a mongoose there, in 1947. There is no evidence that it talked!

Jef the Talking Mongoose

Irving henceforth called the mongoose “Jef.” He says that, when told, the animal said:

“Yes, I like that name. I was born near Delhi, India, on June 7, 1852. I have been shot at by Indians. I am a marsh mongoose.”

This fantastic statement would mean that when the weird animal came to the Isle of Man and appeared on Irving’s farm he was already 79 years old! According to Mr. Irving’s documents, three years later on January 20, 1935, “Jef” sang a song in a vernacular tongue of India, using the words lookee and jemara. He also mimicked Hindus with whom, he says, he lived:

“I was,” the mongoose said, “brought to England from Egypt by a man named Holland. When I was in India I lived with a tall man who wore a green turban on his head. Then I lived with a deformed man, a hunchback. I knocked over a bowl on a table, and one man said to the other: ‘Comee, gommadah, mongus’.”

One day men repairing a road some miles up in a valley got a shock. They looked up and saw a piece of bread one of the men had thrown away apparently being carried by something invisible. “It’s that bloody mongoose!” shouted a scared man.

A worker in a garage miles away was hurt when something he could not see hurled an iron bolt at his head. “Jef” told Irving that he had been to that garage.

An Investigation Ensues

I now summarize other events of 1932:

A woman wrote from the Isle of Man inviting the late Harry Price — the ghost hunter, some of whose adventures have already appeared in FATE — to come from London and investigate the “talking mongoose.” Price sent a Captain Macdonald, a business man, racing autoist, and member of Price’s National Laboratory of Psychical Research, to investigate. Macdonald made three separate visits to Doarlish Cashen, and part of his report, found in the archives of the University of London’s Council for Psychical and Paranormal Phenomena Research, is as follows:

“On my first day, the Irvings showed me cracks in the farmhouse walls where they said the mongoose spied on visitors. I was there till midnight, but the mongoose was silent. As I was leaving to go to my hotel and had my hand on the door, a voice screamed: ‘Who is that b—-y man?’ Irving gripped my arm. ‘That’s the animal!’ he said. I went back next day and Irving told me that ‘Jef’ said I must give Voirrey a camera, or he would not speak. ‘I’ve been looking at that man,’ the mongoose said, ‘and I don’t like him. He does not believe in me. He is a doubter!’…At 5:30 p.m., something threw a large needle at the tea pot on the table. ‘He often throws things at us,’ said Irving to me…. Later a noise was heard in the scullery but no one was there, but we found a little stream of water running from a hole in the wall. ‘It’s the mongoose, piddling (micturating),’ said Irving.

“I heard a shrill voice upstairs talking to Mrs. Irving. I went to the foot of the stairs and shouted up: ‘I believe in you, Jef. So come down and show yourself.’ The mongoose screams: ‘No, I don’t like you and I won’t stay!’ I tried to creep up on Jef but fell on a broken stair with a loud clatter. A voice shrieked: ‘He’s coming, the dirty old sleech!’ (dialect for sly man). The voice was heard no more that night.”

Macdonald said he did not know what to think.

Voirrey reported trying to photograph the mongoose, who sits on a wall in the farm-yard; but he jumped down before she could click the shutter. He was not seen again for some time.

Irving found that, one night, the mongoose left footprints in the dust of one room. Irving said these prints showed that the mongoose had much larger forefeet than hindfeet. “The forefeet look like human hands with very long fingers!” he said.

Sharp Teeth That “Drew Blood”

Mrs. Irving put her hand through a crack and stroked the mongoose at one time and he bit her with sharp teeth that drew blood. “He gripped my hand like a vise.” She says, “He takes chocolates, bananas, biscuits, pie and sausage, while sitting on the rafter. He chases the rats from the outbuildings. He sings songs of Turkish Jews in Spanish, plays with a ball he is given, and stole a ball of wool from a distant house and gave it to me. He spits and swears at people he does not like and even calls out the names of papers or books people are reading yards away!”

Irving reported an extraordinary event that seemed to show that the mongoose had learnt to read:

“I was reading a Liverpool newspaper, when the animal called out in alarm: ‘I see something!’ What? I asked. ‘A name that makes me quake, makes me shake!’ I can find nothing alarming in the paper. Jef bawls: ‘Have a dekko again! Look in the deaths. I look and see the obituary of a man named Jeffreys just died, and, in brackets after it, ‘Jef’! I had not noticed it before.

“It is found that Jef can tell to a minute when I get back home from Peel,” Mr. Irving says, “and before I arrive, he says, when I am still a mile away: ‘Jim’s coming.’”

The mongoose killed 54 rabbits in one year. He did not bite the rabbits but apparently strangled them.

“Jef” spent a night in, at the farm, and talked for three hours without a stop. The Irvings could get no sleep. He seemed to have been studying medical treatises for he reeled off names of 60 diseases. Said Irving:

“He laughed like a devil when I was unwell, and called out: ‘Hey Jim, ain’t I got horse’s pains in my tail?’

“When he is hungry he thumps the walls and this after a long absence from the farm. I ignore him. He calls: ‘Hey, you devil, you heard me! I want chukko.’ He is given biscuits and uncooked bacon. For two nights he is missing. When he returns to the farmhouse he tells me he’s been at a garden party, 10 miles off.

“On the night of January 28, 1934, I am wakened from sleep by a hoarse whisper from the roof-beam.

‘Hey, Jim, I want chukko!’ My wife throws up two biscuits onto the place where he squats on the rafter. If they happen to be tea and unsweetened biscuits, he angrily refuses them, says: ‘You better keep ’em if you ain’t got better!’ This night I hear his bony fingers scraping round. Seems he can’t find the biscuits. My wife throws up a box of matches. The mongoose is heard to take a match from the box and strike it. He finds the biscuit, blows out the lighted match, and throws the box back into the bedroom.

“Next, he takes paper from one drawer and pencil from another and outlines his paw-hand. On another night, he roams the house and, after we’ve got to sleep, wakes us up with loud laughter and flashes beams from an electric torch on to our eyes, from his stance on the rafter.”

The mongoose once played the Irvings a very dirty trick. They had pestered him to give some evidence of himself and on a night in May, 1935, he woke them up calling out: “Go’n look in the bowl on the shelf downstairs, and you’ll find something precious.” They went and found a piece of fur. The mongoose said: “I pulled it from my eyebrow and, my God, it did hurt!” Later, Harry Price had it microphotographed by experts at the London Zoo Park who stated it was hair from a dog, not a mongoose. However, it did not match in color the hair of the sheepdog on Irving’s farm! And it had been “clipped” rather than combed or pulled.

On July 30, 1935, Harry Price and R. S. Lambert — the latter was then editor of the British Broadcasting Corporation’s journal, the “Listener” — visited the farm to take photos and hear and see the mongoose. They were at the farm till midnight but the mongoose was deaf to all invitations to show himself or make himself heard. Later Price and Lambert wrote a book about their adventures, and titled it: The Haunting of Cashen’s Gap.

Irving wondered if the mongoose had met with an accident for he had not been heard about the farm for five weeks. But the weird animal turned up at midnight of the very day that Price and Lambert left by steamer for Liverpool. Said Irving:

Loud Clapping and Roars of Diabolical laughter

“I and my wife were in bed fast asleep when a loud clapping of hands came from the rafter and something was thrown onto the bed. There were roars of diabolical laughter. I called out: ‘Where have you been?’ The mongoose said: ‘I’m back. Been all over this blessed island!’ Irving: ‘Were you here, you rascal, when Mr. Price and Mr. Lambert were here?’ Mongoose: ‘Yes.’ Irving: ‘Then why did you not speak? Remember: you yourself invited these gentlemen to come.’ The mongoose: ‘There was a doubter present.’ The animal meant Lambert. To prove it, the mongoose described Price’s appearance: ‘He looks like a minister and has a gold ring on the little finger of his left hand. I peered at him through a crack in the boards. Yes, and it was me who upset the pan of Maggie’s water in the kitchen, Jim!’ The mongoose then made it plain that he was very particular about the quality of the biscuits my wife gave him for chukko. He demanded bananas and knew all about some apricots my wife had hidden in a drawer.”

The mongoose was now invited to stamp impressions of his feet in some plasticine sent by Harry Price. He demanded that it be softened first. “It is too damned hard!” he said. The plasticine, along with some dough, was placed on the rafter where the mongoose sat at night. (One gathers from Irving’s records that the mongoose sits there while Voirrey is sleeping in the room below from which the rafter—actually the boxed-in top of the staircase — is visible. He is seldom seen, yet very much heard!):

“While we were asleep,” (Irving’s dossier), “the mongoose stamped his feet in the stuff and gave it a twist. He said next night, ‘It was as hard as hell but I did it. Go’n look!’”

Four casts were left by the mongoose. One shows a sort of thumb and three pudgy fingers suggestive of a lap dog. No. 2 shows what might, or might not, be prints of four “paw-hands,” extended. Nos. 3 and 4 show what are said to be the mongoose’s hind foot and teeth marks. After studying these prints one is forced to say that they look more like a jawbone of a prehistoric ape-man, a bizarre impression of a flabby mollusc with four truncated tentacles and flippers dragged over a sandy beach still wet with the outgoing tide. No wonder that, when these casts were shown to Mr. R. I. Pocock of the British Natural History Museum’s Zoological Department, he bluntly declared:

“One print might have been made by a dog; but the other is of no mammal known to me unless it is that of an American raccoon. There is no mammal with such disparity between the size of the fore and hind feet as these prints show, nor do I think tooth marks are shown in the cast. Finally, I must add that I do not think these photographs represent foot tracks at all. Most certainly none of them were made by a mongoose.”

Had this talking mongoose played another of his tricks, like that of the fur he said was torn out of his own eye-brow, but which was really dog’s hair?

Irving now told the mongoose: “We are having a dictaphone to record your voice.”

The mongoose said: “Who’s we? Is it that spook man, Harry Price? Why I won’t speak into it. I’ll go and smash his windows; I’ll drop a brick on him as he lies in bed. Me, at the age of 83?”

The mongoose seemed to have heard of dictaphones. Irving was told by him that he had listened in to a radio broadcast while wandering the island.

“That Ain’t Me, It’s More Like a Llama”

One photograph taken dimly shows a grey form on a sod-bank near the farm. It might, or might not, be the mongoose. An artist drew the mongoose from the Irving family’s description. It was shown to the mongoose who replied: “That ain’t me, it’s more like a llama.” The Irvings say he never showed himself to them for more than three seconds at a time, when they have seen his 6-inch long body with bushy tail, conical head, and front paw with three fingers and thumb—this last totally unlike the paw of a mongoose.

What, or who, then, was this talking animal?

Lambert appears to have said he did not believe in “Jef” at all.

Irving says: “The mongoose said to my wife, ‘I know what I am, but I shan’t tell you. I might let you see me, but not to get to know me. I’m a freak. I’ve hands and feet. If you saw me, you’d be petrified, mummified. At another time, he said: ‘I’m a ghost in form of a weasel.’ Later, he denied he was a spook.”

Mr. Lambert suggested he may have been just a voice and nothing more. But something more than a mere voice would be required to throw about a heavy chair as this animal, with a six-inch long body and six-inch tail, did at one time. The evidence of witnesses suggests that the animal existed yet was as elusive as a bodiless spook. He could disappear when chased behind a stone wall beyond which no cover whatever existed. He could race at “terrific speed” and then vanish.

Did this “talking mongoose” hail from some invisible world that may be all about us, imperceptible to our senses, since its wavelengths are different from ours?

A Witch’s Familiar

In some ways he reminds us of what was said of the “familiars”—alleged evil spirits under a witch’s control—in the 16th and 17th century witch trials. Some of these familiars, in the shapes of ferrets or pole cats, lived in crannies of cottages and farms. In the case of Joan Cason, who lived at Faversham, Kent, in 1596, folk said at her trial that she lived with a ferret with reddish eyes, which cried out words like “Go to, Go to,” from a crack in a wall. Cason was in a fair way to be hoisted on the gallows on charge of dealing with the devil and had the Irvings lived in her day they would have run grave risks of torture and hanging. It was then said that familiars lived for 60 years and more. However, in our presumably rational and scientific age, talk of familiars sounds like mediaeval nonsense. The fact is that when familiars ceased to be given credence, they ceased to exist. Is that why the “talking mongoose” was so angry when “doubters” called at Doarlish Cashen?

In 1947 a farmer on the Isle of Man shot a mongoose but whether it was “Jef” or a descendant of one of the mongooses turned loose in a field in the Isle of Man in 1914 by Irvine no one can say.

Last August 14 I had a letter from the news editor and director of a leading Isle of Man newspaper. He wrote:

“We fear that ‘Jef,’ the famous Dalby spook, has passed into legend. Strange that you remember my visit to Doarlish Cashen in 1935. It certainly was a remarkable experience. The Irvings sold the farm to a man named Graham just around the end of the last war, and he went in for poultry. Graham claimed to have killed an unusually large type of weasel and thought that this might have been the animal that inspired ‘Jef.’ This animal had been raiding his chicken run and he set snares for it. He caught the animal but it was so ferocious and dangerous that he had to kill it, and he produced the pelt for our reporter’s inspection. Had he been able to cage the animal he might have been front page news. Who knows?”

I do not believe that “Jef” was a mongoose or a spook. Nor do I see any proof that the animal shot by Graham was identical with “Jef” the talking “Mongoose.” The mystery still remains.

Note by author: Readers, skeptical or not, who wish for further information on this strange affair should note that the University of London’s Council for Psychical Research has an extensive dossier on the investigations made at Doarlish Cashen. There is also a very interesting book written by Harry Price and R. S. Lambert, titled “ The Haunting of Cashen’s Gap: A Modern ‘Miracle’ Investigated,” published by Methuen and Co., London, England, 36 Essex Street, W.C. 2. This book may be out of print but secondhand copies should be available. — H. T. W.

Image credit: Wikimedia Commons. This work is in the public domain in the United States because it was published (or registered with the U.S. Copyright Office) before January 1, 1923.