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Sker House || The Maids of Sker - Bertha Bampfylde
Bertha Bampfylde (RD Blackmore)
Richard Doddridge Blackmore
Background - The Author
The Victorian novelist R.D.Blackmore (1825-1900) achieved fame with his famous classic "Lorna Doone", and also wrote another novel entitled "The Maid of Sker", published in 1872. He considered The Maid of Sker to be the better work, but that was neither the view of his contemporaries nor posterity.
R.D.Blackmore was the son of the Rev John Blackmore and Anne Bassett knight who hailed from the Nottage Court family of that name. She died almost immediately after giving birth to the boy, and in consequence he was brought up by her family at Nottage, and was familiar with the district, its history and its folklore. It is strange therefore that any similarity between his novel and the traditional story of The Maid of Sker is purely co-incidental...
The Maid of Sker - R D Blackmore
"The Maid" plays only a minor role in the story which revolves around the exploits of David Llewelyn, a fisherman and former seaman from Newton Nottage. It is he who tells the story, and at the outset informs the reader that he is a grandfather recently widowed after 28 years of marriage in the year 1782. Later he goes on to describe his exploits during 18 years service when he rejoined the Royal Navy.
It is a novel full of such improbabilities and amazing coincidences which for the modern reader is, very hard going. Fortunately here we are only concerned with the story of The Maid herself.
She makes her entrance when Llewelyn is fishing one night off the rocks at Sker point when a small white boat drifts in from the sea. The only occupant is "a wee maiden, all in white, neither cloak nor shawl, nor any other soft appliance to comfort and protect her".
The child can only tell him that her name is 'Bardie' and at a loss to know what to do with her, he takes her to nearby Sker House. This was the home of 'Black Evan' Thomas and his family and Llewelyn eventually leaves the child in their care.
Shipwreck on Scarweather Sands
The old sailor appropriates the boat for himself and returns in it to Newton. The following day he returns to Sker to see the child, but a terrible sandstorm develops which buries and smothers five of Black Evan's sons. It also proved the doom of a great merchant ship which, having lost her rudder after striking the Scarweather bank, ended up being smashed to pieces on Sker point with the loss of all hands.
Amongst the bodies washed ashore is a young boy wearing a pinafore with an embroidered crest who, from his appearance is so like Bardie that Llewelyn assumes that the two must be related in some way - probably brother and sister. Shortly afterwards he is visited at his home by Sir Philip Bampfylde of Narton Court, Devon who is searching for his two grandchildren who have mysteriously disappeared. He is shown the pinafore but does not recognise the crest, and decides against going to Sker to see 'Bardie' because the roads were so bad.
Colonel Lougher of Candleston Court
Not long after Davy Llewelyn leaves Newton and after working as a ferryman at Barnstaple rejoins the Royal Navy. By the time he returns home Bardie is aged twelve, and attracting the attentions of Lieutenant Bluett, son of the sister of Colonel Lougher of Candleston Court.
Davy returns to sea with the navy, and his service eventually terminates with the loss of an arm in battle. Arriving back home as a hero, he is pleased to discover that the childhood friendship between Bardie and Bluett is developing into romance.
Bluett's family, however, are against the liaison as she is apparently base born, and so our hero sets off again to follow up some clues to her origin which had come his way whilst he was working at Barnstaple. Here he finally unravels the mystery of Bardie's origins.
These hinged upon a certain Parson Chownes who was the leader of a sect known as "the naked people". He is dying when Llewelyn arrives, but confesses that he had abducted the Bampfyld children, taking the boy into his group and casting the girl adrift in a boat.
By a strange coincidence (which one tends to get used to in this novel!) the boy had been press-ganged into the navy by Davy himself, and under the name Harry Savage had served with our hero.
In the best traditions of Victorian melodrama all ends well. The children are re-united with their grandfather, and Bardie, who is in fact Miss Bertha Bampfylde, gets to marry her true love.
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