“Number Ninety” & Other Ghost Stories by B. M. Croker

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An Extract from the Introduction by Richard Dalby.

Many years ago, while collecting the first editions of Bram Stoker, my heart would often leap when apparently spotting his rarely encountered name in dimly lit alcoves of second-hand bookshops, only to find that I had actually misread the similar gilt lettering of “B. M. Croker”. Having no special taste for this other writer’s Indian or Irish romances, I usually disregarded them.

Author PhotoAt that time B. M. Croker was only remembered (by a shrinking number of admirers) as a once-popular bestselling novelist. Her supernatural tales had sunk into total neglect, and none had ever been revived in anthologies (not even by Hugh Lamb or Peter Haining).

I first became aware of her ghost stories after buying the first two volumes of Chapman’s Magazine of Fiction (May to December 1895) in the original cloth richly decorated by Walter Crane. The Christmas Number contained a fine array of weird tales including “The Story of a Ghost” by Violet Hunt, “The Red Hand” by Arthur Machen, “The Case of Euphemia Raphash” by M. P. Shiel, and “Number Ninety” by Mrs. B. M. Croker.

I eventually reprinted this latter tale (Croker’s debut in any genre anthology) in the first of my six Christmas anthologies, Ghosts for Christmas (Michael O’Mara, 1988).

I then researched her bibliography which amounted to 49 titles (42 novels and 7 short story collections), of which only a small fraction were listed in her Who’s Who entry, and gradually unearthed all the very scarce collections which had remained out-of-print for nearly seventy years and contained a surprisingly good variety of ghost stories.

Like “Number Ninety”, several of the other tales were set specifically in the Christmas period — obviously designed for late Victorian and Edwardian Christmas Numbers — and most had a higher “macabre” and grisly content than was usual at that time in seasonal weird tales, especially when compared to Mrs. Oliphant, Mrs. Molesworth, and Mrs. Henry Wood.

2019-01-25 Final PosterApart from “Number Ninety”, the only other Croker ghost story to reach a wide audience in the past decade has been “To Let”, reprinted in both the Oxford Anthology Victorian Ghost Stories (1991) and Reader’s Digest’s Great Ghost Stories (1997) which stated that “her novels have not stood the test of time, but her shorter fiction is as enjoyable today as when it was first written, providing a vivid insight into the day-to-day lives of the British in India.”

B. M. Croker was one of the most popular and best-known novelists in the English-speaking world over a forty-year period, and is very well documented. Like several of her equally busy contemporaries, notably L. T. Meade, Rosa Mulholland, and Mrs. J. H. Riddell, she came from an old-established Irish family.

Bithia Mary Sheppard was born circa 1849, the only daughter of Rev. William Sheppard, Rector of Kilgefin, Co. Roscommon, who died suddenly seven years later. (The old family home at Ballanagare still survives today, though roofless.) She was educated at Rockferry, Cheshire, and at Tours in France. Her favourite recreations were riding and reading.

In 1871 she married John Stokes Croker, an officer in the 21st Royal Scots and Munster Fusiliers. His family, the Crokers of Bally Maguarde, Co. Limerick, claimed direct descent from Sir John Croker, standard bearer to King Edward IV.

Number NinetyFollowing common tradition as a Victorian soldier’s wife, Bithia accompanied her husband to India, where he served for several years in Madras and Burma. They had one child, Gertrude Eileen (always called “Eileen”). They later lived in Bengal, and at a hill-station in Wellington (where many of her early stories were written), very similar to the one described in “To Let”.

After the first ten years of marriage and motherhood, she began writing novels and short stories (like “The Ghost in the Dak Bungalow” for London Society in 1882) to occupy the long hot days while her husband was away. Always a keen sportsman, he enjoyed a great deal of big game shooting.

Buy a copy of “Number Ninety” & Other Ghost Stories.



Richard Dalby (1949-2017), born in London, was a widely-respected editor, anthologist, and scholar of supernatural fiction. He has edited collections by E. F. Benson, Bram Stoker, and Rosa Mulholland; and his numerous anthologies include Dracula’s Brood, Victorian Ghost Stories by Eminent Women Writers, and Victorian and Edwardian Ghost Stories.

“Number Ninety” & Other Ghost Stories by B. M. Croker

Strange Stories by Irish Women

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Back in 2015, Jason Zerrillo and I designed the poster “Irish Writers of the Fantastic” as a response to the more ubiquitous “Irish Writers” poster that one often finds around Dublin. Instead of the typical faces — Joyce, Yeats, Beckett, Swift, etc. — we wanted to showcase the Irish writers we enjoyed reading — those with a more fantastical bent — Le Fanu, Dunsany, Hearn, etc. Our goal was to establish a sort of lesser known canon, but a no less important one. If you want to see “Irish Writers of the Fantastic”, and read about the thought that went into it, have a look at this previous post.

With the release of Bending to Earth: Strange Stories by Irish Women, edited by Maria Giakaniki and Brian J. Showers, we thought it would be an interesting idea to repeat the exercise. Naturally we focused on the Irish women who contributed to literature of the fantastic and whose stories are included in the book.

In addition to the image above showing the full poster, the links below will give you a bit more information on the backgrounds of these writers. And if you’re still interested, do pick up a copy of Bending to Earth.

Anna Maria Hall (1800 – 1881)

Lady Jane Francesca Wilde (1821[?] – 1896)

Charlotte Riddell (1832 – 1906)

Rosa Mulholland (1841 – 1921)

L. T. Meade (1844[?] – 1914)

B. M. Croker (c.1849 – 1920)

Lady Augusta Gregory (1852 – 1932)

Katharine Tynan (1859 – 1931)

Clotilde Graves (1863 – 1932)

Ethna Carbery (1866 – 1902)

Dora Sigerson Shorter (1866 – 1918)

Beatrice Grimshaw (1870 – 1953)

Of course, as is always the case with these things, not everyone will agree with our choices. Two obvious omissions are Dorothy Macardle and Elizabeth Bowen. Given that they both appeared on our first poster, “Irish Writers of the Fantastic”, and are both served well in print, we decided not to include them again here. Instead we focused on lesser known contributors to fantastical literature. But the question stands: who would you include? And, more importantly, why would you include them?

As always, we hope this poster, “Strange Stories by Irish Women”, will lead you to discover new books and authors. If you have a further interest in Ireland’s contributions to fantastical literature, you also might want to check out our twice-yearly journal The Green Book, which features commentaries, articles, and reviews on Irish gothic, supernatural, and fantastic literature.


Bending to EarthBending to Earth: Strange Stories by Irish Women edited by Maria Giakaniki and Brian J. Showers

Order a copy of Bending to Earth.

Irish women have long produced literature of the gothic, uncanny, and supernatural. Bending to Earth draws together twelve such tales. While none of the authors herein were considered primarily writers of fantastical fiction during their lifetimes, they each wandered at some point in their careers into more speculative realms — some only briefly, others for lengthier stays.

Names such as Charlotte Riddell and Rosa Mulholland will already be familiar to aficionados of the eerie, while Katharine Tynan and Clotilde Graves are sure to gain new admirers. From a ghost story in the Swiss Alps to a premonition of death in the West of Ireland to strange rites in a South Pacific jungle, Bending to Earth showcases a diverse range of imaginative writing which spans the better part of a century.

Strange Stories by Irish Women