Real ghost stories from the man who ‘foretold’ his own death

william thomas stead

Recently, I have been fascinated by the life and works of William Thomas Stead, the man who ‘foretold’ his own death.

William Thomas Stead was a writer who campaigned for social and political change. He also pursued an interest in the uncanny, in particular spiritual phenomena and the supernatural. In an eerie instance of foreshadowing, Stead wrote a fictional story about a ship run by a Captain Smith facing dangerous icebergs in the early 1890s. Stead died aboard the Titanic about 20 years later.

His collections of ‘real’ ghost stories, published in the late 19th century, were publishing sensations and contain a fascinating wealth of anecdotal evidence for the existence of ghosts, astral projection and the machinations of poltergeists and doppelgangers.

I present here an extract from his 1891 work, An Unknown Double Identified:

An Unknown Double Identified

[This was] forwarded to me by a correspondent in North Britain, who received the statement from a Colonel now serving in India on the Bengal Staff, whose name is communicated on the understanding that it is not to be made public:—

“In the year 1860 I was stationed at Banda, in Bundelcund, India.
There was a good deal of sickness there at the time, and I was deputed along with a medical officer to proceed to the nearest railway station at that time Allahabad, in charge of a sick officer. I will call myself Brown, the medical officer Jones, and the sick officer Robertson. We had to travel very slowly, Robertson being carried by coolies, and on this account we had to halt at a rest-house, or pitch our camp every evening. One evening, when three marches out of Banda, I had just come into Robertson’s room about midnight to relieve Jones, for Robertson was so ill that we took it by turns to watch him, when Jones took me aside and whispered that he was afraid our friend was dying, that he did not expect him to live through the night, and though I urged him to go and lie down, and that I would call him on any change taking place, he would not leave. We both sat down and watched. We had been there about an hour when the sick man moved and called out. We both went to his bedside, and even my inexperienced eyes saw that the end was near. We were both standing on the same side of the bed, furthest away from the door.

“Whilst we were standing there the door opened, and an elderly lady entered, went straight up to the bed, bent over it, wrung her hands and wept bitterly. After a few minutes she left; we both saw her face. We were so astonished that neither of us thought of speaking to her, but as soon as she passed out of the door I recovered myself and, as quickly as possible, followed her, but could not find a trace of her. Robertson died that night. We were then about thirty miles from the nearest cantonment, and except the rest-house in which we were, and of which we were the only occupants, there was not a house near us. Next morning we started back to Banda, taking the corpse with us for burial.

“Three months after this Jones went to England on leave, and took with him the sword, watch, and a few other things which had belonged to the deceased to deliver to his family. On arrival at Robertson’s home, he was shown into the drawing-room. After waiting a few minutes, a lady entered—the same who had appeared to both of us in the jungle in India; it was Robertson’s mother. She told Jones that she had had a vision that her son was dangerously ill, and had written the date, etc., down, and on comparing notes they found that the date, time, etc., agreed in every respect.
“People to whom I have told the story laugh at me, and tell me that I must have been asleep and dreamed it, but I know I was not, for I remember perfectly well standing by the bedside when the lady appeared.”

You can read more about ‘the man who forgot to look into his own future’ here:

http://venturegalleries.com/blog/he-forgot-to-look-into-his-own-future/

The subject of Stead’s demise on board the Titanic has also recently been the subject of a rather unconventional classical music concert, The memory of W. T. Stead.

http://www.royalacademy.org.uk/ra-magazine/blog/the-memory-of-w-t-stead,377,BAR.html

25 thoughts on “Real ghost stories from the man who ‘foretold’ his own death

    • Hi WC,

      I am delighted to announce the launch of my first collection of ghost stories:

      GHOSTS AND OTHER SUPERNATURAL GUESTS – 12 Tales of haunting

      P. J. Hodge spins rich, spine-chilling and beautifully written tales that tell of haunted ancestral homes, supernaturally-possessed objects and revengeful spectres that will not rest until their work is done.

      Mesmerising, understated, and convincingly Victorian in tone, this is a frighteningly good collection of stories. Purchase at your own risk!

      Please share and pass this on to fellow ghost story fans. Also, if you read the book and have the time, would you be so kind as to write a review for the Amazon book page and Goodreads. Thank you!

      Available for Kindle ebook here
      US – http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00FY82PXI
      UK – http://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B00FY82PXI
      Canada – http://www.amazon.ca/dp/B00FY82PXI
      Germany – http://www.amazon.de/dp/B00FY82PXI
      India – http://www.amazon.in/dp/B00FY82PXI

      and all other Amazon international sites.

      If you enjoy period ghost tales of that bygone England of country house gatherings, servants and hansom cabs, with smog-filled days and sinister churchyard nights, you’ll love this varied and entertaining collection of chillers.

      An Amazon review:

      ‘I rarely get time to read so I always look for books containing short stories so I can finish them in a single reading session. Once I started reading it however I couldn’t put it down! It is superbly written and you immediately get drawn into it. One of the best short story book I have read to date. Looking forward to the next book already.’ Richie

      Kind regards, Paul

      • Hi Beth,

        I am delighted to announce the launch of my first collection of ghost stories:

        GHOSTS AND OTHER SUPERNATURAL GUESTS – 12 Tales of haunting

        P. J. Hodge spins rich, spine-chilling and beautifully written tales that tell of haunted ancestral homes, supernaturally-possessed objects and revengeful spectres that will not rest until their work is done.

        Mesmerising, understated, and convincingly Victorian in tone, this is a frighteningly good collection of stories. Purchase at your own risk!

        Please share and pass this on to fellow ghost story fans. Also, if you read the book and have the time, would you be so kind as to write a review for the Amazon book page and Goodreads. Thank you!

        Available for Kindle ebook here
        US – http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00FY82PXI
        UK – http://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B00FY82PXI
        Canada – http://www.amazon.ca/dp/B00FY82PXI
        Germany – http://www.amazon.de/dp/B00FY82PXI
        India – http://www.amazon.in/dp/B00FY82PXI

        and all other Amazon international sites.

        If you enjoy period ghost tales of that bygone England of country house gatherings, servants and hansom cabs, with smog-filled days and sinister churchyard nights, you’ll love this varied and entertaining collection of chillers.

        An Amazon review:

        ‘I rarely get time to read so I always look for books containing short stories so I can finish them in a single reading session. Once I started reading it however I couldn’t put it down! It is superbly written and you immediately get drawn into it. One of the best short story book I have read to date. Looking forward to the next book already.’ Richie

        Kind regards, Paul

  1. WT Stead is a great character – my best friends father was for years the ‘official biographer’ of WT Stead, endorsed by the Stead family. Unfortunately he died before he could finish is biography.

    As a journalist in the late 19th/early 20th Century Stead was well placed to be in the centre of everything interesting going on. He was always viewed as a bit of a maverick, and his spiritual beliefs including his Julia’s Bureau work (messages transcribed from the dead Julia) did make some people think of him as a bit of a crackpot. He was fascinating man though!

    • Lenora, thank you so much for your contribution; and what an impressive revelation too! I am always impressed by Stead’s choice of words; its capacity to describe something so audacious, so bizarre – pronouncements of such credulity – that it somehow effects the trumping of rationality. For instance, as you mentioned, Julia’s Bureau:

      ‘The problem is a serious one. The proposal to construct a bridge across the abyss will stagger most people by its audacity. Some will regard it as profane. But all those who have taken any intelligent interest in the progress of psychical research will admit that the time is at hand when such an enterprise ought to be taken in hand by serious investigators, and resolutely prosecuted to its final conclusion.’

      • Hello again Lenora. I’ve just found an article from 1893 that details a ‘spirit-writing’ machine that Stead was working on. Fascinating stuff! It sounds quite different from the psychographs or planchettes popular at the time….

        A GHOST MACHINE.

        Mr. Stead is having a spirit-writing machine invented for him. The invention works upon the spirit-rapping and table-turning principle, being a magnetised dial-plate which communicates by wires with a new form of type-writer. The ‘medium’ places his hand upon the dial, and the ‘spirit’ influences him to spell out a message on the type-writer. We rather imagine any one will be able to spell out messages quite as well as the medium. Often having heard about spirits rapping, and spirits playing upon pianos, we would like to know what prevents the spirits rapping or playing direct upon the type-writer, and so delivering a printed message from between the rollers. The Catholic Church holds that the so-call ‘ Spiritualism’ is either deviltry or fraud, and it is a pity to see men like Mr. Stead allowing themselves to be deceived. From the description in the papers, the new machine does nut seem to be nearly so mysterious as the once very celebrated ‘ planchette.’ The Planchette is a heart-shaped piece of hard wood, supported at the base upon two delicately set wheels, while a sharp pointed pencil is passed through the apex.

        On placing it over a piece of smooth paper and pressing the hand gently down upon it, it commences to travel with a jerky motion
        which causes the pencil to mark characters looking like any very bad writing, and capable of being interpreted accordingly. This
        motion was supposed by enthusiasts to be due to ‘spirits’ of the thinner kind, but it is really caused by the natural tremulousness of the many muscles in the fingers and hand, together with the blood-thrust of the pulsating vessel whose power can be easily felt by tying a string tightly around the finger.

  2. Wow, I didn’t know about that – its very Stead though and very Victorian building a machine to communicate with the other side. Science and spiritualism!

    • Hi Biswaksen,

      I am delighted to announce the launch of my first collection of ghost stories:

      GHOSTS AND OTHER SUPERNATURAL GUESTS – 12 Tales of haunting

      P. J. Hodge spins rich, spine-chilling and beautifully written tales that tell of haunted ancestral homes, supernaturally-possessed objects and revengeful spectres that will not rest until their work is done.

      Mesmerising, understated, and convincingly Victorian in tone, this is a frighteningly good collection of stories. Purchase at your own risk!

      Please share and pass this on to fellow ghost story fans. Also, if you read the book and have the time, would you be so kind as to write a review for the Amazon book page and Goodreads. Thank you!

      Available for Kindle ebook here
      US – http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00FY82PXI
      UK – http://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B00FY82PXI
      Canada – http://www.amazon.ca/dp/B00FY82PXI
      Germany – http://www.amazon.de/dp/B00FY82PXI
      India – http://www.amazon.in/dp/B00FY82PXI

      and all other Amazon international sites.

      If you enjoy period ghost tales of that bygone England of country house gatherings, servants and hansom cabs, with smog-filled days and sinister churchyard nights, you’ll love this varied and entertaining collection of chillers.

      An Amazon review:

      ‘I rarely get time to read so I always look for books containing short stories so I can finish them in a single reading session. Once I started reading it however I couldn’t put it down! It is superbly written and you immediately get drawn into it. One of the best short story book I have read to date. Looking forward to the next book already.’ Richie

      Kind regards, Paul

  3. Pingback: Real ghost stories from the man who ‘foretold’ his own death | West Coast Review

  4. This sounds like one fascinating man, and in a way predicted his own death. He sounds like quite a person – I will have to research him to find out more. Thanks for sharing.

  5. Pingback: The History of Ghost Hunting – a timeline of the 1800s | Cold Spot Paranormal Research: Ghosts Haunted

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