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:
[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:
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.