Rev Joseph Wilkins Experience
The following account of a strange experience by a young Joseph Wilkins in 1754 is taken from ‘The Haunted Homes and Family Traditions of Great Britain’ (1897) by John Ingram though the case has also been mentioned in several books including ‘Phantasms of the Living’ edited by Edmund Gurney, Frederic William Henry Myers and Frank Podmore.
The famous Dr. Abercrombie, in his Inquiries concerning the Intellectual Powers, adduces, as an undoubted fact, one of the most singular and inexplicable stories on record. The marvel of this story does not merely consist in the wonderful coincidence of the two concurring and synchronous dreams, but also in the persistent way with which the mother held that she had not dreamed her son appeared to her, but that he had really, if not in body then in spirit, been to her bedside and spoken to her. The account of this extraordinary affair was written by one of the persons concerned; that is to say, the Rev. Joseph Wilkins, who at the time it occurred, in 1754, he being then twenty-three years of age, was usher in a school* at St. Mary Ottery, Devonshire, celebrated as the birth-place of Coleridge. Wilkins subsequently became a well-known dissenting minister.
“One night,” runs his narrative, “soon after I was in bed, I fell asleep, and dreamed I was going to London. I thought it would not be much out of my way to go through Gloucestershire, and call upon my friends there. Accordingly, I set out, hut remembered nothing that happened by the way till I came to my father’s house; when I went to the front door and tried to open it, but found it fast. Then I went to the back door, which I opened and went in; but finding all the family were in bed, I crossed the rooms only, went upstairs, and entered the chamber where my father and mother were in bed. As I went by the side of the bed on which my father lay, I found him asleep, or thought he was so; then I went to the other side, and having just turned the foot of the bed, I found my mother awake, to whom I said these words : “Mother, I am going a long journey, and am come to bid you good-bye.” Upon which she answered in a fright, “Oh, dear son, thou art dead!” With this I awoke, and took no notice of it more than a common dream, except that it appeared to me very perfect.
“In a few days after, as soon as a letter could reach me, I received one by post from my father; upon the receipt of which I was a little surprised, and concluded something extraordinary must have happened, as it was but a short time before I had a letter from my friends, and all were well. Upon opening it I was more surprised still, for my father addressed me as though I were dead, desiring me, if alive, or whose ever hands the letter might fall into, to write immediately; but if the letter should find me living, they concluded I should not live long, and gave this as the reason of their fears:
That on a certain night, naming it, after they were in bed, my father asleep and my mother awake, she heard somebody try to open the front door; but finding it fast, he went to the back door, which he opened, came in, and came directly through the rooms upstairs, and she perfectly knew it to be my step; but I came to her bedside, and spoke to her these words: “Mother, I am going a long journey, and have come to bid you goodbye.” Upon which she answered me in a fright, “Oh, dear son, thou art dead!” which were the circumstances and words of my dream. But she heard nothing more, and saw nothing more; neither did I in my dream. Much alarmed she woke my father, and told him what had occurred; but he endeavoured to appease her, persuading her it was only a dream. She insisted it was no dream, for that she was as perfectly awake as ever she was, and had not the least inclination to sleep since she was in bed.
“From these circumstances I am inclined to think it was at the very same instant when my dream happened, though the distance between us was about one hundred miles; but of this I cannot speak positively. This occurred while I was at the academy at Ottery, Devon, in the year 1754, and at this moment every circumstance is fresh upon my mind. I have, since, had frequent opportunities of talking over the affair with my mother, and the whole was as fresh upon her mind as it was upon mine. I have often thought that her sensations as to this matter were stronger than mine. What may appear strange is, that I cannot remember anything remarkable happening hereupon. This is only a plain, simple narrative of a matter of fact.”
As the Rev. Joseph Wilkins points out, at the conclusion of this marvellous story, nothing remarkable followed it; his own death, which his mother had so much feared was portended, did not take place until November 22, 1800, when he was in the seventieth year of his age. The Gentleman’s Magazine, in its obituary of Wilkins, remarked that, “for liberality of sentiment, generosity of disposition, and uniform integrity, he had few equals and hardly any superiors.”
*Which school was he at when this experience took place? It could possibly have been Kings School which was set up in 1335 by John Grandisson (Died 1369), Bishop of Exeter. IN 1545 it was replaced by a grammar school and today it is a Sports College.