Mrs. Birkbeck’s Apparition (1739)
The following account of a crisis apparition was published in ‘The Haunted Homes and Family Traditions of Great Britain’ (1897)by John Ingram. ‘In April, 1876, the following very curious account of an apparition that was seen by three children at once was communicated to the Psychological Society by Mr. Hensleigh Wedgwood. The documentary story, written by Mrs. S. H. Fox, of Falmouth, had been handed to Mr. Wedgwood by Mrs. Backhouse, wife of the Member of Parliament for Darlington. It is to this effect:
In the early part of the last century a member of the Society of Friends, living at Settle, in Craven, had to take a journey to the borders of Scotland. This lady left her family, consisting of a little boy and two little girls, in charge of a relative, who, in lieu of sending frequent letters (in those days a slow and costly mode of communication between places widely remote), engaged to keep a journal, to be transmitted to the mother at any convenient opportunity, of all that concerned the little ones, who were aged respectively seven, six, and four.
After an absence of about three weeks, and when on her homeward journey, the Quakeress was seized with illness and died at Cockermouth, even before her husband at Settle could hear by post that she had been taken ill. The season was winter, when in the mountainous borderland between the counties the conveyance of letters by postmen on foot was an especially lengthened and difficult process. The friends at whose house the event occurred, seeing the hopeless nature of the attack, made notes of every circumstance attending the last hours of the dying wife and mother, for the satisfaction of her family, so that the accuracy of the several statements as to time as well as facts was beyond the doubtfulness of mere memory, or of even any unconscious attempt to bring them into agreement with each other. One morning, between seven and eight o’clock, on the relation at Settle going into the sleeping room of the three children, she found them all sitting up in their beds in great excitement and delight, crying out, “Mamma has been here! Mamma has been here!” And the little one said, “She called, Come, Esther!” Nothing could make them doubt the fact, intensely visible as it was to each of them, and it was carefully noted down to entertain the mother on her speedily expected return to her home.
That same morning, as she lay dying on her bed at Cockermouth, to those who were watching her tenderly and listening for her latest breath, she said, “I should be ready to go if I could but see my children.” She then closed her eyes, they thought to re-open them no more ; but after ten minutes of perfect stillness she looked up brightly and said, “I am ready now; I have been with my children,” and then at once peacefully passed away. When the notes taken at the two places were compared, the day, hour, and minute were the same.
“One of the three children,” says Mrs. Fox, “was my grandmother, Sarah Birkbeck (daughter of William Birkbeck, banker, of Settle), afterwards wife of Dr. Fell, of Ulverton, from whom I had the above account almost literally as I have repeated it. The elder was Morris Birkbeck, afterwards of Guildford. Both these lived to old age, and retained to the last so solemn and reverential a remembrance of the circumstance that they rarely would speak of it, or permit any allusion to it, lest it should be treated with doubt or levity. Esther, the youngest of the three, died soon after. Her brother and sister only heard the child say that her mother called her, but could not speak with any certainty of having themselves heard the words, nor did they seem sensible of any communication from her but simply of her standing there and looking at them. My grandmother and her brother,” is the testimony of Mrs. Fox, “were both persons remarkable for strong matter-of-fact, rather than imaginative, minds, and to whom it was especially difficult to accept anything on faith, or merely hearsay evidence, and who by nature would be disposed to reject whatever seemed beyond the region of reason or of common experience.”