The Living Apparition of Rev. Dr. Hugh Astley, Vicar of East Rudham
On 26 December 1908 an apparition was witnessed outside the vicarage in East Rudham. The apparition, witnessed by several people was identified as Rev. Dr. Hugh Astley, the Vicar of East Rudham. Astley had recently been in a railway accident, bt was not dead, so this was a strange experience involving the apparition of a living person, known all three witnesses. The story of this experience was widely reported.
The first article from the Manchester Courier and Lancashire General Advertiser was published on Friday 1 January 1909. It is entitled ‘Real Christmas Ghost.’
Vicar’s Weird Story. The Rev. R. Brock, Acting Vicar of East Rudham, King’s Lynn, writes: The following may be considered worthy of record, the circumstances are literally accurate: Last evening (26th Dec.) between four and five, the housekeeper here came in and said, “Come and see Dr. Astley” (the Vicar of the parish). “See Dr. Astley?” I said. “Yes, Dr. Astley”. She took me into the study and asked me to look out of the window. I glanced over the lawn and saw nothing. “You are looking in the wrong direction; look there.” And there I saw the full presentment of a clergyman with a Cuddesdon collar gleaming white in the gathering darkness (about 4.40). I turned and looked behind me. “It must be a reflection of myself,” I said. That, however, was impossible. I looked again more carefully. The vision represented a clergyman sitting at a table or desk, with books before him. I noticed also a gold chain across his waistcoat (this is how Dr. Astley, the Vicar here, wore it). I had three of four views, and then went outside and looked at the supposed wall against which the figure was sitting. It was really an inlet or alcove, and here, the housekeeper said, the Vicar used to sit and read in the summer-time. Dr. Astley is Vicar of this parish, and left England for Biskra, Algeria, on 10th December. He and his wife were in the railway accident in a tunnel, reported, no doubt by you. I had a letter from the chaplain at Algiers giving details.
The “Times” suggests it is a case for the Psychical Research Society.
On 3 January the following article was published in the New York Times.
THREE SAY THEY SAW THE PASTOR’S GHOST;
He Was in Algeria When His Spirit Is Said to Have Visited English Vicarage.
HAD BEEN IN AN ACCIDENT
His Substitute and Two Servants Make Affidavits Describing the Vision — Skeptics Scoff at Their Stories.
By Marconi Transatlantic Wireless Telegraph to The New York Times.
LONDON, Jan. 2. — Outside the earthquake in Italy and the blizzard here, the one chief topic of the week in London has been a ghost story which, from the statements made by persons concerned, the circumstances of the alleged apparitions, and the effort made at prompt investigation, deserves a special place in the chronicles of alleged psychic phenomena.
As a rule spook stories rest upon second-had evidence. In this instance three persons have made affidavits of what they saw. One is the Rev. Robert Brock, who is acting as locum tenens for the Rev. Dr. Hugh Astley, Vicar of East Rudham, who is wintering in Algeria, and whose disembodied spirit is stated to have made its appearance in bodily shape at his Norfolkshire vicarage.
The first news of the alleged apparition was published in The London Times in a letter from the Rev. Robert Brock. The Times assigned a well-qualified correspondent to investigate, and while this correspondent has been unable to see the apparition himself, his circumstantial reports have been a plausible contribution to the case. The Rev. Mr. Brock’s story follows:
“Owing to the fact that his wife was not in good health, Dr. Astley, the vicar of East Rudham, decided to winter in a warmer climate, and obtained the chaplaincy at Biskera, Algeria, and left England with Mrs. Astley on Dec. 10. It was arranged that I should as locum tenens.
“I met Dr. Astley for the first time in London Dec. 9, and spent not more than half an hour with him prior to coming on here; and I heard nothing more of him until Saturday last, Dec. 26 when I received a letter from the Rev. Herbert Muriel, the English chaplain at Algiers, announcing that Dr. and Mrs. Astley had sustained injuries in a railway accident on Wednesday, Dec. 16. On the same evening that I got the letter, Saturday, Dec. 26, I was seated in the drinking room when Mrs. Hartley, the housekeeper, came to me and said , ‘Come and see Dr. Astley’, and led me into the study.
“Looking through the glass window on to the lawn, I myself distinctly saw the figure of Dr. Astley, in clerical attire, standing against the wall which adjoins the dining room. It certainly was not the reflection of my own face, for I am clean-shaven, and the face or figure I saw wore beard and moustache. It was distinctly Dr. Astley as I saw him in London. I rubbed my eyes and looked again. I was not dreaming. The figure was not looking at me, but seemed to be plunged in thought.
“Mrs. Hartley had a candle in her hand, and I told her to take it away. I still saw the figure most clearly. A housemaid who had joined us could also see the figure.
“ ‘I will go and have a look in the garden,’ I said, and did go. There was nothing to be seen there; and when I returned the vision had gone. The time was about 4.45P.M. The vision lasted ten minutes.”
On the following Tuesday, Dec. 29, Mrs. Hartley again saw the apparition. “As on the previous occasion,” continued Mr. Brock, “Mrs. Hartley went to close the shutters in the study, and came running in to me saying, ‘Come quickly! Here it is again!’ I went rapidly to the study. Looking through the window, I again distinctly saw the vicar on the lawn, albeit it was not so distinctly visualized as before, probably because of the strong moon shining.”
After the first apparition telegrams were sent to Algiers inquiring about the Astleys. The response came that both Dr. and Mrs. Astley were progressing comfortably, but curiously enough, a letter written Dec. 26, which arrived in England later, stated that Dr. Astley was suffering from concussion of the brain, and was presumably unconscious at the time of the apparition:
“My own impression Saturday,” he said, “having had no previous experience of these things, was that Dr. Astley was dead. Now, it would really appear that when we saw his figure outside the study window he was in a state of unconsciousness or delirium, and in some mysterious way was able to project himself in living form to his home in England, where, perhaps, at the time he supposed himself to be. It remains to be seen whether this explanation will commend itself to scientists and students of the supernatural.”
Dr Astley is Amused
But even this explanation of “The Strange Story of Dr Astley,” as The Times has headed the case, is attacked in a telegram to The Times from Mr. Muriel, the British Chaplain at Algiers, dated Dec. 31. He says:
“Dr. Astley is very much amused. At the precise moment of the alleged astral appearance Dr. Astley was not in clerical garb at his book-laden desk, but quietly resting in bed talking with me about his lost luggage.”
So far several scientists who have been approached have refused to express an opinion on the subject, but the Secretary of the Society for Psychical Research, while declaring that visions of this kind of living agents are not rare, expresses pleasure that this recollection of the vision was absolutely fresh as to the occurrence, and that the attestation received was immediate and after careful investigation.
The independent narratives of three witnesses _ Mr. Brock, Mrs. Hartley, a woman of 70, who is of a nervous temperament and given to seeing things, and the housemaid, aged 17, who says she saw Dr. Astley once, but was too frightened to look a second time, were taken down by the correspondent of The London Times, and, as one unimaginative scientific contributor to that paper writes: “Their publication is really of great value, because it is evident that the witnesses of the so called apparition were suffering from optical delusion.”
Another skeptic points out that the vision, to have been convincing, should have appeared on Dec 16. the day of the accident: not ten days later, when the news of it had reached the impressionable Mrs. Hartley, who transmitted her impression to Rev. Nr. Brock, by profession a believer in spirits.