Historic Oddities and Strange Events

Historic Oddities and Strange Events

S. Baring-Gould
S. Baring-Gould

Author: Baring-Gould, S. (Sabine), 1834-1924
Historic Oddities and Strange Events



By the same Author.

ARMINELL: A SOCIAL ROMANCE. 3 Vols. Cr. 8vo. (On Nov. 1).
OLD COUNTRY LIFE.—With Numerous Illustrations, Initial Letters, &c. Cr. 8vo. (In October).
YORKSHIRE ODDITIES.—New and Cheaper Edition (In Preparation).
STRANGE SURVIVALS.—(In Preparation).
HISTORIC ODDITIES.—Second Series (In Preparation).


Historic Oddities


Preface, vii
The Disappearance of Bathurst, 1
The Duchess of Kingston, 26
General Mallet, 51
Schweinichen’s Memoirs, 67
The Locksmith Gamain, 83
Abram the Usurer, 103
Sophie Apitzsch, 121
Peter Nielsen, 136
The Wonder-working Prince Hohenlohe, 164
The Snail Telegraph, 185
The Countess Goerlitz, 199
A Wax and Honey-Moon, 234
The Electress’ Plot, 257
Suess Oppenheim, 271
Ignatius Fessler, 294


A reader of history in its various epochs in different countries, comes upon eccentric individuals and extraordinary events, lightly passed over, may be, as not materially affecting the continuity of history, as not producing any seriously disturbing effect on its course. Such persons, such events have always awakened interest in myself, and when I have come on them, it has been my pleasure to obtain such details concerning them as were available, and which would be out of place in a general history as encumbering it with matter that is unimportant, or of insufficient importance to occupy much space. Two of the narratives contained in this work have appeared already in the “Cornhill Magazine,” but I have considerably enlarged them by the addition of fresh material; some of the others came out in the “Gentleman’s Magazine,” and one in “Belgravia.” With only two of them—”Peter Nielsen” and “A Wax and Honey-Moon”—are the authorities somewhat gone beyond and the facts slightly dressed to assume the shape of stories.
S. Baring Gould.
Lew Trenchard, N. Devon,
 July, 1889.


The Disappearance of Bathurst.

The mystery of the disappearance of Benjamin Bathurst on November 25, 1809, is one which can never with certainty be cleared up. At the time public opinion in England was convinced that he had been secretly murdered by order of Napoleon, and the “Times” in a leader on January 23, 1810, so decisively asserted this, that the “Moniteur” of January 29 ensuing, in sharp and indignant terms repudiated the charge. Nevertheless, not in England only, but in Germany, was the impression so strong that Napoleon had ordered the murder, if murder had been committed, that the Emperor saw fit, in the spring of the same year, solemnly to assure the wife of the vanished man, on his word of honour, that he knew nothing about the disappearance of her husband. Thirty years later Varnhagen von Ense, a well-known German author, reproduced the story and reiterated the accusation against Napoleon, or at all events against the French. Later still, the “Spectator,” in an article in 1862, gave a brief sketch of the disappearance of Bathurst, and again repeated the charge against French police agents or soldiers of having made away with the Englishman. At that time a skeleton was said to have been discovered in the citadel of Magdeburg with the hands bound, in an upright position, and the writer of the article sought to identify the skeleton with the lost man.[1]
We shall see whether other discoveries do not upset this identification, and afford us another solution of the problem—What became of Benjamin Bathurst?
Benjamin Bathurst was the third son of Dr. Henry Bathurst, Bishop of Norwich, Canon of Christchurch, and the Prebendary of Durham, by Grace, daughter of Charles Coote, Dean of Kilfenora, and sister of Lord Castlecoote. His eldest brother, Henry, was Archdeacon of Norwich; his next, Sir James, K.C.B., was in the army and was aide-de-camp to Lord Wellington in the Peninsula.
Benjamin, the third son of the bishop, was born March 14, 1784,[2] and had been secretary of the Legation at Leghorn. In May, 1805, he married Phillida, daughter of Sir John Call, Bart., of Whiteford, in Cornwall, and sister of Sir William Pratt Call, the second baronet. Benjamin is a Christian name that occurs repeatedly in the Bathurst family after the founder of it, Sir Benjamin, Governor of the East India Company and of the Royal African Company. He died in 1703. The grandfather of the subject of our memoir was a Benjamin, brother of Allen, who was created Baron in 1711, and Earl in 1772.
Benjamin had three children: a son who died, some years after his father’s disappearance, in consequence of a fall from a horse at a race in Rome; a daughter, who was drowned in the Tiber; and another who married the Earl of Castlestuart in 1830, and after his death married Signor Pistocchi.
In 1809, early in the year, Benjamin was sent to Vienna by his kinsman, Earl Bathurst, who was in the ministry of Lord Castlereagh, and, in October, Secretary of State for the Foreign Department. He was sent on a secret embassy from the English Government to the Court of the Emperor Francis. The time was one of great and critical importance to Austria. Since the Peace of Pressburg she had been quiet; the Cabinet of Vienna had adhered with cautious prudence to a system of neutrality, but she only waited her time, and in 1808 the government issued a decree by which a militia, raised by a conscription, under the name of the “Landwehr,” was instituted, and this speedily reached the number of 300,000 men. Napoleon, who was harassed by the insurrection in the Peninsula, demanded angrily an explanation, which was evaded. To overawe Austria, he met the Emperor Alexander of Russia at Erfurth, and the latter when sounded by Austria refused to have any part in the confederation against Napoleon. England, in the meantime, was urging Austria to cast down the gauntlet. In pledge of amity, the port of Trieste was thrown open to the English and Spanish flags. In December, a declaration of the King of England openly alluded to the hostile preparations of Austria, but the Cabinet at Vienna were as yet undecided as to the course they would finally adopt. The extreme peril which the monarchy had undergone already in the wars with Napoleon made them hesitate. England was about to send fifty thousand men to the Peninsula, and desired the diversion of a war in the heart of Germany. Prussia resolved to remain neutral. Napoleon rapidly returned from Spain, and orders were despatched to Davoust to concentrate his immense corps at Bamberg; Massena was to repair to Strasburg, and press on to Ulm; Oudenot to move on Augsburg, and Bernadotte, at the head of the Saxons, was to menace Bohemia. It was at this juncture that Benjamin Bathurst hurried as Ambassador Extraordinary to Vienna, to assure the Cabinet there of the intentions of England to send a powerful contingent into Spain, and to do all in his power to urge Austria to declare war. Encouraged by England, the Cabinet of Vienna took the initiative, and on April 8 the Austrian troops crossed the frontier at once on the Inn, in Bohemia, in Tyrol, and in Italy.
The irritation and exasperation of Napoleon were great; and Bathurst, who remained with the Court, laboured under the impression that the Emperor of the French bore him especial enmity, on account of his exertions to provoke the Austrian Ministry to declaration of war. Whether this opinion of his were well founded, or whether he had been warned that Napoleon would take the opportunity, if given him, of revenging himself, we do not know; but what is certain is, that Bathurst was prepossessed with the conviction that Napoleon regarded him with implacable hostility and would leave no stone unturned to compass his destruction.
On July 6 came the battle of Wagram, then the humiliating armistice of Znaim, which was agreed to by the Emperor Francis at Komorn in spite of the urgency of Metternich and Lord Walpole, who sought to persuade him to reject the proposals. This armistice was the preliminary to a peace which was concluded at Schönbrun in October. With this, Bathurst’s office at Vienna came to an end, and he set out on his way home. Now it was that he repeatedly spoke of the danger that menaced him, and of his fears lest Napoleon should arrest him on his journey to England. He hesitated for some time which road to take, and concluding that if he went by Trieste and Malta he might run the worst risks, he resolved to make his way to London by Berlin and the north of Germany. He took with him his private secretary and a valet; and, to evade observation, assumed the name of Koch, and pretended that he was a travelling merchant. His secretary was instructed to act as courier, and he passed under the name of Fisher. Benjamin Bathurst carried pistols about his person, and there were firearms in the back of the carriage.
On November 25, 1809, about midday, he arrived at Perleberg, with post-horses, on the route from Berlin to Hamburg, halted at the post-house for refreshments, and ordered fresh horses to be harnessed to the carriage for the journey to Lenzen, which was the next station.
Bathurst had come along the highway from Berlin to Schwerin, in Brandenburg, as far as the little town of Perleberg, which lies on the Stepnitz, that flows after a few miles into the Elbe at Wittenberge. He might have gone on to Ludwigslust, and thence to Hamburg, but this was a considerable détour, and he was anxious to be home. He had now before him a road that led along the Elbe close to the frontier of Saxony. The Elbe was about four miles distant. At Magdeburg were French troops. If he were in danger anywhere, it would be during the next few hours—that is, till he reached Dömitz. About a hundred paces from the post-house was an inn, the White Swan, the host of which was named Leger. By the side of the inn was the Parchimer gate of the town, furnished with a tower, and the road to Hamburg led through this gate, outside of which was a sort of suburb consisting of poor cottagers’ and artisans’ houses.
Benjamin Bathurst went to the Swan and ordered an early dinner; the horses were not to be put in till he had dined. He wore a pair of grey trousers, a grey frogged short coat, and over it a handsome sable greatcoat lined with violet velvet. On his head was a fur cap to match. In his scarf was a diamond pin of some value.
As soon as he had finished his meal, Bathurst inquired who was in command of the soldiers quartered in the town, and where he lodged. He was told that a squadron of the Brandenburg cuirassiers was there under Captain Klitzing, who was residing in a house behind the Town Hall. Mr. Bathurst then crossed the market place and called on the officer, who was at the time indisposed with a swollen neck. To Captain Klitzing he said that he was a traveller on his way to Hamburg, that he had strong and well-grounded suspicions that his person was endangered, and he requested that he might be given a guard in the inn, where he was staying. A lady who was present noticed that he seemed profoundly agitated, that he trembled as though ague-stricken, and was unable to raise a cup of tea that was offered him to his lips without spilling it.
The captain laughed at his fears, but consented to let him have a couple of soldiers, and gave the requisite orders for their despatch; then Mr. Bathurst rose, resumed his sable overcoat, and, to account for his nervous difficulty in getting into his furs again, explained that he was much shaken by something that had alarmed him.
Not long after the arrival of Mr. Bathurst at the Swan, two Jewish merchants arrived from Lenzen with post-horses, and left before nightfall.
On Mr. Bathurst’s return to the inn, he countermanded the horses; he said he would not start till night. He considered that it would be safer for him to spin along the dangerous portion of the route by night when Napoleon’s spies would be less likely to be on the alert. He remained in the inn writing and burning papers. At seven o’clock he dismissed the soldiers on guard, and ordered the horses to be ready by nine. He stood outside the inn watching his portmanteau, which had been taken within, being replaced on the carriage, stepped round to the heads of the horses—and was never seen again.
It must be remembered that this was at the end of November. Darkness had closed in before 5 P.M., as the sun set at four. An oil lantern hung across the street, emitting a feeble light; the ostler had a horn lantern, wherewith he and the postillion adjusted the harness of the horses. The landlord was in the doorway talking to the secretary, who, as courier, was paying the account. No one particularly observed the movements of Mr. Bathurst at the moment. He had gone to the horses’ heads, where the ostler’s lantern had fallen on him. The horses were in, the postillion ready, the valet stood by the carriage door, the landlord had his cap in hand ready to wish the gentleman a “lucky journey;” the secretary was impatient, as the wind was cold. They waited; they sent up to the room which Mr. Bathurst had engaged; they called. All in vain. Suddenly, inexplicably, without a word, a cry, an alarm of any sort, he was gone—spirited away, and what really became of him will never be known with certainty.
Whilst the whole house was in amazement and perplexity the Jewish merchants ordered their carriage to be got ready, and departed.
Some little time elapsed before it was realised that the case was serious. Then it occurred to the secretary that Mr. Bathurst might have gone again to the captain in command to solicit guards to attend his carriage. He at once sent to the captain, but Mr. Bathurst was not with him. The moment, however, that Klitzing heard that the traveller had disappeared, he remembered the alarm expressed by the gentleman, and acted with great promptitude. He sent soldiers to seize the carriage and all the effects of the missing man. He went, in spite of his swollen neck, immediately to the Swan, ordered a chaise, and required the secretary to enter it; he placed a cuirassier and the valet on the box, and, stepping into the carriage, ordered it to be driven to the Golden Crown, an inn at the further end of the town, where he installed the companions of Bathurst, and placed a soldier in guard over them. A guard was also placed over the Swan, and next morning every possible search was made for the lost man. The river was dragged, outhouses, woods, marshes, ditches were examined, but not a trace of him could be found. That day was Sunday. Klitzing remained at Perleberg only till noon, to wait some discovery, and then, without delay, hurried to Kyritz, where was his commandant, Colonel Bismark, to lay the case before him, and solicit leave to hasten direct to Berlin, there to receive further instructions what was to be done.
He was back on Monday with full authority to investigate the matter.
Before he left he had gone over the effects of Mr. Bathurst, and had learned that the fur coat belonging to him was missing; he communicated this fact to the civil magistrate of the district, and whilst he was away search was instituted for this. It was the sable coat lined with violet velvet already mentioned, and this, along with another belonging to the secretary, Fisher was under the impression had been left in the post-house.
The amazing part of the matter is that the city authorities—and, indeed, on his return, Captain Klitzing—for a while confined themselves to a search for the fur coat, and valuable time was lost by this means. Moreover, the city authorities, the police, and the military were all independent, and all jealous of each other. The military commander, Klitzing, and the burgomaster were in open quarrel, and sent up to headquarters charges against each other for interference in the matter beyond their rights. The head of the police was inert, a man afterwards dismissed for allowing defalcation in the monies entrusted to him. There was no system in the investigation, and the proper clues were not followed.
On December 16th, two poor women went out of Perleberg to a little fir wood in the direction of Quitzow, to pick up broken sticks for fuel. There they found, a few paces from a path leading through the wood, spread out on the grass, a pair of trousers turned inside out. On turning them back they observed that they were stained on the outside, as if the man who had worn them had lain on the earth. In the pocket was a paper with writing on it; this, as well as the trousers, was sodden with water. Two bullet holes were in the trousers, but no traces of blood about them, which could hardly have been the case had the bullets struck a man wearing the trousers. The women took what they had found to the burgomaster. The trousers were certainly those of the missing man. The paper in the pocket was a half-finished letter from Mr. Bathurst to his wife, scratched in pencil, stating that he was afraid he would never reach England, and that his ruin would be the work of Count d’Entraigues, and he requested her not to marry again in the event of his not returning.
The English Government offered £1,000 reward, and his family another £1,000; Prince Frederick of Prussia, who took a lively interest in the matter, offered in addition 100 Friedrichs d’or for the discovery of the body, or for information which might lead to the solution of the mystery, but no information to be depended upon ever transpired. Various rumours circulated; and Mrs. Thistlethwaite, the sister of Benjamin Bathurst, in her Memoirs of Dr. Henry Bathurst, Bishop of Norwich, published by Bentley in 1853, gives them. He was said to have been lost at sea. Another report was that he was murdered by his valet, who took an open boat on the Elbe, and escaped. Another report again was that he had been lost in a vessel which was crossing to Sweden and which foundered about this time. These reports are all totally void of truth. Mrs. Thistlethwaite declares that Count d’Entraigues, who was afterwards so cruelly murdered along with his wife by their Italian servant, was heard to say that he could prove that Mr. Bathurst was murdered in the fortress of Magdeburg. In a letter to his wife, dated October 14, 1809, Benjamin Bathurst said that he trusted to reach home by way of Colberg and Sweden. D’Entraigues had been a French spy in London; and Mrs. Thistlethwaite says that he himself told Mrs. Bathurst that her husband had been carried off by douaniers-montés from Perleberg to Magdeburg, and murdered there. This it is ha

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