Tuesday, 9 October 2012

Prediction of the fate of John Franklin 1851

In 1851, a short article appeared in the New York Times describing how an unnamed woman was able to psychically visit ships and accurately read their instruments and thus give an account of their position on a given day.

"The (New York) Evening Post pointed out the other day the exact coincidence between the clairvoyant revelations of a young girl at Bolton, whose disclosures, when in a state of somnambulism, were reported at the time in the newspapers, and since in Dr. William Gregory's Letters on Magnetism, and the actual position of Capt Austin on 17th February, 1851." New York Times, 17th October 1851

This seemed very interesting, since it appeared to be a prediction published in newspaper before the exact latitudes could have been known. I decided to investigate further. While I could not find a newspaper article with the prediction, I found a passage from Dr Gregory's book (published in 1851) that read:

"The last observation of which I have heard, 17th February 1851, gave a longitude of 101° 45' W. At the same time, from Captain Austin's writing, which has also been frequently tried, she gave, for him, the longitude of 95° 45' W. She does not know whose ship it is, that, according to her, has met with Franklin, but she still speaks of three ships together.” Letters to a candid inquirer, on animal magnetism, 1851, p306

The first set of co ordinates belong to a ship captained by Sir John Franklin who was on an expedition to discover the Northwestern Passage. Dr Gregory describes:

"These [J Franklin's] ships she first saw in the winter of 1849-50, I believe She described the dress, mode of life, food, &c. of the crews. She saw and described Sir John, and said that he still hoped to get out, but was much surprised that no vessels had come to assist him. She frequently spoke of his occupations, and when asked the time of day, found it either by looking at a timepiece in the cabin, or by consulting Sir John's watch." Letters to a candid inquirer, on animal magnetism, 1851, p304-305

However, I couldn't find any further confirmation of this prediction, despite the newspaper article talking about the "exact coincidence."

I did a little more searching, and found that Captain Austin was indeed at that longitude (approximately) at that date. The only downside was that he was on Griffith Island, not on a ship. In fact, he hadn't set sail since the previous December which calls into doubt her description of "three ships." Also, Captain Austin failed to meet with John Franklin during his search.

However, perhaps the greatest mistake lies with the fact that John Franklin had actually died in 1847, some two years before she started to psychically locate him and his crew. But this was not discovered until 1859, and Dr Gregory died in 1858, so we do not know what reaction he would have given to the news.


New York Times, 17th October 1851

William Gregory, “Letters to a candid inquirer, on animal magnetism”, 1851

Fate of J Franklin, The Derby Mercury (Derby, England), Wednesday, September 28, 1859

Arctic miscellanies [microform] : a souvenir of the late polar search (1852)

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