Sir William Barrett

Death-Bed Visions - The Psychical Experiences of the Dying
Publisher: Rider & Co.
Published: 1926
Pages: 123

Chapter 2: Visions seen by the Dying of Persons by them Unknown to be Dead

 - William Barrett -

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          THE evidence of Visions of the Dying, when they appear to see and recognize some of their relatives of whose decease they were unaware, affords perhaps one of the strongest arguments in favour of survival. Even Prof. Richet regards this evidence as impossible to explain by cryptesthesia. I have given some striking instances of these visions of the dying in my book On the Threshold of the Unseen, and other cases will be found in the "Proceedings" of our Society.

A recent case of the kind was related to me by Lady Barrett, which occurred when she was in attendance on a patient in the Mothers' Hospital, at Clapton, of which she is one of the Obstretic Surgeons.

Lady Barrett received an urgent message from the Resident Medical Officer, Dr. Phillips, to come to a patient, Mrs. B., who was in labour and suffering from serious heart failure. Lady Barrett went at once, and the child was delivered safely, though the mother was dying at the time. After seeing other patients Lady Barrett went back to Mrs. B.'s ward, and the following conversation occurred which was written down soon afterwards. Lady Barrett says:

"When I entered the ward Mrs. B. held out her hands to me and said, 'Thank you, thank you for what you have done for me - for bringing the baby. Is it a boy or girl?' Then holding my hand tightly, she said, 'Don't leave me, don't go away, will you?' And after a few minutes, while the House Surgeon carried out some restorative measures, she lay looking up towards the open part of the room, which was brightly lighted, and said, 'Oh, don't let it get dark - it's getting so dark ... darker and darker.' Her husband and mother were sent for.

"Suddenly she looked eagerly towards one part of the room, a radiant smile illuminating her whole countenance. 'Oh, lovely, lovely,' she said. I asked, 'What is lovely?' 'What I see,' she replied in low, intense tones. 'What do you see?' 'Lovely brightness - wonderful beings.' It is difficult to describe the sense of reality conveyed by her intense absorption in the vision.

"Then - seeming to focus her attention more intently on one place for a moment - she exclaimed, almost with a kind of joyous cry, 'Why, it's Father! Oh, he's so glad I'm coming; he is so glad. It would be perfect if only W. (her husband) could come too.'

"Her baby was brought for her to see. She looked at it with interest, and then said, 'Do you think I ought to stay for baby's sake?' Then turning towards the vision again, she said, I can't - I can't stay; if you could see what I do, you would know I can't stay.'

"But she turned to her husband, who had come in, and said, 'You won't let baby go to anyone who won't love him, will you?' Then she gently pushed him to one side, saying, 'Let me see the lovely brightness.'

"I left shortly after, and the Matron took my place by the bedside. She lived for another hour, and appeared to have retained to the last the double consciousness of the bright forms she saw, and also of those tending her at the bedside, e.g. she arranged with the Matron that her premature baby should remain in hospital till it was strong enough to be cared for in an ordinary household.


Dr. Phillips, who was present, after reading the above notes writes to me saying that she fully agrees with Lady Barrett's account."

The most important evidence is however given by the Matron of the Hospital, who has sent the following account:

"I was present shortly before the death of Mrs. B., together with her husband and her mother. Her husband was leaning over her and speaking to her, when pushing him aside(1) she said, 'Oh, don't hide it; it's so beautiful.' Then turning away from him towards me, I being on the other side of the bed, Mrs. B. said, 'Oh, why there's Vida,' referring to a sister of whose death three weeks previously she had not been told. Afterwards the mother, who was present at the time, told me, as I have said, that Vida was the name of a dead sister of Mrs. B.'s, of whose illness and death she was quite ignorant, as they had carefully kept this news from Mrs. B. owing to her serious illness.


(1) This is not the incident mentioned by Lady Barrett, but a later incident of the same kind.

I asked Dr. Phillips to try and obtain the independent report of Mrs. B.'s mother, who, as the Matron stated, was also present at the time. This was kindly done, and I have received the following interesting and informative letter from Mrs. Clark (Mrs. B.'s mother):


"I have heard you are interested in the beautiful passing of my dear daughter's spirit from this earth on the 12th day of January, 1924.

"The wonderful part of it is the history of the death of my dear daughter, Vida, who had been an invalid some years. Her death took place on the 25th day of Dec., 1923, just 2 weeks and 4 days before her younger sister, Doris, died. My daughter Doris, Mrs. B., was very ill at that time, and the Matron at the Mothers' Hospital deemed it unwise for Mrs. B. to know of her sister's death. Therefore when visiting her we put off our mourning and visited her as usual. All her letters were also kept by request until her husband had seen who they might be from before letting her see them. This precaution was taken lest outside friends might possibly allude to the recent bereavement in writing to her, unaware of the very dangerous state of her health.

"When my dear child was sinking rapidly, at first she said, 'It is all so dark; I cannot see.' A few seconds after a beautiful radiance lit up her countenance; I know now it was the light of Heaven, and it was most beautiful to behold. My dear child said, 'Oh, it is lovely and bright; you cannot see as I can.' She fixed her eyes on one particular spot in the ward, saying, 'Oh, God, forgive me for anything I have done wrong.' After that she said, 'I can see Father; he wants me, he is so lonely.' She spoke to her father, saying, 'I am coming,' turning at the same time to look at me, saying, 'Oh, he is so near.' On looking at the same place again, she said with rather a puzzled expression, 'He has Vida with him,' turning again to me saying 'Vida is with him.' Then she said, 'You do want me, Dad; I am coming.' Then a very few parting words or sighs were expressed nothing very definite or clear. With great difficulty and a very hard strain she asked to see 'the man who married us': this was to her husband, who was standing on the opposite side of the bed. His name she could not say; it was the Rev. Maurice Davis, of All Saints, Haggerston, E., and he was sent for(2). He had known my dear child for some years, and was so impressed by the vision that he quoted it in his 'Parish Magazine' for February last.

Yours respectfully
"(Signed) MARY C. CLARK"

(2) He came, but Mrs. B. had then become incapable of speech though still alive.

Before passing on to other cases it is desirable to discuss somewhat in detail the foregoing case. The vision seen by the dying woman, Mrs. B., was obviously not due to her normal sight, otherwise the figures would have been seen by others present in the room; the appearance therefore was not due to any ordinary material objects, nor is it likely to have been due to some illusion, that is to say, the misinterpretation of some object actually present to sight - as when a dressing-gown is mistaken for a woman - for not only was there nothing in the room to suggest such an illusion, but she recognized both her deceased father and sister, moreover she was quite unaware of the death of the latter. A more probable explanation is that it was an hallucination, which may be defined as "a sensory perception which has no objective counterpart within the field of vision." The question therefore becomes whether it was merely a delusive hallucination, when there is nothing whatever to which it corresponds, or a veridical hallucination - corresponding to some real event, which was invisible to normal eyesight. This must not be confused with a delusion, which applies to cases where there is no corresponding reality. There are many well-known cases of vivid illusions of sight which sometimes accompany the oncoming of sleep, as when a dream figure persists for a short time, or when faces in the dark are vividly seen by certain persons; these illusions are termed hypnagogic. Externalized impressions of this kind are the frequent source of imaginary apparitions, such as occur to nervous people walking through lonely places at night time. To many of my readers this commonsense explanation will appear to be the origin of the vision of the dying which we have just related, the whole matter being dismissed as a mere coincidence. If this case stood alone this would be the probable explanation; it will however be seen that mere chance coincidence cannot apply to the numerous cases which will be recited later on. Another explanation is the creation of hallucination in the percipient by some transference of thought or telepathic influence from those around the bedside. In the case just recited however this explanation fails for Lady Barrett and Dr. Phillips knew nothing about the decease of the percipient's father, when the latter looking steadily at one place, said, "Why, it's Father. Oh, he's so glad I'm coming." Nor was her husband present at the time. Moreover the sceptical reader is likely to deny the existence of telepathy and would reject any explanation based upon that ground.

The next case has reached me from America and is a well authenticated instance on the authority of a distinguished man, Dr. Minot J. Savage, with whom I was acquainted. Dr. Minot Savage was for many years a valued member of our S.P.R., he died in 1920. Dr. Hyslop(3) has recorded the following case in one of his books(4) and remarks: "Dr. Savage told me personally of the facts and gave me the names and addresses of the persons on whose authority he tells the incidents," which Dr. Savage narrates, as follows:

"In a neighbouring city were two little girls, Jennie and Edith, one about eight years of age and the other but a little older. They were schoolmates and intimate friends. In June, 1889, both were taken ill of diphtheria. At noon on Wednesday Jennie died. Then the parents of Edith, and her physician as well, took particular pains to keep from her the fact that her little playmate was gone. They feared the effect of the knowledge on her own condition. To prove that they succeeded and that she did not know, it may be mentioned that on Saturday, June 8th, at noon, just before she became unconscious of all that was passing about her, she selected two of her photographs to be sent to Jennie, and also told her attendants to bid her good-bye.

"She died at half-past six o'clock on the evening of Saturday, June 8th. She had roused and bidden her friends good-bye, and was talking of dying, and seemed to have no fear. She appeared to see one and another of the friends she knew were dead. So far it was like other similar cases. But now suddenly, and with every appearance of surprise, she turned to her father and exclaimed, 'Why, papa, I am going to take Jennie with me!' Then she added, 'Why, papa! you did not tell me that Jennie was here!' And immediately she reached out her arms as if in welcome, and said, 'Oh, Jennie, I'm so glad you are here!'"

(3) As some of my readers may not be acquainted with Dr. Hyslop's name, I may mention that he was for some years the Professor of Ethics and Logic in Columbia University, New York. He studied for some years in Germany, where he took his Ph.D. and was also an LL.D. He was at first a sceptic and severe critic of psychical research, but afterwards became convinced of the importance of the subject, and resigned his university chair and all its emoluments to devote the rest of his life to the investigation of psychical phenomena. His zeal and energy and acumen were remarkable, in fact he sacrificed his life through the incessant labour involved in his duties as treasurer, hon. secretary and research officer of the American S.P.R. His literary output was enormous; he seemed to live and move and have his being in psychical research to the exclusion of almost every other subject. He spent some time with me in Ireland, and gave a learned address to the recently founded Dublin Section of the S.P.R. He died in 1920.

(4) "Psychical Research and the Resurrection" (Boston, U.S.A.), 1908, p. 88.

In connexion with this case Dr. Savage remarks that it is difficult to account for the incident by any ordinary theory of hallucination. If this vision were a solitary case, a mere casual coincidence might perhaps account for it, but as it is only one of a considerable group of similar cases an explanation of chance coincidence becomes incredible. My readers will doubtless agree with Dr. Savage's remark, as they peruse the other cases narrated in this volume.

The following case(5) was given in a paper contributed to the S.P.R. by Mr. Edmund Gurney and Mr. F. W. H. Myers(6). It was received by them through the Rev. C. J. Taylor. The narrator, who does not wish his name published, was the Vicar of H   :

"On November 2nd and 3rd, 1870, I lost my two eldest boys, David Edward and Harry, from scarlet fever, they being then three and four years old respectively.

"Harry died at Abbot's Langley on November 2nd, fourteen miles from my vicarage at Aspley, David the following day at Aspley. About an hour before the death of this latter child he sat up in bed, and pointing to the bottom of the bed said distinctly, 'There is little Harry calling to me.' Of the truth of this fact I am sure, and it was heard also by the nurse.

"(Signed) X.Z., Vicar of H   "

(5) This case and the next one are quoted from pp. 99 and 100 respectively of the same book as the last. See footnote p. 18.

(6) "Proceedings S.P.R.," Vol. V, p. 459.

In letters and conversations with Mr. Podmore, Mr. Taylor adds the following details: "Mr. Z. [the Vicar] tells me that care was taken to keep David from knowing that Harry was dead, and that he feels sure that David did not know it. Mr. Z. was himself present and heard what the boy said. The boy was not delirious at the time.

The next case was communicated to the S.P.R.(7) by the Rev. J. A. Macdonald, who has for some years been a useful helper to the Society in the careful collection of evidence. Mr. Macdonald received it at first hand from Miss Ogle, who was the sister of the percipient. She writes as follows:

"My brother, John Alkin Ogle, died at Leeds, July 17th, 1879. About an hour before he expired he saw his brother - who had died about sixteen years before - and John, looking up with fixed interest, said, 'Joe! Joe!' and immediately after exclaimed with ardent surprise, 'George Hanley!' My mother, who had come from Melbourne, a distance of about forty miles, where George Hanley resided, was astonished at this, and said, 'How strange he should see George Hanley; he died only ten days ago.' Then turning to my sister-in-law she asked if anybody had told John of George Hainley's death; she said 'No one.' My mother was the only person present who was aware of the fact. I was present and witnessed this.


(7) See "Proceedings S.P.R.," Vol. V, p. 460.

In answer to inquiries, Miss Ogle states:

"J. A. Ogle was neither delirious nor unconscious when he uttered the words recorded. George Hanley was an acquaintance of John A. Ogle, not a particularly familiar friend. The death of Hanley was not mentioned in his hearing."

The Revue Spirite for December, 1924, contains the following interesting case:

"The Review 'Verdade e Luz' of San Paolo, Brazil, in its number of September, 1924, has remarks on the striking incident of which the dying Adamina Lazaro was the heroine.

"A few hours before her death, the patient said to her father that she saw near her bed several members of the family, all deceased some years previously. The father attributed this declaration in extremis to a state of delirium, but Adamina insisted with renewed force, and among the invisible 'visitors' named her own brother, Alfredo, who was employed at the time at a distance of 423 kilometres, on the lighthouse of the port of Sisal.

"The father was more and more convinced of the imaginary nature of these visions, well knowing that his son Alfredo was in perfect health, for a few days previously he had sent the best possible news of himself.

"Adamina died the same evening, and the next morning her father received a telegram informing him of the death of the young Alfredo. A comparison of times showed that the dying girl was still living at the time of the death of her brother."

I am indebted to Mr. C. J. Hans Hamilton for the following case, which he translated from the Review Psychica(8) of 1921. It was contributed by M. Warcollier, of the Institut Metapsychique, Paris, who says:

(8) Published in France.

"My uncle, M. Paul Durocq, left Paris in 1893 for a trip to America, with my aunt and other members of the family. While they were at Venezuela my uncle was seized with yellow fever, and he died at Caracas on the 24th June, 1894.

"Just before his death, and while surrounded by all his family, he had a prolonged delirium, during which he called out the names of certain friends left in France, and whom he seemed to see. 'Well, well, you too - , and you - , you as well!'

"Although struck by this incident, nobody attached any extraordinary importance to these words at the time they were uttered, but they acquired later on exceptional importance when the family found, on their return to Paris, the funeral invitation cards of the persons named by my uncle before his death, and who had died before him. It is only recently that I have been able to collect the testimony of the only two survivors of this event, my cousins Germaine and Maurice Durocq."

Germaine Durocq writes, as follows:

"You ask me details of the death of my poor father. I well remember him as he lay dying, though it is many years ago. The thing which probably interests you is that he told us of having seen some persons in heaven and of having spoken to them at some length. We were much astonished on returning to France to find the funeral cards of those same persons whom he had seen when dying. Maurice, who was older than I was, could give you more details on this subject."

Maurice Durocq writes:

"Concerning what you ask me with regard to the death of my father, which occurred a good many years ago, I recall that a few moments before his death my father called the name of one of his old companions - M. Etcheverry - with whom he had not kept up any connexion, even by correspondence, for a long time past, crying out, 'Ah! you too,' or some similar phrase. It was only on returning home to Paris that we found the funeral card of this gentleman. Perhaps my father may have mentioned other names as well, but I do not remember."

Mr. Hans Hamilton, who translated and sent the above incident to me comments on it as follows:" The date of the deaths of the persons seen by M. Durocq when dying, should have been verified at the time of the return of the family to Paris, since we have otherwise no certainly that they died before M. Durocq. However, the whole of the story makes it more than probable that this point would not have been overlooked by the family; and M. Warcollier states in his own account that the persons in question were deceased at the time of the apparitions."

The following incident was sent to the Spectator by "H. Wedgwood" in 1882. He says:

"Between forty and fifty years ago a young girl, a near connexion of mine, was dying of consumption. She had lain for some days in a prostrate condition taking no notice of anything, when she opened her eyes, and looking upwards, said slowly, 'Susan - and Jane - and Ellen,' as if recognizing the presence of her three sisters, who had previously died of the same disease. Then after a short pause she continued, 'and Edward too!' - naming a brother then supposed to be alive and well in India - as if surprised at seeing him in the company. She said no more, and sank shortly afterwards. In the course of the post, letters came from India announcing the death of Edward, from an accident a week or two previous to the death of his sister.

"This was told to me by an elder sister who nursed the dying girl, and was present at her bedside at the time of the apparent vision."(9)

(9) See R. Pike's "Life's Borderland and Beyond," p. 29.

Miss Frances Power Cobbe, Authoress of "The Peak in Darien," recites an incident of a very striking character as having occurred in a family united very closely by affection:

"A dying lady, exhibiting the aspect of joyful surprise, spoke of seeing, one after another, three of her brothers who had been long dead, and then apparently recognized last of all a fourth brother, who was believed by the bystanders to be still living in India. The coupling of his name with that of his dead brothers excited such awe and horror in the mind of one of the persons present that she rushed from the room. In due course of time letters were received announcing the death of the brother in India, which had occurred some time before his dying sister seemed to recognize him."(10)

(10) Ibid., p. 18.

Dr. E. H. Plumptre (the Dean of Wells), writing to the Spectator, August 26 1882, remarks:

"The mother of one of the foremost thinkers and theologians of our time was lying on her death-bed in the April of 1854. She had been for some days in a state of almost complete unconsciousness. A short time before her death, the words came from her lips, 'There they are, all of them - William and Elizabeth, and Emma and Anne'; then, after a pause, 'and Priscilla too.' William was a son who had died in infancy, and whose name had never for years passed the mother's lips. Priscilla had died two days before, but her death, though known to the family, had not been reported to her."(11)

(11) See R. Pike's "Life's Borderland and Beyond," p. 15.

In connexion with the subject of this chapter the case of Mrs. Z. in Chapter V, p. 102, should also be read.



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