Curious Coincidences from the Scottish Press

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   STRANGE COINCIDENCE. – We learn from a New York paper that Mr Alex. Grant, who was one of the survivors from the wreck of the Central America, has been no less than four times within the grasp of the watery element. It is somewhat remarkable that on two occasions he was rescued by vessels belonging to the same owners. After the wreck of the Arctic (which he had been on board) he was, after swimming for 52 hours, picked up by the Cambria, of Greenock; and curious enough is the fact, that on the last occasion, on the wreck of the Central America, he was rescued by the barque Mary, which belongs to the company who are the owners of the Cambria. 

– Paisley Herald and Renfrewshire Advertiser, Saturday 5th December, 1857, p.3. 



The Dublin University Magazine contains an amusing “Digressive Essay on Wills,” in which are related numerous examples of curious wills. The following is a specimen:- In the year 1796 the following strange circumstance occurred in connection with a will. Two gentlemen, who had been left executors to a friend, on examining the property, found a scrap of paper, on which was written, “Several hundred pounds in Till.” This they took in the literal sense, searched his office, and all the other apartments carefully, but in vain. They sold his collection of books to a bookseller near the Mews, and paid the legacies in proportion to the sum realised. The singularity of the circumstance occasioned them frequently to converse about it; and at last it flashed across one of them that amongst the books sold, more than seven weeks before, there had been a folio edition of Tillotson’s sermons. The probability of this being what was alluded to by the word “Till” on the piece of paper, made him immediately call upon the bookseller who had bought the books, and ask him if he had still the edition of Tillotson which had been included in his purchase. On his reply in the affirmative, and the volumes being handed down, the gentleman immediately re-bought and carried them home. On carefully examining the leaves, he found bank-notes singly disposed in various places to the amount of L.700. But what is perhaps no less remarkable, the bookseller informed him that a gentleman at Cambridge, to whom he had sent one of his catalogues, finding he had this edition on sale, had written and desired it might be sent to him, which was accordingly done, and the parcel forwarded by carrier. The books not pleasing the gentleman, they were returned, and had remained on a shelf in the shop up to the period of this singular recovery. 

– Dunfermline Saturday Press, Saturday, 14th November, 1863, p.6. 



   The Glasgow Herald is in a position to vouch for the authenticity of the following strange story:- 

   In the month of March 1858, the dead body of a man was found floating in the Clyde, somewhere above the bridges, and taken to the Humane Society’s Receiving House, where it lay for identification. It curiously happened, at this very time, that two men went amissing in Glasgow, the husbands respectively of Mrs S and of Mrs T. A gentleman, a friend of the latter woman, knowing of the strange absence of Mr T., called at the Dead-house, and came away convinced that the body was unquestionably that of Mr T., to whose wife or widow he communicated his conviction. Unwilling, however, to believe that her husband, either by accident or design, had come to such an end, the woman declined at first to visit the Dead-house, but at length consented, although she still held out against the possibility of the dead body being that of her husband. She could not, of course, be otherwise than satisfied of the truth of her belief, when, on arriving at the Dead-house, it was found that the corpse had been already claimed by the other woman as the body of her husband, who had also gone amissing. This put an end, for the time, to the more serious side of Mrs T.’s anxiety, and she returned home therefore comparatively comforted – her relief, however, being the measure of the apparently authentic widow’s grief. It will serve to show the certainty of this woman as to the identity of the corpse she had claimed and taken home, when we mention that she applied for and received six or seven pounds of funeral-money from the Liver Society, of which her husband had been a member. The remains of the man were buried in due course, and the widow mourned as for the death of one whom she should never again behold. Little did she or her friends dream of the remarkable manner in which the genuineness of her sorrow was to be speedily tested. In these days no person expects to see a ghost; neither did Mrs S. expect to see one shortly after the funeral of the drowned man; but if for one awful moment about this time she was under the impression that she saw the ghost of her husband, she might well be excused, for that husband, in propria persona, did actually one evening open the door of his own house, and walk quietly into the presence of his really terrified wife. It thus became clear that it was the corpse of some other man which the dutiful wife had buried. So far, therefore, there was no death in this family, but death was in the wind, and would not be baulked of some further prey. That prey was not far to seek; for it appears that this poor creature, at the time of her husband’s disappearance, was in somewhat delicate health, and the shock she received at the sudden and totally unexpected apparition of his proper self affected her so profoundly, both physically and mentally, that it was regarded as the proximate cause of her death, which took place not long afterwards. The husband also sickened and died, and the origin of his malady was at the time pointedly attributed to the unfortunate part he had acted in the affair of his wife’s death, of which he was in so large a measure the unintentional cause. Thus ends the tragic prologue to our present story. 

   The case now stood thus:- As the body which had been buried was not that of the person it was presumed to be, and it was still otherwise unclaimed, the question arose – Might it not after all have been the corpse of Mr T., whose wife was so unwilling to believe that her husband was dead? Probability was certainly in favour of such a presumption; and the gentleman whom we have mentioned as having inspected the body of the drowned man, and who was personally acquainted with Mr T., returned to his original belief, holding it more tenaciously than ever, as to the identity of the corpse. Naturally, of course, the arguments which Mrs T. formerly repelled as inadequate now received some colour of authenticity from the new circumstances. We shall briefly refer to these arguments, which, as will be seen in the sequel, are curious in a threefold sense. In the first place, the husband of Mrs T. was of short stature and stout – so was the husband of the other woman – and so was the body of the drowned man. In the next place, Mrs T.’s husband wore, when he disappeared, a neckscarf of a certain pattern – the husband of the other woman wore an exactly similar scarf – and so did the body that was picked from the Clyde. Again, Mr T. was known, when he left home, to have one of his boots patched in a peculiar manner; one of the boots of the other woman’s husband was also patched in the same style; and of the boots worn by the dead body, one of them was patched exactly like that of the other two. These triple coincidences were, however, rather curious than marvellous or convincing as arguments. Thousands of men are short and stout; thousands of men wear cravats of a similar pattern; and thousands of men wear their boots in the same manner, and are therefore obliged to have them patched in similar style. Another small coincidence may be added. Mr T. was known to have been a regular reader of Reynold’s Miscellany, and a copy of that periodical was found in the coat-pocket of the drowned man when he was taken from the river. But all such facts put together, used as arguments, must ever be inconclusive in cases so serious as the identity of a human body. The most singular coincidence in the present affair, however, remains to be indicated. The body was a good deal decomposed. This was particularly true of the face, but other parts were better preserved, and especially the left hand, the thumb of which at the bowl was unusually enlarged. Now, this was a particular feature of T.’s left hand, and when the gentleman whose connection with the affair we have already mentioned went to view the body, one of the first things he did was to examine the left hand to see what size of thumb was there. His surprise and grief were great indeed when he discovered this remarkable feature on the hand of the dead man, which at once convinced him that the body he saw there was that of his friend. But here again begins the singularity of the matter. The husband of the other woman had also an exaggerated thumb; and it was in fact partly, if not wholly, by this mark that she identified the body as that of her missing partner. Thus, then, the return of the one husband, as above detailed, proved that he at least had escaped a watery grave; while the continued absence of the other husband greatly strengthened the probability that the corpse claimed and buried under another name, and on account of which funeral money had been received, was the body of Mr T. 

   These incidents, as we have already said, occurred in the spring of 1858. When Mrs T.’s husband disappeared, she was not only left wholly unprovided for, in a worldly point of view, but she had two young children  to increase the weight of her responsibility and deepen her subsequent sorrow; for, after this event her course of life was one continued struggle with adversity, in which she was for some time defeated at every point. It is neither permissible nor is it necessary to repeat her story up to the present year, but if it were so it would present too painful a picture for pleasant reading. Two or three points will suffice to line the past with the present. In the first place, Mrs T.’s two children died, one after the other, under circumstances of an exceedingly sad nature. These deaths were like new blows dealt upon old, but still open scars – no tidings, nor even the faintest trace, of her absent husband having reached her from any quarter. The weary, laborious months lengthened themselves into years, yet still no tidings; and at last the poor woman began to think that her friend was right in his persistent declaration that it was her husband who was drowned in the Clyde. Slowly as other years passed away without bringing the slightest hint of the absent one, her unwilling feats that she was indeed a widow hardened themselves into actual conviction. There was, nevertheless, a clinging element of doubt in her mind, and she repelled for a time certain suitors who would willingly have made her a wife a second time; for she was still comparatively young, and rather good looking. By the beginning of the present year, however, all hope had died out of her heart that she should ever again see her husband alive in this world. She believed, in fact, that he was dead, and this belief was deepened by a circumstance which occurred in March last. The gentleman who had taken such an interest in her case, and who had seen the body of her drowned husband, as he supposed, died of consumption. But on his deathbed he in the most solemn manner reiterated to her his unshaken belief that Mr T. was dead, and assured her that she might, with a good conscience before God, take another husband. It was now eight years since the disappearance of Mr T. She at length fully believed herself a widow, and consented to marry a second time. But even then, in order to dissipate the possibility of doubt, the widow, before the marriage, visited her first husband’s relatives in Ayrshire, to make sure that they knew or had heard nothing of the long-absent man. They assured her that they were as absolutely in the dark as herself regarding the fate of their friend. This was enough. She returned home to Glasgow satisfied, was married to Mr M., her second husband, in the beginning of April last, and, up till within two months ago, was living happily with her. 

   By these successive statements the reader is probably prepared to learn that this sadly true tale of mystery culminates in a particular manner, and at perhaps the unluckiest stage of it. This, we confess, is the unfortunate fact; for about six or eight weeks since the husband who was supposed – and not without fair circumstantial evidence – to have drowned in the Clyde, presented himself suddenly in Glasgow. The effect of his coming may be imagined. No ghost from the grave could have startled more the person upon whom he first called, inquiring after his wife. It seemed an extraordinary case of the “Dead Alive.” The surprise was, however, speedily over on the one side, and it was soon the absentee’s turn to be surprised when, in reply to a question, he was informed that his wife was certainly living, but married to another man – though how he could be surprised at any fate which might have befallen the poor creature it is not quite easy to conceive, considering that she had been deserted eight years and a half before, and left penniless, resourceless, almost friendless, and with two children. We have now reached delicate ground, and desire to speak with circumspection. Not much more in the meantime, however, remains to be added. The returned husband and his wife – a wife in a double sense – had, of course, an interview, the nature of which may be partly conceived when we say that, for pathos, the great master of sensationalism could not in his finest moods approach it. It was a peculiarly cruel position for the wife, who had for so many years toiled and suffered, and only at the last moment got into something like smooth water. The question will naturally occur – Where was the husband all this time? Simply in England, quietly pursuing his trade, and, we may presume, living a comparatively comfortable life. We say nothing about his motives for such conduct, although we have heard something about them; but the mere fact of such a prolonged absence in a land of railways, post offices, and telegraphs, without communicating to his wife or friends a single syllable as to his whereabouts, has by no means a comely appearance. The wife has twenty defences, but for such conduct on the part of the husband there seems no defence whatever. As, however. we have at present nothing to do with the legal or moral bearings of the case, we suspend the narrative; but in doing so it may be permissible to hope that the parties concerned in it may be actuated by the spirit of wisdom should any attempt be made to unsettle present arrangements – which we humbly think would be inadvisable, for reasons of a perfectly guessable nature. 

   Who the man was whose body was found in the Clyde, and who so closely resembled two other men, then alive, is likely to remain a mystery for ever. 

– Dundee Advertiser, Friday, 16th November, 1866. 


   Our Blairgowrie correspondent writes:- A strange story has been current here during the past week, and has given rise to much curious speculation and superstitious feeling. The circumstances are so far removed from ordinary coincidence, and yet bear so much evidence of being “something more than fantasy,” that we give the details as gathered from a reliable source. The subject of the story is – or was – a young married woman, whose maiden name was Jessie Ellon, the daughter of Charles Ellon, who has been cattle-man for many years to Mr Geekie of Rosemount, about two miles from Blairgowrie. Jessie lived with her father before she was married, and was employed occasionally at farm work, along with other young women belonging to the neighbourhood. While so engaged, about two years ago, she told some of her companions of a remarkable dream she had, more than once in succession, which caused her much anxiety and uneasiness at the time. She thought she stood in the centre of a circle, which was like a hay-rick stand, or something of that kind, and saw in numeral letters two X’s. a V, and other symbols, which, taken together, left an indellible impression on her mind that she would die on the 25th of September 1867, just two years after the vision. Being out of the ordinary course of dreaming, the recital caused an unusual sensation at the time, but the gossips made light of the matter, comforting her with the assurance that, according to the “book of fate,” the “contrary” would result in her marriage. The circumstance took such a hold of their memory, however, as to be still distinct, and now rendered doubly wonderful by its strange fulfilment. In the meantime Jessie worked on, and if ever the subject was referred to in the course of conversation, it does not seem to have haunted her so much as to interrupt or interfere with the useful toil and homely joys to which she was accustomed. About a year after her dream, Jessie was married to a young tradesman named Bowman, belonging to Coupar Angus, and shortly after she removed there to live with her husband. It appears that her health gave way soon after this, and she was believed to have fallen into a consumption, and the next and recruit herself at a little harvest work just a fortnight since. She grew worse, took to bed, and lingered till, at eight o’clock on the evening of Wednesday, the 25th September, she died, aged twenty-six years. Such is the story vouched for and verified by the people of the place; and what is worthy of notice, the neighbours, remembering the dream, were wondering some days before her death whether it would really happen on the fatal 25th, according to the mysterious warning which she had got two years before. Whether all this can be explained by natural causes and consequences, as by an idea haunting and preying upon the mind, and thereby wasting the body, or by other kindred conjectures, the occurrence at the precise date, and other circumstances, render this one of the most remarkable cases of the kind on record. As before mentioned, the story has created a sensation corresponding to its unique character. 

– Dundee Advertiser, Thursday, 3rd October, 1867, p.3. 


   One September day in 1852, the Queen, passing through the woods on her way to Alt-na-Guithasack, missed her watch, a present from the Duke of Wellington, and despatched a messenger to Balmoral to inquire if it had been left behind. He returned to say the precious time-keeper was safe, and brought with him a letter from Lord Derby, announcing that Britain had lost “her pride, her glory, her hero,” and the Queen her most devoted, loyal, and faithful subject. Coincidence connected with deaths are perhaps the commonest of coincidences, but the following are worth making a note of… William and Mary Douglas, a Lanarkshire pair, were born in the same house, brought into the world by the same midwife, baptised together, married, lived to the age of one hundred without experiencing a day’s illness, died as they were reposing side by side in bed, and were buried together under the font at which they were baptised… In the Annual Register for 1813, we find the following:- Some time ago, a seaman belonging to the Arrogant died, and the wages due to him were claimed by his brother, John Carr, of 4 Spicer Street, Shadwell. On inquiry, however, it was found that Mary Carr, his sister, residing at Louth, Ireland, had been appointed executrix. Orders were given to send her necessary papers, but, by some mistake, these were forwarded to the address of the first claimant at 4 Spicer Street. In this street were two No. 4’s, and the papers were delivered to one wherein dwelled a woman named Mary Carr, who applied for and received the money, although she was in no way related to the dead sailor. Dr Doran tells of a comical coincidence of which the rector, curate, and congregation of a western village were the victims. The rector and his curate both returned to their duty, after a long absence, upon the same day. The curate took the morning service, and preached so well as to astonish his hearers. In the evening, the rector, who had officiated in a neighbouring parish in the morning, ascended the pulpit, and rather surprised his flock by giving out the same text as the curate had chosen in the forenoon. Their surprise became puzzled wonderment when they found it was not only the same text but the same sermon; and one can imagine the horror of the listening curate. The fact was, rector and curate had each purchased some lithographed sermons, and were so unlucky as to inaugurate their return home with the same one. Good as this story is, it is capped by the misadventure attending three young candidates for a Scotch ministry. The first one put upon his trial, while putting on his robes, happened to descry an ancient-looking well-worn roll of paper, which proved to be a sermon upon the text, “Jacob was a plain man, dwelling in tents.” Seeing that the old sermon was much better than his new one, the aspirant to pulpit honours took possession of it, delivered it as his own, and then returned it to its old resting-place. The sermon was a good one, and pleased the hearers, although they would have preferred one delivered without book. Great was their astonishment the following Sunday when preacher number two treated them with the same sermon from the same text; but it was too much for Scottish patience when a third minister, falling into the same trap, commenced his sermon by announcing that “Jacob was a plain man, dwelling in tents;” and one old woman relieved the feelings of her fellow-sufferers by exclaiming – “Deil dwell ‘um! Is he never gaun to flit?” – Chambers’s Journal

Falkirk Herald and Linlithgow Journal, Thursday, 5th January, 1871, p 5.

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