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  • Cat Ward


Quite often, when I'm researching for an article, I'll inadvertently stumble upon a case study, or a report of an experience, which is completely unrelated to that which I was originally researching..and being ever-curious I'll end up reading about it..and I can't say I've ever regretted that!

After all, what's one vital thing we should never disperse with in this field? If your thoughts went to learning, and broadening of considerations, you'd be right!

Recently, whilst researching for an article on a subject completely unrelated to this one, I found myself perusing some volumes of the Journal of the Society For Psychical Research, and happened upon discussion of a case which instantly fired my curiosity- the strange experiences of a Mr. and Mrs. Wilmot, in 1863.

The reason I became curious about the case is that there seems to be perhaps a few possible explanations for what occurred- indeed, a few great minds in psychical research- Eleanor Sidgwick, Frederic Myers, Edmund Gurney, and G.N.M. Tyrrell, have each contributed their thoughts as to what may have occurred, and the possible mental processes behind that.

The other reason for my curiosity is the age of the case..the report of the occurrences first came to the attention of the S.P.R. in 1889, via a covering letter from a Mr. W.B.H. to Richard Hodgson, Secretary of the then-newly-formed American Society for Psychical Research.

These were the early years in the field, not long after the formation of both societies, and the pioneers of the field of psychical research were very much alive then. To read of their thoughts is to see the groundwork- the "foundation stones" of the field, from which further thinking has developed.

I suppose, to begin with though, I should give you the specifics and details of the case, before I get to the all-important how, why, and what if..


Mr. S.R. Wilmot was an American, responsible for running a manufacturing firm in Bridgeport, Connecticut. In October of 1863, he was returning to America (and his wife and three children awaiting him there) from England, as a passenger on the S.S. City Of Limerick, a steamship owned by the Inman Line.

The original account, as told by Mr. Wilmot to a friend (some 25 years after it happened), was passed on to the Society for Psychical Research, and in volume 7 of its' "Proceedings" was detailed by Eleanor Sidgwick, in a study titled "On the Evidence for Clairvoyance" (Sidgwick, P.S.P.R. vii 1891).

In Mr. Wilmot's own words, the occurrences were explained thus :

"On October 3rd, 1863, I sailed from Liverpool for New York, on the steamer City of Limerick, of the Inman line, Captain Jones commanding. On the evening of the second day out, soon after leaving Kinsale Head, a severe storm began, which lasted for nine days. During this time we saw neither sun nor stars nor any vessel; the bulwarks on the weather bow were carried away, one of the anchors broke loose from its lashings, and did considerable damage before it could be secured, and several stout storm sails, though closely reefed, were carried away, and the booms broken. Upon the night following the eighth day of the storm the tempest moderated a little, and for the first time since leaving port I enjoyed refreshing sleep. Toward morning I dreamed that I saw my wife, whom I had left in the United States, come to the door of my state-room, clad in her nightdress. At the door she seemed to discover that I was not the only occupant of the room, hesitated a little, then advanced to my side, stooped down, and kissed me, and after gently caressing me for a few moments, quietly withdrew. Upon waking I was surprised to see my fellow passenger, whose berth was above mine, but not directly over it- owing to the fact that our room was at the stern of the vessel- leaning upon his elbow, and looking fixedly at me. 'You're a pretty fellow,' said he at length, 'to have a lady come and visit you in this way. ' I pressed him for an explanation, which he at first declined to give, but at length related what he had seen while wide awake, lying in his berth. It exactly corresponded with my dream. "This gentleman's name was William J. Tait, and he had been my room-mate in the passage out, in the preceding July, on the Cunard steamer Olympus; a native of England, and son of a clergyman of the Established Church. He had for a number of years lived in Cleveland, in the State of Ohio, where he held the position of librarian of the Associated Library.

He was at this time perhaps fifty years of age- by no means in the habit of practical joking, but a sedate and very religious man, whose testimony upon any subject could be taken unhesitatingly. The incident seemed so strange to me that I questioned him about it, and upon three separate occasions, the last one shortly before reaching port, Mr. Tait repeated to me the same account of what he had witnessed. On reaching New York we parted, and I never saw him afterward, but I understand that he died, a number of years ago, in Cleveland. The day after landing I went by rail to Watertown, Conn., where my children and my wife had been for some time, visiting her parents. Almost her first question, when we were alone together, was, ' Did you receive a visit from me a week ago Tuesday ? 'A visit from you?' said I, 'we were more than a thousand miles at sea.' 'I know it,' she replied, 'but it seemed to me that I visited you.' 'It would be impossible,' said I. 'Tell me what makes you think so.' My wife then told me that on account of the severity of the weather and the reported loss of the Africa, which sailed for Boston on the same day that we left Liverpool for New York, and had gone ashore at Cape Race, she had been extremely anxious about me. On the night previous, the same night when, as mentioned above, the storm had just begun to abate, she had lain awake for a long time thinking of me, and about four o'clock in the morning it seemed to her that she went out to seek me. Crossing the wide-and stormy sea, she came at length to a low, black steamship, whose side she went up, and then descending into the cabin, passed through it to the stern until she came to my state-room. 'Tell me,' said she, 'do they ever have state-rooms like the one I saw, where the upper berth extends further back than the under one. A man was in the upper berth, looking right at me, and for a moment I was afraid to go in, but soon I went up to the side of your berth, bent down and kissed you, and embraced you, and then went away.' The description given by my wife of the steamship was correct in all particulars, though she had never seen it. I find by my sister's diary that we sailed October 4th ; the day we reached New York, 22nd ; home, 23rd. With the above corrections I can very willingly subscribe my name. S.R. WILMOT."

To some, this may seem a case not particularly striking in its content..but for my mind, there's a few peculiarities that very much got me thinking..

On that note, I guess we could move on to the ever-important questions..firstly though, let's have a look at what was said about the case by a few very notable others, many years ago..


As I mentioned at the start of this piece, a few of the great minds in psychical research have weighed in on the Wilmot case..let's examine their thoughts briefly, as of course it was from such as those that other thoughts and theories began..They also serve as consideration for further exploration of the concepts and possibilities in the Wilmot case..but more on that shortly. For now, let's look at the possibilities from those early points of view.

Edmund Gurney, one of the founding fathers of the S.P.R., whilst discussing cases containing similar content in "Phantasms of the Living" (Volume 2, 1886), proffers a theory by way of explanation for "collective apparitions" that could perhaps offer some explanation as to Mr. Tait's witnessing Mrs. Wilmot's visit to her husband.

Gurney describes such incidences as being due to a form of telepathic "infection", wherein person A, the original "agent" telepathically influences person B, the original "percipient" , with whom their interest lies, and that person B then becomes a further agent, and through their sensory perception and interpretation then acts as an agent themselves, and passes that image on, via thought transference, to person C , who thus becomes an unwitting percipient, responding to the telepathic influence of person B by creating their own interpretation of the sensory information they have received from person B.

Gurney also places importance on the physical proximity of person B to person C in the process, explaining that through physical proximity the minds of person B and person C may be occupied with similar thoughts, and that their physical proximity to one another may be important regarding person C becoming a percipient.

This is, in a way, is like a telepathic version of catching a cold..if one is close enough to the person who has a germ (although the "germ" in this case is telepathic), it could thus be spread.

F.W.H. Myers, another of the founders of the S.P.R., offers a different view in that same book, stating that the presence of a consciously observing mind, in the space where the apparition is seen, is responsible for the experiences of the percipients in collective cases. He felt that Mrs. Wilmot was present in the cabin her husband occupied- in an energetic or etherial sense.

As previously mentioned, in 1891 Eleanor Sidgwick (wife of Henry Sidgwick, one of the founding members of the S.P.R., and a brilliant researcher in her own right) weighed into the conversation also, via her study in the S.P.R.'s Proceedings.

Sidgwick held the opinion that Mrs. Wilmot, whether awake or asleep, had a clairvoyant vision of her husband, in which she was made aware of his surroundings and that due to a telepathic bond between them, Mr. Wilmot dreamt his wife's thoughts. Mr. Tait's experience is attributed to being a form of "waking hallucination" which corresponded with the content of Mr. Wilmot's dream.

She states agreement also that Gurney's telepathic view would be the correct explanation, as opposed to Myers' view, as she does not feel that Mrs. Wilmot could have been made psychically aware of the cabin due to her etherial self being present there, and her awareness of it is due once again to her husband's presence there, and the telepathic transmission of his sensory images to her mind.

In his 1953 book "Apparitions", G.N.M. Tyrrell adds his own opinion also, which is related to his main theory on apparitions- that the cause of such phenomena is due to the collusion of two of the "mid-level" (or subconscious) constituents (or "constructors") of the minds of the agent and the percipient, which he terms the "Producer" and the "Stage Carpenter".

Tyrrell felt that Mrs. Wilmot's experience of travelling across the sea to her husband's ship, and finding his cabin, was not just due to a telepathic message sent to her by him, but that the mid-levels of both their minds worked together to construct an "apparitional drama"- a play. Tyrrell also politely disagrees with Gurney's telepathic "infection" theory as being the cause of Mr. Tait's experience, stating that he feels Mr. Tait was "drawn into the scene because his presence in the cabin rendered him relevant as a spectator. His mid-level factor was acted upon because the play would not have been complete without him". (Tyrrell 1953, p.119)


The questions inherent in any case studies are always a constant, and for my mind, those are often perfectly summarised by the same three essential considerations..how, why, and what if.

At a first glance, the case of the Wilmots may seem to be merely an instance of what could be termed reciprocal telepathy, or mind-to-mind communication, -a sort of "mental link" between husband and wife. To use an analogy, reciprocal telepathy is somewhat like a mental version of a two-way radio. One mind, or one "channel" if you like, is seeking contact with another mind, who is also seeking contact with the channel at the other end, therefore both tune in to the same "bandwidth", and communication is thus facilitated.

As telepathy has been noted to occur more often where an emotional bond is present, this would seem a reasonable assumption..but one factor in the Wilmot case seems to show the possible explanations require further thought- there was another witness, one not emotionally connected to the principal agent, nor to the percipient..

Those definitions too, "agent" and "percipient", are also not easily defined in the Wilmot case..who played which role? Let's look at things from a few different (possible) explanatory hypotheses- a multi-angled approach is always beneficial, I feel!

MR., ..OR MRS.?

I've written before of the importance of intent when considering the circumstances in various cases..Indeed, intent and its' resultant emotional and energetic output seem to be responsible for phenomena such as Vardogr cases.

Could the seemingly dire situation the City of Limerick was mired in have caused a wish, an intent, in the mind of Mr. Wilmot, to be with his wife, and thus could that intent be responsible for initiating their telepathic contact? was the mutual "channel" which would result in reciprocal telepathy opened from his end?

Or was it perhaps opened from the other end?..Having heard of another ship (The SS Africa) being run aground due to the same weather conditions she presumed the ship her husband was travelling on would be currently experiencing, was Mrs. Wilmot responsible for paving the way? For my mind, if telepathy was involved here, either could have served as the agent..

But there's also that other element to the equation..Mr. Tait.

How is it that he, whilst awake and alert, saw that which Mr. Wilmot dreamed he saw, and how, at the same time, did Mrs. Wilmot see Mr. Tait, and he her?


As mentioned earlier, Edmund Gurney proposed a theory of a sort of telepathic "infection" (or, as he terms it, Psychical affection) as being responsible for collective cases. In his theory person A, the agent, telepathically influences person B, with whom their interest lies, and person B who, through being in close physical proximity to person C, unwittingly influences them telepathically, thus becoming an agent themselves, and rendering person C a further percipient..

To examine the case from this angle, the role of the original agent, I feel, would be designated to Mrs. Wilmot. Her concern for her husband was responsible, in this scenario, for her "visit" to him, which renders him as the percipient, and a further "agent"..and his dream, transmitted telepathically via his wife's own vision, thus "infected" Mr. Tait due to his being in close proximity to him.


Coincidentally enough, it was Tyrrell who first coined the term "out of body experience" , or O.B.E., in "Apparitions".

Many adherents to the possibility that one's etherial self can be projected, externally and often at a distance, would consider the Wilmot case as an instance of this phenomenon. As is mostly always the case with any reported experiences, there is no definitive answer as to what truly was the cause of those- we, as observers, can merely speculate..

When looking at an O.B.E. as a possible hypothesis, I do feel it could perhaps present an answer regarding Mr. Tait's experience..Let's take it as a given in this hypothesis that Mr. and Mrs. Wilmot had a "link", and Mr. Wilmot's dire and distressing situation was suspected by his wife. Did her etherial self, due to her concern for her husband, perhaps travel outside her body, and find him, thus causing his "dream"?

And if one's etherial self is visually discernable to others, as in Vardogr or Doppelganger cases, Mr. Tait, as a fellow occupant of Mr. Wilmot's cabin, could thus have seen Mrs. Wilmot's projected self, despite the fact there was no telepathic or emotional bond between them.


I have a friend and fellow blogger to thank for this particular analogy- thanks, Ashley!

The aforementioned friend and blogger, Ashley Knibb, proffered a theory in several of his previous pieces, where he mentions that when seeking information about a location and/or those who are (or have been) present there, one performs a mental process akin to a Google search- our minds unknowingly reach out to any other relevant ones.

In her concern for her husband, could Mrs. Wilmot have performed a subconscious "Google search"..and have unwittingly made a link with Mr. Tait? He was in close physical proximity to her husband, so therefore bore relevance in the situation..could this explain his witnessing her apparition? Did Mr. Tait see the energetic personification of Mrs. Wilmot's subconscious "Google search" because she had found his information in her "search results"? And did his seeing Mrs. Wilmot perhaps influence Mr. Wilmot's dream, through Gurney's "psychical affection"? Was Mr. Tait the original percipient, the "person B"?


It was fascinating to read about the Wilmot case- such experiences are rare, it seems, when we consider the lack of similar cases reported in psychical research annals. If the experience was limited to just that dreamt or envisioned by Mr. and Mrs. Wilmot, the case would perhaps have been rendered more commonplace..but the spanner in the works, in the form of Mr. Tait, renders the case as well beyond common.

As is often the case with anything considered in this field, we are left with no definitive answers..and given the age of this report, those answers are even further from hand. This may be frustrating to some..but for my mind, the questions, and the exploration of possible answers, are one of the most enjoyable aspects!

I'll leave you to ponder the possibilities..what do you feel occurred? and how? Do feel free to tell me in comments- I do enjoy a good discussion on such matters!