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Thursday, 16 May 2019

"Don't Go to Jersey!"

       On Maundy Thursday, 1899, the ferry, S.S. Stella departed Southampton with 190 passengers and crew, bound for the Channel Islands. They never arrived. Just after 4 p.m., in a heavy fog, it hit the Casquets Rocks. Within ten minutes, it went down, taking at least 77 persons with it. But one man was not present, for he had been forewarned by The Voice in the night.
       [A]n experience which was related by the late Reverend Charles H. Kelly, who was at the time President of the Methodist conference and was, according to custom, expected to spend a week conducting special services in the Channel Islands.
     The night before he should have left London he heard a voice three times in the night say: "Don't go to Jersey!" He was perplexed as it was quite an audible voice that he heard, but it was his first experience of the supernatural. He decided at first to pay no heed to the warning, but his sister from Torquay sent him a telegram following a dream she had. When he arrived at Waterloo Station he felt so troubled that he decided not to travel after all.
     In one of the station's waiting-rooms he wrote a letter and gave it to the guard to hand to the steward of the Stella who was to be as asked to post it immediately the ship reached the Channel Islands.
     That night the Stella was wrecked on the Casquet Rocks. . . .
     On the Monday the Reverend Kelly whose life had been so wonderfully spared went to Jersey and told the people about his extraordinary experience.
    That came from pp 83-4 of Henry Francis Lyte and the Story of "Abide With Me" by Henry James Garland, Torch Publishing, undated, but probably 1955 or 1956. (In case you are wondering about the connection, apparently a concert singer sang the hymn, among others, during the crisis, and Kelly selected it for all his services in the Channel Isles.)
    It is not clear when Rev. Kelly "related" the experience. It was probably not to Garland himself, but it most likely came out during the official investigations and press reports of the time. See here for an a detailed account of the sinking, and the bibliography.
     Nevertheless, Rev. Garland did receive a large number of letters while researching the effect of the hymn on ordinary people. Many involved the supernatural, but the ones I found really strange were the accounts of the hymn being heard sung by invisible, presumably angelic choirs. Not all of them could be easily written off as subjective.
     However, a story which ties in with the first one was told to Rev. Garland directly by a miner who was also a Methodist local preacher. I shall take it from pp 119-120.
     The author was a guest of a miner named Paxton when conducting some evangelistic services in the heart of the Rhondda valley. This man had a wife and family or six children. At that time the wages were very low; men were mostly on piece work and had to toil hard to get a living wage. On one occasion Paxton was at work on a narrow seam of coal which meant he had to work lying on his side. After working hard for two hours a voice said "Take a rest." This is a saying in the pits among the men, when they think one of their number is working too hard. He answered: "Get on with your own job, mate. I cannot afford to waste time."
     About a quarter of an hour later, the same appeal was made. Again he replied: "I cannot take it easy, I have a wife and family to keep." Half an hour later, again the voice called: "Bill, take a rest." He thought he would do so, having been hard at it for so long. Walking some distance from the working he found a suitable spot where he could sit down and meditate. The thought suddenly came to him that he was some hundred yards away from any other man at work whose voice he could hear. As he was trying to solve the problem he heard a rumble. He ran for his life, the pit caved in and buried his tools for ever.
    Had he not moved he would have been either instantly killed or buried alive. Every morning as he had left for the mine he had prayed: "I need Thy presence every passing hour." [a line from the hymn]
     Such experiences are by no means unique. Readers of this blog may remember two other people who later became clergymen -  Peter Marshall  and an anonymous Yorkshire vicar - were also saved from death by The Voice.
     One of the most common accounts of ESP involve sudden premonitions of disaster out of the blue. Can it occasionally manifest itself as an external voice? In any case, the moral is clear: if you hear The Voice, you had better take notice.

2 comments:

  1. Chris Phillips5 June 2019 at 01:10

    Thanks for an interesting article.

    However, the Rev. Mr Kelly's story is one that seems to have grown in the telling. His own version was included in his book "Memories", which was published in 1910:
    https://archive.org/details/memories00kell/page/324

    Instead of hearing a warning voice three times in the night, Kelly wrote "during the day [I] had a strong presentiment of danger, and felt as if voices of the unseen warned me not to go."

    Perhaps more significantly, the details of the ship don't match those of the SS Stella, and in fact there's no mention that any lives were lost from the ship Kelly would have sailed on. It had to return to Southampton, having collided with a French ship whose crew was lost near the Isle of Wight.

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    1. Just goes to show why it is important to rely on first hand information, if it is available. I shall have to file this as "presentiment" rather than "voice".
      Don't you just love the Archive website?

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