John Williams (no, not that one), died in April 1841. He was a miner. No, not that kind of miner. He was the Georgian epitome of success. It was said he employed 10,000 people in the tin and copper industry of Cornwall, in the south western tip of Britain. When he died in April of that year, aged 89, his obituarists could only heap praise on the character of the man. He was someone who had not let wealth taint his “simplicity of manners and the mild unassuming dignity with which he bore the honours of fortune.”
So far, so unremarkable, you may say. What the death notices did not mention was Mr Williams’ well-documented brush some three decades before with an unexplained, some might say downright spooky supernatural, event.
That takes us back to of the night of May 11th, 1812. It was the night when Mr Williams had a dream.
Far away, in London, the afternoon had gone very badly for two men. A deranged merchant who had been jailed in Russia and who felt the British government owed him compensation had been fobbed off by bureaucrats once too often. Taking matters – and a couple of loaded pistols – in hand, he hid behind a door in the lobby of the old House of Commons. When the slender wispy figure of the Prime Minister of the day, Spencer Perceval, came in at 5:15pm, the merchant, John Bellingham, shot the Prime Minister, killing him. So, that day which ended badly for Perceval already, was soon enough to do the same for Bellingham, who was eventually hanged for the murder.
Bad news like that travelled fast, but fast in 1812 meant days to reach Redruth in Cornwall. No tearful Walter Cronkite for them. It would be carried by the Mail Coach from London to Exeter and probably by a horseman along the atrocious roads the rest of the way. So the Williams were blissfully ignorant of what had happened a few hours previously when Mr and Mrs Williams went to bed that night.
During the night Williams dreamed the murder. He dreamt it in cinematic detail. He had never seen Perceval in his life and so he did not recognise at first what he was seeing, but nevertheless he could afterwards, but crucially before he could possibly hear reports describe it vividly and accurately to various people none of whom knew either about the murder.
Williams described exactly what he saw. He saw the colour of the clothes people wore. The appearance and demeanour of the people He saw precisely where the bullet hit. He saw the splash and stain of the blood pumping from Perceval’s chest. He saw the way in which Perceval fell. He saw the gentlemen restraining Perceval’s killer who did not try to run away.
He described in detail what he had seen to his wife. He repeated the story to others in the morning and all that day, before the news could possibly have reached Redruth.
Here’s how The Times reported the story a few years later. Let’s take it up from the moment Williams awoke (and yes indeed The Times chose to spell Perceval as Percival):-
Mrs. Williams very naturally told him it was only a dream, and recommended him to be composed, and go to sleep as soon as he could. He did so, and shortly after, again awoke her, and said that he had the second time had the same dream; whereupon she observed he had been so much agitated by his former dream, that she supposed it had dwelt on his mind, and begged of him to try to compose himself and go to sleep, which he did. A third time the vision was repeated; on which, notwithstanding her entreaties that he would be quiet, and endeavour to forget it, he arose, it being then between one and two o’clock, and dressed himself.
At breakfast the dreams were the sole subject of conversation: and in the forenoon Mr. Williams went to Falmouth, where he related the particulars of them to all of his acquaintance that he met.
On the following day, Mr. Tucker, of Tremanton Castle, accompanied by his wife, a daughter of Mr. Williams, went to Scorrier House about dusk. Immediately after the first salutations, on their entering the parlour, where were Mr. Mrs. and Miss Williams.
Mr. Williams began to relate to Mr. Tucker the circumstances of his dream: and Mrs Williams observed to her daughter, Mrs Tucker, laughingly, that her father could not even suffer Mr. Tucker to be seated before he told him of his nocturnal visitation: on the statement of which, Mr. Tucker observed that it would do very well for a dream to have the Chancellor in the lobby of the House of Commons, but he could not be found there in reality; and Mr. Tucker then asked what sort of a man he appeared to be, when Mr. Williams minutely described him; to which Mr. Tucker replied, “Your description is not that of the Chancellor, but it is certainly that of Mr. Percival, the Chancellor of the Exchequer; and although he has been to me the greatest enemy I ever met with through life, for a supposed cause which had no foundation in truth. (or words to that effect), I should be exceedingly sorry, indeed, to hear of his being assassinated, or of injury of the kind happening to him.”
Mr. Tucker then inquired of Mr. Williams if he had ever seen Mr. Percival, and was told that he had never seen him; nor had ever even written to him, either on public or private business; in short, that he never had any-thing to do with him, nor had he ever been in the lobby of the House of Commons in his life. Whilst Mr. Williams and Mr. Tucker were still standing, they heard a horse gallop to the door of the house, and immediately after Mr. Michael Williams, of Treviner, (son of Mr. Williams, of Scorrier), entered the room, and said that he had galloped out from Truro (from which Scorrier is distant seven miles), having seen a gentleman there who had come by that evening’s mail from London, who said that ho had been in the lobby of the House of Commons on the evening of the 11th, when a man called Bellingham had shot Mr. Percival; and that, as it might occasion some great ministerial changes, and might affect Mr. Tucker’s political friends, he had come as fast as he could to make him acquainted with it, having heard at Truro that he had passed through that place on his way to Scorrier.
After the astonishment which this intelligence created had a little subsided, Mr. Williams described most particularly the appearance and dress of the man that he saw in his dream fire the pistol, as he had before done of Mr. Percival.
‘About six weeks after, Mr. Williams, having business in town, went, accompanied by a friend, to the House of Commons, where, as has been already observed, he had never before been. Immediately that he came to the steps at the entrance of the lobby, he said, “This place is as distinctly within my recollection in my dream as any in my house,” and he made the same observation when he entered the lobby. He then pointed out the exact spot where Bellingham stood when he fired, and which Mr. Percival had reached when he was struck by the ball, and when and how he fell. The dress both of Mr. Percival and Bellingham agreed with the description given by Mr. Williams, even to the most minute particulars.’
There is no rational explanation for what occurred. Williams telling the story as he did appears to have secured enough independent witnesses to make it certain that he did have such a dream. Maybe that’s coincidence. Maybe not.