1873, June 30: A Singular Drowning

Lady Dufferin
The Lady Dufferin. [Larger version here]

In 1891, Harriot Georgina Blackwood, the Marchoness of Dufferin and Ava in England -- and who I will refer to as Lady Dufferin from here on -- published a memoir of the time she and her husband, Lord Dufferin, spent in Canada when he was serving as the Governor-General of the country. The volume is a charming sort of outsider's eye view of the country and its cultures, and acts as a travelogue of sorts as well, as the Lady Dufferin and her husband spent some time touring the country and camping out as well. Within this volume, however, there is one incident that is notable for us here.

        The book is presented in a precise chronological ordering of events, and our attention must first be directed to the date of Monday, June 30, 1873. Lady Dufferin and her husband, as well as their entourage of servants, were exploring around the Gulf of St. Lawrence... this day found them near Mingan, Quebec, by the mouth of the Mingan River. The Dufferins and some of the servants had gotten up around 6AM and traveled up the river some by canoe to go salmon fishing. They took a break around 11AM as the day was turning very hot, they retired to tents to wait for cooler times in the afternoon. It was sometime after this that a canoe arrived from the main camp with unfortunate news. One of the footmen had been drowned.

        The Dufferins and their party all returned to the main group immediately to investigate; sadly, there wasn't much to learn. The footman, who was keen on fishing but could not swim, had stepped to close to the edge of a slippery rock and fallen into the current. Though another man had dove in behind him, the footman could not be found and didn't surface. A boat was launched, and the man's body was soon found because his fishing rod, which was still in his hand, was sticking up out of the water.

        Lord Dufferin contacted the local Hudson's Bay Company overseer, and the two arranged for a funeral to be held the following day in a nearby churchyard; flags were set half-mast and all members of not just the staff, but the crew of the ship they were traveling on, attending the funeral. Lord Dufferin himself read the service. Both Lady and Lord Dufferin were worried that they didn't know how to contact the footman's family and friends to let them know of his fate, so it was decided that any mail that should arrive for the footman would be given to the Lord so he might respond to the senders... and it was this decision that led to an unusual discovery.

        We must now turn our attention to the section of Lady Dufferin's book that covers the date of Friday, July 11, 1873, for on this date a letter arrived addressed to the footman. It came from a servant girl in Ottawa the footman had been friendly with, and it was dated exactly seven days after the footman's untimely death. In it, the young woman mentioned that she had moved to a new place as of a week earlier, and she liked it; but she couldn't get her mind off of a terrible dream she had in which she saw the footman and another of Dufferin's men upset from a boat. In the dream, the other man had been saved, but the footman had drowned. She had the dream seven days previous to writing... the day the footman had slipped into the river, more than 500 miles distant from the young woman...

A Minor Footnote

        Seven years after the Lady Dufferin's book was published, the incident in the text was shared by a correspondent with the Journal of the Society for Psychical Research in England, where it was recorded as letter "L. 1108" in the December 1898 edition of the magazine. The journal was only distributed among actual members and associates of the society at the time; but the fact the letter was published in it would later lead to some confusion, when Lord Dufferin himself became the subject of a very strange story... to read more on that, follow the 'See Also' link below!