Benjamin Bathurst was a British diplomat who disappeared without a trace in Germany in 1809. In a day and age when sophisticated forensics didn’t exist, this might not sound too mysterious – especially during the Napoleonic Wars when murders, robberies and assassinations were common.
However, his disappearance was so notably sudden that many attributed it to a supernatural cause, even suggesting that he had hopped between dimensions. No, really.
Bathurst was travelling through Prussia at the time, under the alias of Baron de Koch. He and his German courier stopped in the town of Perleberg at an inn called the White Swan while they waited for fresh horses to be harnessed to their carriage. After staying a few hours, they were notified that their carriage was ready. Bathurst left the room immediately, and his companion followed shortly after – only to find that Bathurst had disappeared completely in the short distance between the inn and the carriage.
No sign of the diplomat could be found, and at first a search was not mobilised. As Bathurst was travelling under an alias as a commercial traveller, his disappearance was not noted until his companion managed to travel back to England with the news. Bathurst’s wife immediately left for Germany where a Captain von Klitzing had already mobilised his troops for an ultimately fruitless search.
The first sign found of the man was an expensive fur coat, turned up in the outhouse of a family that worked at the White Swan. Later, his pantaloons were found in the forest north of Perleberg — but no other trace of the man was ever discovered. Contemporary reports argued over whether Bathurst was in his right mind as he travelled through Prussia, with many investigators working under the impression that he had chosen to disappear of his own accord.
The most thorough account of Bathurst’s disappearance comes from Sabine Baring-Gould’s Historic Oddities and Strange Events:
On Mr. Bathurst’s return to the inn, he countermanded the horses; he said he would not start till night. He considered that it would be safer for him to spin along the dangerous portion of the route by night when Napoleon’s spies would be less likely to be on the alert. He remained in the inn writing and burning papers. At seven o’clock he dismissed the soldiers on guard, and ordered the horses to be ready by nine. He stood outside the inn watching his portmanteau, which had been taken within, being replaced on the carriage, stepped round to the heads of the horses — and was never seen again.
Baring-Gould does go on to say that it was quite dark at this time and though there were witnesses in the courtyard, not many of them were paying attention. Many of the witnesses had noted that the man seemed agitated in the hours before he disappeared, as though he knew he was in danger. Whether this was because the French were close by in the area, because he was mentally ill and potentially suicidal or even for another, stranger reason, no one knows.
The suddenness and completeness of his disappearance has always been a point of interest, however, to the point where it has inspired a number of science-fiction stories and novels. The most notable of these is ‘He Walked Around The Horses‘, a science fiction novel in which Bathurst slips into an alternate universe from the courtyard of the White Swan.
There was never any conclusive evidence of what really happened to Bathurst. In 1852, a skeleton was discovered under the threshold of a stable by a house not three hundred paces from the White Swan. The skull was fractured as if by a heavy instrument, and one of the lower molars had been removed by a dentist. While this skull was investigated, it was never conclusively decided whether it was Bathurst’s or not.
Was Bathurst a victim of a murder, a French kidnapping or did he simply step out of this world and into another, as some suggest? As with most of these mysteries, we’ll probably never know.
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