Beaufort, Admiral Sir Francis – Drowning, experiencing bliss and reliving his life in perfect detail
Type of Spiritual Experience
Sir John Barrow was appointed Second Secretary to the Admiralty by Viscount Melville, in 1804, a post which he held for forty years (apart from a short period in 1806–07 when there was a Whig government in power). In his position at the Admiralty, Barrow was a great promoter of Arctic voyages of discovery, including those of John Ross, William Edward Parry, James Clark Ross and John Franklin. The Barrow Strait in the Canadian Arctic as well as Point Barrow and the city of Barrow in Alaska are named after him.
Barrow was a fellow of the Royal Society and received the degree of LL.D from the University of Edinburgh in 1821. A baronetcy was conferred on him by Sir Robert Peel in 1835. He was also a member of the Raleigh Club, a forerunner of the Royal Geographical Society. The book referred to below is
An Auto-Biographical Memoir of Sir John Barrow, Bart, Late of the Admiralty. Including Reflections, Observations, and Reminiscences at Home and Abroad, from Early Life to Advanced Age; Murray, 1847
Dr Wollaston (1766–1828) was a physician and scientist.
A description of the experience
This letter from Admiral (then Captain) Beaufort, to Dr. Wollaston may be found, in the autobiography of Sir John Barrow. It is also found in Haddock's Somnolism and Psycheism, and repeated yet again in full in From Mind to Spirit by Sophia Elizabeth de Morgan
‘Many years ago, when I was a youngster on board one of His Majesty's ships in Portsmouth harbour, after sculling about in a very small boat, I was endeavouring to fasten her alongside the ship to one of the scuttlings; in foolish eagerness I stepped upon the gunwale; the boat of course upset, and I fell into the water, and, not knowing how to swim, all my efforts to lay hold either of the boat or the floating sculls were fruitless.
The transaction had not been observed by the sentinel on the gangway, and, therefore, it was not till the tide had drifted me some distance astern of the ship that a man in the foretop saw me splashing in the water, and gave the alarm.
The first lieutenant instantly and gallantly jumped overboard, the carpenter followed his example, and the gunner hastened into a boat and pulled after them.
With the violent but vain attempts to make myself heard, I had swallowed much water. I was soon exhausted by my struggles; and, before any relief reached me, I had sunk below the surface - all hope had fled, all exertion ceased, and I felt that I was drowning. So far these facts were either partially remembered after my recovery, or supplied by those who had latterly witnessed the scene; for during an interval of such agitation a drowning person is too much occupied in catching at every passing straw, or too much absorbed by alternate hope and despair, to mark the succession of events very accurately.
Not so, however, with, the fact which immediately ensued.
My mind had then undergone the sudden revolution which appeared to you so remarkable, and all the circumstances of which are now as vividly fresh in my memory as if they had occurred but yesterday. 'From the moment that all exertion had ceased - which I imagine was the immediate consequence of complete suffocation - a calm feeling of the most perfect tranquillity succeeded the most tumultuous sensation.
It might be called apathy, certainly not resignation; for drowning no longer appeared an evil: I no longer thought of being rescued, nor was I in any bodily pain. On the contrary, my sensations were now of rather a pleasurable cast, partaking of that dull but contented sort of feeling which precedes the sleep produced by fatigue.
Though the senses were thus deadened, not so the mind; its activity seemed to be invigorated in a ratio which, defies all description; for thought rose after thought with a rapidity of succession that is not only indescribable, but probably inconceivable, by anyone who has not been himself in a similar situation.
The course of these thoughts I can even now in a great measure retrace: the event that had just taken place, the awkwardness which produced it-the bustle it must have occasioned, for I had observed two persons jump from the chains - the effect it would have on a most affectionate father, the manner in which he would disclose it to the rest of the family, and a thousand other circumstances minutely associated with home, were the first series of reflections that occurred.
They took, then, a wider range: our last cruise-a former voyage and shipwreck-my school, the progress I had made there, the time I had misspent, and even all my boyish pursuits and adventures. Thus, travelling backwards, every incident of my past life seemed to me to glance across my recollection in retrograde procession; not, however, in mere outline as here stated, but the picture filled up, with every minute and collateral feature ; in short, the whole period of my existence seemed to be placed, before me in a kind of panoramic review, and each act of it seemed to be accompanied by a consciousness of right or wrong, or by some reflection on its cause or consequences-indeed, many trifling events, which had been long forgotten, then crowded into my imagination, and with the character of recent familiarity.
May not all this be some indication of the almost infinite power of memory with which we may awaken in another world, and be compelled to contemplate our past lives?
Or might it not, in some degree, warrant the inference that death is only a change or modification of our existence, in which there is no real pause or interruption?
But however that may be, one circumstance was highly remarkable, that the innumerable ideas which floated into my mind were all retrospective; yet I had been religiously brought up; my hopes and fears of the next world had lost nothing of their early strength, and at any other period intense interest and awful anxiety would have been excited by the mere idea that I was floating on the threshold of eternity; yet at that inexplicable moment, when I had a full consciousness that I had already crossed that threshold, not a single thought wandered into the future; I was wrapt entirely in the past.
The length of time that was occupied by this deluge of ideas, or rather the shortness of time into -which they were condensed, I cannot now state with precision; yet, certainly, two minutes could not have elapsed from the moment of suffocation to the time of my being hauled up.'