What ever happened to Benjamin Bathurst? The mystery of Europe’s lost diplomat

Benjamin Bathurst was an esteemed man of his age. He was born to the Bishop of Norwich in 1784 – a provenance that would grant him the benefit of nepotism in building his future career. He earned a cushy post as a Secretary of the British Legation in Italy before marrying Phillida Call (heiress to the Cornish fortune of Sir John Call) in 1805. In 1809, he had the honour of being dispatched to Vienna, Austria to meet with the Austrian Emperor: Francis I. Benjamin was awarded this role by Britain’s Foreign Secretary – the Earl Henry Bathurst. (Clearly, British diplomacy was not a meritocracy at this time.)

The visit went as planned, with Bathurst plotting his return to Britain via a leisurely route north through Hamburg. On November 25th, 1809, Bathurst stopped at an inn at the town of Perleberg. Here, Bathurst ordered a carriage, telling the driver he was going to go for a brief walk while the horses were prepared. The driver waited for about a quarter of an hour, before going to look for his client. The driver, however, could not find him. And no-one ever did. To this day, nobody knows what became of Benjamin Bathurst after he went on what was supposed to be a brief stroll. Nobody
was ever found, and the world remains mystified as to the cause of his

The river Stepnitz was drained and scoured for two full days, locals and visitors were interrogated, suspects were rounded up and searched. None of it yielded anything. Three weeks later, however, the first clue was found approximately three miles away from Perleberg by a woman who was out gathering firewood. It was a note, apparently written by Bathurst and addressed to his wife, in which he said he was “in danger”, “surrounded by enemies”, and begging her not to marry, should he never return to England. In 1852, an unidentified skeleton was discovered near the town bearing a fatal injury to the skull. Some have speculated this to have been Bathurst, but this has never been conclusively proven or dismissed.

Theories regarding Bathurst’s disappearance have varied. Some predictably focus on the possibility of the paranormal and supernatural, alleging Bathurst was abducted by aliens or simply ‘vanished’ following the interference of a malevolent demonic entity. More convincingly however is the possibility that Bathurst disappeared voluntarily as the result of a deranged paranoia. Earlier in 1809, Bathurst had spent the entirety of Summer and Autumn convalescing at the estate of his father-in-law after suffering a nervous breakdown while working as a diplomat in Stockholm, Sweden.

While in Europe for the trip he would later disappear on, Bathurst travelled alongside a man named Joseph Krause. While sharing a carriage ride, Bathurst loudly lamented to Krause that “he had not a friend in the world” and that there existed a conspiracy of people out to get him. When Krause attempted to console Bathurst that such a plot was unlikely, Bathurst was said to have “instantly seized him, shook him, and accused Krause of being a part of the plot against him.” Bathurst’s outburst towards Krause was so violent that “saliva from his [Bathurst’s] mouth covered his [Krause’s] face and linen”, according to Hall’s 1922 text.

Earlier on the journey, Bathurst had countermanded his carriage driver’s plans to aid a woman by the side of the road whose horse had taken ill, as Bathurst suspected her of being an agent sent to “watch and destroy” him, as he warned the driver. As Bathurst’s European excursion continued, he became increasingly terrified of everyone. It is entirely possible that Bathurst simply lied to his carriage driver about taking a short walk, potentially believing the driver was also a participant in the imagined conspiracy, his order to prepare a carriage may have been nothing more
than a ruse.

While it is likely that we shall never know the fate of Benjamin Bathurst, one need not have much of an imagination to consider what might have become of a lone British nobleman who went wandering alone unarmed and unequipped into the wilderness of a country whose language he did not speak. It is possible that someone did, in the end, do deadly harm to Benjamin Bathurst, something that would likely have left him feeling vindicated in his final moments. This scenario, if true, was much more likely to have been an act of opportunity, rather than the culmination of any demonic, extra-terrestrial or criminal masterplan.

Image via wikipedia