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At My First Seance, I Saw the Faces of Death

Updated on August 10, 2015

In her book There Is No Death, Florence Marryat tells us how she in February 1873 was introduced to Mr. Henry Dunphy of the Morning Post. The favorite hobby of Mr. Dunphy was "Spiritualism", and since Florence had heard so many clever men and women discuss the subject, she had begun to believe that there must be “something in it”.

"Then the time has arrived for you to investigate it," Mr. Dunphy said. "For I can introduce you to a medium who will show you the faces of the dead."

Victorian Spirit Photography

At the time, the novelist Annie Thomas, an intimate friend, was staing with Mrs. Marryat. Florence and Annie took the adress Mr. Dunphy gave them of the American medium Mrs. Holmes, who was then visiting London and lodging in Old Quebec Street. They refused any introduction, and went to see her incognito.

The next evening, when Mrs. Holmes held a public seance, the two women presented themselves at Mrs. Holmes' as Miss Taylor and Miss Turner. They had first removed their wedding-rings, because they wanted to look "as virginal as possible".

Mrs. Holmes did not receive them very graciously. They were strangers to her – probably sceptics - and the medium eyed them rather coldly. It was a bitter night; the snow lay so thick upon the ground that Mrs. Taylor & Mrs. Turner had some difficulty in procuring a hansom to take them to Old Quebec Street.

No other visitors arrived, and after a little while Mrs. Holmes offered to return their money (ten shillings). She said there would probably be no manifestations on account of the inclemency of the weather. (Any extreme heat or cold is indeed liable to make a seance a dead failure.) But Annie Thomas had to return home the following day, and so they begged the medium to try at least and show them something.

Florence was not quite sure what she expected or hoped for on this occasion. She was full of curiosity, but she didn't think to see a face which she would recognize as having been on earth. Florence waited till nine o'clock in hopes that a circle would be formed; but as no one else came, Mrs. Holmes consented to sit with them alone, warning them however to prepare for a disappointment.

The lights were extinguished, and they sat for the usual preliminary dark seance. When it concluded, the gas was re-lit and now they were waiting to see the “Spirit Faces”...

There were two small rooms connected by folding doors. Annie Thomas and Florence Marryat were asked to go into the back room and to lock the door communicating with the landings,. They had to secure it with their own seal, stamped upon a piece of tape stretched across the opening. Mrs. Holmes asked them to examine the window and bar the shutter inside, and to search the room thoroughly. There was no one concealed in it.

When they were satisfied that no one could enter from the back, Mr. and Mrs. Holmes, Annie Thomas and Florence Marryat were seated on four chairs in the front room, arranged in a row before the folding doors. The doors were opened, and a square of black calico was fastened across the aperture from one wall to the other. The calico had a square hole of about the size of an ordinary window, at which the spirit faces would appear.

"There was no singing, nor noise of any sort made to drown the sounds of preparation, Florence Marryat related, "and we could have heard even a rustle in the next room."

Mr. and Mrs. Holmes talked of their various experiences, and then, suddenly, something white and indistinct like a cloud of tobacco smoke appeared and disappeared again. “They are coming! Oh, I am so glad they are coming!” exlaimed Mrs. Holmes. “I didn’t think we should get anything tonight!"

The white mass advanced and retreated several times, and finally settled before the aperture and opened in the middle. A female face was distinctly to be seen now, above the black calico... and to her amazement, Florence recognize the features of Annie Thomas’ mother!

Annie was very much affected, and talked to her mother in the most incoherent manner. The spirit did not answer in words, but she bowed her head or shook it, according as she wished to say “yes” or “no”. Florence could not help feeling awed at the appearance of the dear old lady, but what puzzled her the most was the cap she wore, which was made of white net, quilled closely round the face, and unlike any she had ever seen the old lady wear in life.

Florence whispered this to Annie, and her friend replied at once: “It is the cap she was buried in…”

Mrs. Thomas had possessed a very pleasant but very uncommon looking face, with bright black eyes, and a complexion of pink and white like that of a child. It was some time before Annie could be persuaded to let her mother go, but the next face that presented itself astonished her quite as much, for she recognized it as that of Captain Gordon, a gentleman whom she had known intimately and for a length of time.

Florence had never seen Captain Gordon in the flesh, but she had heard of him, and she knew he had died from a sudden accident. All she saw was the head of a goodlooking young man. While her friend conversed with him about olden days, Florence minutely examined the working of the muscles of his throat, which undeniably stretched when his head moved.

As she was doing so, he leaned forward, and she saw a dark stain, which looked like a clot of blood on his fair hair, on the left side of the forehead.

“Annie! What did Captain Gordon die of?” she asked.

“He fell from a railway carriage,” Annie replied, “and struck his head upon the line.”

Florence then pointed out to her the blood upon his hair…

More occult Victorian themes, physical mediumship, ectoplasm, levitation...

Several other faces appeared, which Florence could not recognize. At last came one of a gentleman, apparently moulded like a bust in plaster. He had a kind of smoking cap upon the head, curly hair, and a beard. He seemed perfectly colorless and looked very unlike nature. Though he kept on bowing in her direction to indicate that she knew him, Florence could not trace a resemblance to any friend of hers.

She examined this face again and again... in vain. Nothing in it struck her as familiar, until the mouth broke into a grave, amused smile at her perplexity. In a moment Florence recognized it as that of her dear old friend, John Powles. She whispered his name and sprang towards him, but with her hasty action the figure disappeared.

Florence was terribly vexed at her imprudence, for this was a friend she really desired to see. She sat there, hoping and praying the spirit would return, but it did not.

Annie Thomas’ mother and friend both came back several times. As a matter of fact, Annie recalled Captain Gordon so often, that on his last appearance the power was already very exhausted and his face looked like a faded sketch in water-colors.

The last face they saw that night was that of a little girl. Only her eyes and nose were visible, the rest of her head and face being enveloped in some white flimsy material like muslin. Mrs. Holmes asked her for whom she came, and she intimated that it was for Florence.

"You must be mistaken," Florence said softly. "I don't know anyone in life like you."

The medium questioned the girl very closely, but the child persisted that she came for Florence. “Cannot you remember anyone of that age connected with you in the spirit world?" the medium asked her. "No cousin, nor niece, nor sister... nor the child of a friend?”

Florence tried to remember, but she could not. She then addressed the little spirit: “You have made a mistake. There is no one here who knows you. You had better move on.”

So the child did move on, but very slowly and reluctantly. Florence could read the disappointment in her eyes, and after she had disappeared, she peeped round the corner again and looked at her, longingly.

This was her “Lost Child Florence” – as she then used to call her. She had left her as a little infant of ten days old, and of course Florence couldn't recognize her now as a young girl of ten years... 

Black Out Ghost Poetry


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    • sarmack profile image


      9 years ago from Washington State

      Very nice writing. The book must be interesting. Florence Marryat looks like a nice person, doesn't she! Will have to look into that book. Does death have a face?

    • kittythedreamer profile image

      Kitty Fields 

      9 years ago from Summerland

      Whoa! Voted up and awesome. Never heard this story and I'm big into the paranormal. Super creepy and wonderfully told.

    • Gawth profile image

      Ron Gawthorp 

      11 years ago from Millboro, Virginia

      Very good.

    • efeyas profile image


      11 years ago from Some Sunny Beach, USA

      Very interesting! But how sad about the little girl. So heart wrenching. Thanks for sharing! :)

    • Nemingha profile image


      11 years ago

      Wow, you do write some spooky hubs! Enjoyed it, thank you.


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