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Admiral tells of drowning and what happened after.

Posted on 13 December 2010, 14:53

Pseudoskeptics and debunkers claim that lack of oxygen to the brain explains the tunnel effect reported by many people who have had a near-death experience (NDE) and that the other things reported are a product of fantasy, imagination, hallucination, and expectations.  Before Dr. Raymond Moody named the NDE and popularized it in his 1975 best-selling book Life After Life, very few people were aware of the phenomenon and so there was little, if any, expectation.  Now that many books on the subject have been published the expectation factor is more of a consideration.  That is, the pseudoskeptics can now claim that people have been “programmed” to imagine similar experiences.  And so it is that some of the very old NDEs give credibility to the newer ones, since those experiencers were likely not expecting anything.

Three very intriguing NDEs have been reported in prior blog posts here and can be found in the “Features” section:  They are titled “The Most Dynamic NDE You’ll Ever Read About,” “The Physician Who Watched Himself Die,”  and “An Early Near-Death Experience.”  I recently came across another very interesting NDE involving a very credible person, one not likely to have made up such a story.  It was in an 1863 book, From Matter to Spirit, authored by Sophia Elizabeth De Morgan, the wife of the renowned British mathematician and logician Augustus De Morgan, who wrote a lengthy Preface to the book setting forth his 10 years of experience in investigating psychic phenomena.

The NDE was reported by British Rear Admiral Sir Francis Beaufort (1774 to 1857), (below) who is most remembered today for devising the Beaufort Wind Scales.  After his retirement from the Royal Navy, Beaufort served as a council member of the Royal Society, the Royal Observatory, and the Royal Geographic Society, the latter of which he was a founding member.  After telling his experience to his physician, a Dr. Wollaston, he was asked to provide a detailed account in writing.

francis beaufort

The experience took place sometime around 1795, when he was a young sailor on one His Majesty’s ships in Portsmouth harbor.  Beaufort wrote that he was sculling about in a small boat endeavoring to fasten the boat to a ship when he stepped upon the gunwale, lost his balance, and fell into the water.  Not knowing how to swim, he splashed about before he began to sink below the surface. “All hope had fled, all exertion ceased, and I felt that I was drowning,” Beaufort related in the lengthy letter to Dr. Wollaston.  While his plight came to the attention of others, it took a minute or two for them to reach him.

Beaufort went on to say that one would assume that a drowning person is too much occupied in the struggle or too much absorbed by alternate hope and despair to remember what happened.  “Not so, however, with the fact which immediately ensured,” he wrote.  “My mind had then undergone the sudden revolution which appeared to you (Wollaston) so remarkable, and all the circumstances of which are now so vividly fresh in my memory as if they had occurred but yesterday.”

He continued the story (emphasis mine):  “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 tranquility 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 indescribably, but probably inconceivable, by anyone who has 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 thousand other circumstances minutely associated with home, were the first series of reflections that occurred.”

His life then played back before him.  “Our last cruise – a former voyage and shipwreck – my school, the progress I had made there, the time had misspent, and even all my boyish pursuits and adventures.  Thus, traveling 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 view, and each act of it seemed to be accompanied by a consciousness of right or wrong, or by some reflection on its cause of consequence – indeed many trifling events, which had been long forgotten, then crowded into my imagination, and with the character of recent familiarity.”

Beaufort then speculated on the meaning of it all.  “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 or 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 full consciousness that I had already crossed that threshold, not a single thought wandered into the future; I was wrapped 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.”

Author De Morgan noted that such reports after sudden death are rare, but that there are many similar stories related by those dying from prolonged illness.  “…the soul often returns to the scenes of childhood, and seems to wander with its first friends in the earliest home. But a few hours before death not only is the presence of already gone friends discerned, but perceptions of beautiful scenery, sounds of exquisite music, and sometimes even the objects required for a long journey, seem to be present to the mind of the departing traveler…It is as if the walls of the prison giving way, the captive before his escape looks sometimes through one, and sometimes another opening, into the region beyond, whence the friendly inhabitants some to guide him on his way.”

The experience of Horace Abraham Ackley, M.D., of Cleveland, Ohio reported by De Morgan was not a near-death experience.  It was an actual experience as communicated through a medium.  Ackley reported:

“I experienced but very little suffering during the last few days of my life, though at first there were struggles, and my features were distorted; but I learned, after my spirit had burst its barriers and was freed from its connection with the external body, that these were produced by it in an attempt to sever this connection, which in all cases is more or less difficult; the vital points of contact being suddenly broken by disease, the union in other portions of the system is necessarily severed with violence, but, as far as I have learned, without consciousness of pain.  Like many others, I found that I was unable to leave the form at once.  I could feel myself gradually raised from my body, and in a dreamy, half-conscious state.  It seemed as through I was not a united being – that I was separated into parts, and yet despite of this there seemed to be an indissoluble connecting link.  My spirit was freed a short time after the organs of my physical body had entirely ceased to perform their functions.  My spiritual form was then united into one, and I was raised a short distance above the body, standing over it by what power I was unable to tell.  I could see those who were in the room around me, and knew by what was going on that a considerable time must have elapsed since dissolution had taken place, and I presume I must have been for a time unconscious; and this I find is a common experience, not however, universal.

Ackley then reported his life review.  “As consciousness returned to me, the scenes of my whole life seemed to move before me like a panorama; every act seemed as through it were drawn in life size and was really present; it was all there, down to the closing scenes.  So rapidly did it pass, that I had little time for reflection.  I seemed to be in a whirlpool of excitement; and then, just as suddenly as this panorama had been presented, it was withdrawn, and I was left without a thought of the past or future to contemplate my present condition.  I looked around me, and I thought, if there is a possibility of spirits (for I seemed half-conscious now that I was a spirit) manifesting themselves to those still in the form, how gladly would I now do so, and thereby inform my friends and others of my condition, at least as far as I understood it myself, which I confess was not very far. Everything seemed to be in a whirl of motion; scarcely had one desire come, before another was presented.  I said to myself, ‘Death is not so bad a thing after all, and I should like to see what the country is that I am going to, if I am a spirit.”

Ackley recalled hearing that guardian spirits are there to welcome the newly arrived soul, but he saw none.  “Scarcely had this thought passed through my mind, when two, with whom I was unacquainted, but toward whom I was attracted, appeared before me. They were men of intelligence, but like myself, had given no special attention to the higher principles of spirituality; they knew my name, although I did not reveal it, and they shook hands with me in a hail-fellow-well-met sort of way, that was very pleasant to me. 

The two spirits then conducted Ackley from the room in which he had died. “Everything around me seemed shadowy, yet through these shadows they conducted me to a place where there were a number of spirits assembled.; these had been in spirit life a longer time than I had….I remained in conversation with these spirits for some time, and then, without knowing why or how, I was attracted back to the place in which my spirit had separated itself from the form.  I then found that I must have been in their company much longer than I supposed, as, contrary to the experience of many whom I have since met, I did not attend my own funeral; and I would here remark, that it is generally gratifying to a spirit to do this, and where the body can be kept for some time, they gladly embrace the opportunity of attending on this ceremony, and listening to and aiding those who officiate on such occasions.”

De Morgan cites another case in which a communicating spirit explained that the difficulty a spirit has in freeing itself from the physical body is in proportion to its “lower desires.”

Michael Tymn is the author of The Afterlife Revealed: What Happens After We Die, Resurrecting Leonora Piper: How Science Discovered the Afterlife and Dead Men Talking: Afterlife Communication from World War I.




Yes Wendy I agree with your thoughts on the delayed funeral..

Wonderful piece Mike. Your research and material as always is second to none.

My friend Sylvia St Clair was in a coma for several weeks and has many stories of moving about the hospital during that time and watching the nurses and doctors. She accurately described to one of the nurses the many meals she used to heat up in the microwave oven on her night shifts.

The nurse was shocked to say the least..

Best to you in the New Year.

Vivienne Somers, Thu 30 Dec, 13:49

Hi, Mike,
You provide my favorite reading material!
I hope you write more about what communicating spirits say about difficulty in separating from the physical body, and about what is happening when some people spend considerable time in coma before passing.
Thanks, as always!

Jane Katra, Thu 16 Dec, 08:51

Julie, Boyce, and Wendy,

Thank you for your comments.

Wendy, I don’t quite know what Ackley meant by the comment relative to his funeral. However, I do recall that Raymond Lodge told his father, Sir Oliver, that we tend to rush the funerals along and sometimes not give the spirit body the opportunity to fully disengage from the physical body.  I can’t seem to find it right now, but I believe Raymond recommended waiting a week or longer.  Others have said a minimum 3-4 days.  As I understand it, the more materialistic the person, the longer it takes for the spirit to release itself.

Michael Tymn, Wed 15 Dec, 00:38

An experience definitely not based on expectation or the contemporary media!  And if the Admiral had been a secret fan of Blake or Swedenborg and had invented the whole thing - which he obviously didn’t - I’m sure he wouldn’t have been able to resist making the experience more convoluted and flowery!  Just playing devil’s advocate here because somebody might come up with the idea.  I’m sure that those who had similar experiences in the 18th century would have found them impossible to talk about for fear of being regarded as a ‘lunatic’ or ‘devoid of Reason’.  Fantasic work Mike.  I have read only two ancient NDE reports before, one famously from Plato concerning the ‘dead’ warrior and one from the Venerable Bede concerning a local person in very early medieval Northumbria I believe.  Their accounts, like the Admiral’s, compare very similarly with present day accounts.

Julie Carter, Tue 14 Dec, 17:03


Thank you for bringing this account of a Lazarus syndrome case to our attention! As you do, I see the Admiral’s description of his NDE when he was about 21 years old in 1795 to be important because his description so closely resembles accounts of those describing their NDEs in the past 35 years and undermines expectation as one of the reductionistic explanation grounded in philosophical materialism.



Boyce Batey, Tue 14 Dec, 07:55

Once again a fascinating piece Michael. I’m getting the feeling from this that the author thinks it is a good thing for a funeral to be delayed to allow the deceased time to adjust.

Wendy Zammit, Tue 14 Dec, 03:36

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Facing the Final Choice by Michael Grosso – The editor of my first book suggested I call it The Final Choice (1985). I thought the title was overdramatic and a bit grandiose. I did in part write the book in response to what seemed like the growing threat of nuclear war. Read here
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