Now This Is Strange…

I had a brief memory flash of serving in India during colonial times.

Now, I know for a fact that Jack (the life I lost in WWI) had served most of the Edwardian era in Secunderabad.  However, the flash I had was of going into arid hills with a band of soldiers to hunt bandits.

According to a quick scan of search results on Google, hunting bandits in arid hills sounds more like the 19th century.

I am pretty sure that I was a soldier in my mid-19th century life, but could I have been in India during that time as well?  That would be two lives, back-to-back, as a British soldier serving in India.  I’d had a strong feeling that I had been to India in that life before, but after I discovered Jack’s tour of duty in Secunderabad I had nixed that.  I hadn’t considered that I’d been there in two subsequent lives.

That would explain why the flowery trappings of British Victorian orientalism seem so stuck in my head, in some deep place that I can’t quite see.  Two lifetimes of that is enough to make a deep impression.  Every time I saw some fragment of that cultural phenomenon while I was in England in this life, it gave me weird feelings.  The Royal Pavilion at Brighton was downright eerie in that respect, with its orientalist whimsy bordering on madness, stylized banana leaves all around in places where they were really not needed.  In some part of my mind, I see flashes of dark, smoke-filled rooms with dim lanterns and brightly-colored fabrics all around.  I smell a hit of exotic spice.  But this isn’t a place I’ve been necessarily; it’s a cultural construct of a place I thought India might be all those ages ago and it’s still there, in my mind, a dated and ego-dystonic construct born of Imperialist naivete.

I wish I could remember something more, something concrete that I could track down and confirm once and for all.  What did I do as a soldier in that earlier life, and what went wrong that saw me drummed out and turning to the seafaring life?

Thinking of doing a past life regression again soon.  It seems that earlier life has come through pretty clearly in regressions and dreams, so it’s probably not very deep in my subconscious.  Exactly why this life in particular would be so close to the surface is anybody’s guess.

Mother And Child

As some of you know, my relationship with my mother in my current life has been a fraught one, but it seems to be on the mend of late.

Yesterday, while looking for a sofa in a store that sold both used furniture and antiques, she came across an 1929 edition of “A Child’s Garden of Verses” and showed it to me. She told me it was one of her favorite books as a child and opened it to a poem called “The Swing”:

How do you like to go up in a swing,
Up in the air so blue?
Oh, I do think it the pleasantest thing
Ever a child can do!

Up in the air and over the wall,
Till I can see so wide,
River and trees and cattle and all
Over the countryside–

Till I look down on the garden green,
Down on the roof so brown–
Up in the air I go flying again,
Up in the air and down!

She read it aloud and I felt myself choking back tears though I never let her see it. I knew I had heard this before… I knew this wasn’t the first time I had a mother read that aloud to me though I know this wasn’t a book Mom read to me as a child. I had the most powerful sense that I had heard that poem as a child in the 1880s.

I looked up the date of the initial publication of “A Child’s Garden of Verses.” It was initially released under the name “Penny Whistles” in 1885.

I already had a similar sense about the song “Lavender’s Blue,” which I cried when I heard as a child in this life much to my mother’s confusion… she was the one who played that song too.

I now have the most eerie feeling that I have the same mother in this life and the fraught relationship we have has something to do with the first time I lost her… and I’m beside myself emotionally. She doesn’t remember and looks nothing like the fair-skinned, strawberry blonde woman I remember, and she thinks I’m a bit insane for even thinking I had lived in those days, but I don’t care… I’m just happy that I still have a chance to nurture that relationship and that we’ve opened a path to reconciliation after such a very long time.


I don’t know if I went to Vancouver during my life in the mid-19th century, but I have a strong inkling that a desire to see India and South America was part of my motivation.  I’ve had recurring impressions of this very Victorian conceit about what a jungle was and of books with lavish plates festooned with engravings of banana leaves, of Indian temples surrounded by ladies and gentlemen in Victorian attire… the impressions were strong a moment ago, so strong I could almost home in on what it was but the thought was gone as soon as I turned my attention to it.

It was always in the back of my mind when I saw places like the Royal Pavilion in Brighton, with its whimsical decor in the kitchen and dining room where banana tree chandeliers painted with monkeys and parrots hung over a long Regency table.  I’m pretty sure I felt it in Portobello Road and Camden Market too, whenever I would see tropical-themed things from that era or antique Victorian taxidermy of exotic species.  I didn’t know what to make of it at the time but now I strongly associate it with that life at sea.

Incidentally, this latest flicker- the most intense by far- was as I was listening to Isao Tomita’s rendition of “Claire de Lune” though I don’t think the specific music had anything to do with it.

Sea Shanties

A while ago I went looking for sea shanties that I might have known or heard during the life I lived in the mid-19th century.  I found a couple that sounded familiar.

I came across this song, called “Rio Grande,” which really caught my attention as soon as I heard it.  In this case, the “Rio Grande” they’re referring to is one in South America which oddly enough I might have stopped at.  The song itself sounds really familiar but I’m wondering if there wasn’t another set of lyrics to this same tune since I seem to remember the lyrics being about another port:

Here’s another one called “Haul Away Joe” that’s pretty well known, though I think I first heard it at a very young age and it always gave me a weird feeling:

I’m pretty sure I crossed the Atlantic on a masted vessel, incidentally.  I believe the paddle steamer was one bound for British Columbia I boarded in San Francisco.  But it’s all intuition really, I don’t have anything more than that.  I really hope there’s something left on the California coast that’s familiar enough to bring me more memories.

I’ve been thinking about this life more often as my trip to California gets nearer.  It’s funny, I thought I’d be thinking more of my  life as Phil but I already know so much about that life; what about this nameless sailor who shipwrecked off the Marin Headlands 100 years earlier?  I’ve been able to trace locations and rough dates but I know nothing of the person I was, only vague recollections of being a troubled soul and possibly on the run from the law.

Perhaps I didn’t know myself back then either.  A man on the run wears a thousand faces, none of them his own.

My “OMG!” Moment for the Week

I found an extremely good match for a place I remember from my mid-19th century life!

It was about 1830 or so. I was a young man or in my mid to late teens. I had on herringbone trousers and oxford shoes. Across the street, a woman in a bonnet walked by a half-timbered building.

The place I remember was an incredibly good match for this building on the High Street in Rochester, Kent:,0.502486,3a,75y,241.52h,96.51t/data=!3m4!1e1!3m2!1sSzg28vVRG3qP_kdeWeVc6g!2e0?hl=en

I don’t know if I was from there, but I was almost certainly in Rochester at some point! This is an exciting and unexpected find stemming from research on a possible Tudor or Regency life. I think this is my OMG moment for the week!

Edit: Second surprise of the evening: Rochester Castle was an important location during the Barons’ Revolt, an event in which I was an instrumental figure in my medieval life!  I don’t know if I was at the Siege of Rochester Castle specifically but it is extremely likely.

That Feeling Again

One of my courses this term is a class on the art and architecture of India.

When we got to a discussion of the Chaitya Hall at Karle, I had the distinct feeling I had seen these carvings in person once.  That feeling has occurred multiple times throughout the course.  However, any thoughts that I’d had an earlier life in India were tempered by two things.

First, I realized that the various Buddhist, Hindu, and Muslim structures we’ve covered are mostly ruins now, and that they somehow look “correct” that way.  I cannot picture them in their heyday, painted brightly and festooned with flowers as they would have been.  Even with photographs of more recent temples in India I still picture myself among ruins.

Second, I came to realize that the way I feel when I see Indian architecture is as a perpetual outsider to that culture, even when I nominally understand what the religions behind these buildings believe.  I even catch myself with negative feelings about these structures sometimes.  It took me a while to realize but the familiarity I feel is more like that of a British colonist than as a native.  I find myself struggling to maintain objectivity in the face of an incredibly strong orientalist impulse.

I now think I may have traveled to India during my mid-19th century life.  At least, that’s the most likely time to have done so since John was unlikely to have been there (though his battalion certainly was there early in the war).  My recollections are not clear but I did seem to recall ladies with parasols standing around the Lad Khan temple and a general atmosphere of exuberance and perhaps slight apprehension as a tourist in an exotic land.

Still, such a feeling is out of keeping with the objective studies of an art history major.  I’m not on an elephant safari in 1855, why do I keep thinking like someone who is?  It’s irritating.

Shipwrecks off Point Reyes, California

While information on individual wrecks remains sparse, I’ve found a bunch more shipwrecks that happened off Point Reyes which just strengthened my case for having accurately remembered one.

I had previously ruled out the Labouchere because it was the wrong kind of ship; the ship I saw in my memory had its paddles on the side, but I seem to recall reading that the Labouchere was a sternwheeler.

However, any number of other ships apparently were wrecked there between 1830 and 1870, which is the time frame for “Clyde” to have been involved in such a wreck:

Information on these wrecks is scarce, but this really opens up a wide range of possibilities for having been shipwrecked at Point Reyes in the mid-19th century.

Base Line

Today, I established a base line for the feeling I would get in a place with no past life resonance.

I visited the recreation of Fort Vancouver today in Vancover, WA. It was a site that I considered possible from my mid-19th century life, but I was unsure about. In other words, a perfect control because I had no certain expectations (nor had I planned to go there, but bumming around with some friends from Vancouver we ended up there anyhow).

I got the usual slight tingle of nostalgia from 19th century artifacts and architecture, and a slight feeling of unease that there as no chapel on the site, I did not get the impression that I had been there before as such and left feeling like I’d come no closer to encountering a site from a past life.

On the whole, however, that’s good because it gives me a base line for how it feels to travel to a place where I have no clear expectation of how I’ll feel and don’t stumble upon anything past-life related. I wasn’t just pulling memories out of thin air even though it was certainly plausible that I’d been there as “Clyde” or whatever his name was. That will serve me well when I visit some of the medieval sites in France and England next year trying to figure out if I was at all correct about having been Count William (I have serious doubts).

In all, this was a very useful detour, I think.

Point Reyes Again

Found another clip of Point Reyes, only this one isn’t a memory from Phil’s life… it’s a memory from Clyde/Clive’s life!

Fast forward to about 4:18.  Those are very, very close to the cliffs I remember standing on with the wrecked paddle steamer down below us.

I seriously think I may have been on the Labouchere when it ran aground near Point Reyes in 1866, but whether as a passenger or as crew, I don’t know.  I also don’t know if that’s the exact place or if this corresponds with all the details of the Labouchere since what little information says it ran ground and that 23 crew members had stayed on board during the sinking to be rescued the next day, so it can’t have been in very deep water.  I wouldn’t imagine that life boats would stay adrift if they were that close to shore, though, and the cliff would have been the most visible place to stand.

I need to find a manifest from this ship, or some records from the Italian fishing vessel Andrew which picked up the survivors of the Labouchere.  If anyone knows a good source for maritime records please comment!

Now what would be an incredible discovery is if I found out for sure that Phil had frequented this spot and that Clyde/Clive had been ashore during that time.  On the other hand, if I don’t find a name similar to “Clyde Sparks” or “Clyde Starr,” I might have a cold trail on my hands since I’m not sure what this man’s name actually was.  The only personal detail I have on him is that he was probably English, and probably worked in a theatre or opera house after his years at sea.

EDIT: I have found the first major hole in linking this to the Labouchere.  According to “The Fur Trade Fleet: Shipwrecks of the Hudson Bay Company,” the Labouchere was a sternwheel steamer.  What I remember seeing was distinctly a sidewheel paddle steamer.  This means it could not be the same…  my original doubts about the veracity of the memory have suddenly returned with a vengeance, but maybe I can trace something.  If I can find a side-wheel paddle steamer that wrecked near similar cliffs, then this remains plausible; if not, then I may have nothing here.

Fascinating Lead

While trying to track down more info on Clyde/Clive, I began looking up information about shipwrecks on the West Coast.

First I tried Oregon but there were no paddle steamers wrecked in Oregon that I could find.  I then tried California, expecting the same luck.

Instead, I found one that piqued my interest right away!

In 1866, a British-built paddle steamer called the “Labouchere” on its way from San Francisco, CA to Victoria, BC wrecked at Point Reyes, CA.

This is very interesting because:
1. It’s a paddle steamer.
2. It was in service in BC, a far-flung part of the British Empire at that time.
3. Phil lived at Point Reyes Station in the early 1960s which would make for a very interesting coincidence.

It would also explain my memory of standing on a rocky cliff looking down at a foundered ship.

If I can find a list of names on board, I’ll be very excited!  As it stands, I am still unsure if the name “Clyde Starr” or “Clive Sparks” or something along those lines is even correct so it could be a dead end even if I have the correct ship.