James: What I Know So Far

For those who don’t want to wade through a lot of other material, here’s what I know so far about James.

James was probably born in England around 1810 because I remember being a young man at the time of Queen Victoria’s coronation.  Rochester is a good match for where he lived as a young man in the 1830s.

He served in the military and I suspect he spent time in India (much like Jack did about 60 years later).  The name “Chundaree” rattles around in my mind (I checked it out, there was some significant action there during James’ day) but specific memories elude me.  If the dream I had a while ago is correct, he was discharged dishonorably.  This dream gave me both the name “James” and an accurate memory of a 19th century military barracks.

I have a vague memory of having punched someone so hard they died.  This may have figured into James’ decision to become a sailor.

He made port in the northeastern US.  New York is highly likely.  Boston perhaps.  The detail that clued me into a northeastern port was a dream I had about a floating sailor’s chapel of a type that was common in that region in those days.  I don’t think he was involved with blockade running during the Civil War and remember nothing of southern ports.  I do remember a stop in Argentina, but only the faintest flicker of a gaucho’s boots of a style I traced to the mid-19th century. From there he sailed round the horn on a sailing ship.

The rest is a blank until San Francisco.  I remembered traipsing around Chinatown specifically (probably up to no good).  Then there was another memory from further up the coast, of having survived a shipwreck and staring down at a paddle steamer lying on its side in the surf below the cliffs of Marin or Sonoma County.  I confirmed that this stretch of water was indeed a bit of a graveyard for paddle steamers in those days.

I suspect I may have made it to Portland but I have no specific memory, only a nagging familiarity from old photographs of the ramshackle construction down by the old riverfront, long before they built all that nice park land.  If I did come here all those years ago, strange that I should settle here.

Then somehow, I remember being in France during the Paris Commune.  Exactly why or how I got there is a mystery.  All I know is that there were a number of Englishmen there at the time, all of whom survived the collapse of the commune as far as I’m aware.

The last clear memories are of working as a stagehand in a small opera house, the location of which I haven’t been able to pin down.  It was an old building even then.  Watching a production of “The Magic Flute” performed with costumes and staging based on the traditional interpretations of that opera brought back a flood of sense and sight memories, including the flare of a limelight, starting orange and then glowing bright and starlike; I confirmed this.  Verdi’s “Nabucco” is another opera I remember being performed there.  I was excited to confirm that it was common in those days for sailors to become stagehands.  This was probably the birth of my love of opera, which has stayed with me across several lifetimes.

The death I saw under regression was rather pointless.  It involved getting drunk at a party for the crew after finishing a production and taking a tumble into a canal.  This would have been before 1877 since Jack was born circa June of that year; for the sake of argument, let’s say circa 1875.  James was in his 60s at the time and to date this is the life where I probably lived the longest out of all the lives I’ve remembered.

I had suspected for a while that maybe he’d been hanged, since I have an extremely strong feeling that at least one of my lives ended that way; however, I can find no reference to anyone who sounds quite enough like our James having been hanged in England between 1860 and 1880.  If he killed a man, he got away with it.  It makes the end of my subsequent life- blown to bits on the Western Front- seem that much more tragically fitting; perhaps we do pay for all our crimes one way or another.


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.

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.

More Things to Research

While using a recorded regression hypnosis, I remembered some things from Clyde’s (or Clive’s) life.

First, I remembered standing on a sea cliff that was definitely not Dover, owing to the wild surf and grayer rocks.  My intuition told me I was somewhere on the Pacific Coast in Northern California or Oregon.  There were others coming toward me, and we were looking down at the ocean.  There, in the surf, close to shore, was a mid-19th century steamer kind of like this one listing heavily to its port side.

Second, I remembered the crowds in that old Georgian square again, except I don’t think it was a Chartist rally as I’d presumed.  In fact, there was a jubilant atmosphere, and there were boys sitting in the windows of buildings and on horse carts waving flags.  My intuition told me it was a celebration on the coronation of Queen Victoria which would put the memory squarely in 1837, according to my research.  There was nothing about the clothing or setting that would contradict that date.

Finally, I remembered how Clyde/ Clive died.  He was out drunk after a show (at this point he was retired from sailing and working backstage at a theatre) and got a little too jubilant.  He fell into a river and drowned, an all too common end.  Seems that I was in Bristol at the time (the city had about the same feel I got while in Bristol in 2005).  It was also a warm night so it could have been summer, though that might also have been the booze talking.

I also seem to remember what Clyde looked like.  He was a plain man with harsh features, often with a tattered dark red brocade waistcoat, twill trousers, a dirty white shirt with the sleeves rolled up, Oxford shoes with protruding nails, a neckerchief, and a cap.  His hair was sort of blond with brown highlights, his skin sort of a dark beige and weathered from so much time at sea.  He was about 5′ 7″ tall of lean, wiry build but mostly muscle.  Not much to look at, very much a mid-19th century working class man.

These memories also reinforced my intuition that my name was something like Clive Sparks or Clyde Starr.  I suppose that might help somewhat.  His probable age at death (estimated date circa 1875) was probably a little over 60 since I seem to recall being a young man at Queen Victoria’s coronation.

I might have some luck tracing the ship, but there were so many shipwrecks on the West Coast in those days and the exact location is so vague, that I might be S.O.L. until I can remember something more specific.  I am fairly sure I was a man with a checkered past who became a sailor to get away from it, then died drunk and poor.

More Evidence

I found a source that confirms that theaters used to hire sailors.  Apparently, that’s where the superstition about whistling on stage came from.


Turn to page 4 under the heading “Why isn’t it OK to whistle on stage?”

I have to say, this is awesome because at the time I remembered working in that theater, I had no reason to believe that my memories of a life at sea were correct.  I’m remembering things I didn’t know about and I’m getting closer to re-tracing my footsteps.  This one may be harder to trace, but maritime records might be useful if I remember something specific enough to know where to look.

Also, I seem to remember a name, though not exactly.  It was something like Clyde Starr or Clive Sparks but I’m not sure.


I’ve been thinking about it, and none of the memories I have of a life before John are entirely contradictory to each other.

I’ve begun to speculate on a timeline based on memories I’ve had:

ca. 1830s- A young man in England.  Wore a Herringbone suit with Oxford or Derby-type shoes.  Standing in a town with old half-timbered buildings.  The street is surprisingly clean for the era.  There is a woman in a bonnet and she is the only other person on the street.

ca. 1840s- At some sort of rally (perhaps Chartist) in a square of old Georgian buildings.

ca. 1850s-1860s- At sea.  Memories corresponding with the West Coast of South America and the Northeastern US, including a bar full of Gauchos and a floating chapel.  Possibly Australia as well.

ca. 1870s- Working as a stage hand in an opera house at an unknown location, presumably England.  Memories of ropes and pulleys (perhaps hired as a retired sailor).  Memories of lime lights flaring and firing up.  Associated with music from Mozart’s “The Magic Flute.”

I can trace a lot of the time periods and a lot of the places… too bad it’d be hard to trace a particular person with this information.  I have a weird feeling that this particular life may have been associated with Portland in Dorset since a brief exploration on Google Streetview yielded a few familiar buildings including a couple of churches I felt I recognized.

Given a likely age of about 16-20 in that memory of the 1830s, I would venture a guess that I lived to between 55 and 75 years of age in that life though this is a really rough estimate.  It is possible that I may have traveled more of the Pacific, up to what is now the Pacific Northwest US, but I have no memory of this.

Memory Fragment

I had forgotten about this, but Thursday I was at a local pizza place and saw a girl whose boots reminded me of a similar pair I may have seen about 160 years ago.  My first thought was that it was in a dark, crowded, smoky room like an inn, somewhere in South America in a fairly dry, dusty region like Argentina or Chile.

The boots were of a stout, weathered brown leather, about knee-high, and decorated about the cuff and heel with brass studs.

This could be connected to my recollections of a life as a sailor around the year 1848 but it’s the first time I’ve had anything to suggest a particular place or region.  I still have yet to see if I can find similar boots from that particular time and place.  It may have been simply a matter of suggestion because they did look kind of like something I would expect a Gaucho might wear with the exception of the slightly elevated heels.

I often see boots that remind me of Medieval or Southwestern styles but this was a bit unusual.  I’ll see if I can find a visual reference.

EDIT: They were similar in shape and cut to these boots by a company called Old Gringo, but they were brown, the toes were round, and I don’t think they had the floral cut-out design on the upper.

EDIT 2: Argentina seems unlikely as it was subject to an Anglo-French blockade at the time.  It is possible that I was a British sailor who went ashore after the blockade ended in 1850 but not likely.  If I was involved in that, it’s terribly ironic because British involvement in the blockade was brought on by their desire to enter into an Entente Cordiale with France, which would later be the pretext to British involvement in WWI.  Also, the wars in the 13th century with Philip Augustus of France ultimately led to the loss of a great deal of the English crown’s possessions in France which basically was the start of the Anglo-French split in the first place.

Talk about cause and effect…