The Curious Case of Benjamin Bathurst might be a Sherlock Holmes story.
He was born in London in 1774, the third son of Henry Bathurst, Bishop of Norwich. He joined the diplomatic service where his career was assisted by his cousin, Henry 3rd Earl Bathurst KG, PC. He was sent to Vienna in 1809 to repair relations with Austria and persuade the Emperor Francis II to join Britain in fighting Napoleon. His mission was successful. Austria declared war in April but was defeated at the Battle of Wagram in July and Vienna fell to the French.
Benjamin was recalled to London and set off in November 1809. He had a German to escort him, Herr Krause, and they travelled by chaise pretending to be commercial travellers, calling themselves Baron de Koch and Herr Fischer. Their intention was to travel overland to Hamburg and take a ship back to Britain. On 25th November they arrived at Perleberg and ordered fresh horses.
While they waited they walked to the White Swan for an early supper. Then Benjamin went to a private room at the inn to write some letters. At 9.00 pm the horses were ready and Benjamin Bathurst was the first to leave the inn. The chaise was standing in an open courtyard, he walked around the horses’ heads and was never seen again. Herr Krause followed him out of the inn a few moments later and was mystified.
Unable to find a trace of his charge Krause continued to Hamburg and London and informed the Foreign Secretary of what had happened. His wife set out for Perleberg where an investigation was already underway. Benjamin’s coat had been found hidden in an outhouse of a family from which the mother and son worked at the White Swan. Later his pantaloons were found in a wood three miles north of the town. There was much speculation about what had happened with allegations that he was insane or that he had been abducted by French agents. Mrs Bathurst took the latter theory seriously enough to travel to Paris for an interview with Napoleon, who denied her charges.
The French journal, Le Moniteur Universel, on 29th January 1810 published this rebuttal.
England alone, among all civilised nations, has renewed the example of paying assassins and encouraging crimes. It appears by the accounts from Berlin, that Mr Bathurst was deranged in his mind. This is the custom of the British Cabinet – to give their diplomatic missions to the most foolish and senseless persons the nation produces. The English diplomatic corps is the only one in which examples of madness are common.
An interesting line to take and one to which the French government still adheres. It was not until 1852 that a skeleton was discovered beneath a stable quite close to the White Swan. The back of the skull was fractured, as if by a heavy blow. In 1809 a waiter at the inn was living here. Though no positive identification was made of the skeleton it seems probable that Benjamin Bathurst had been murdered.
Benjamin Bathurst, Brooks’s member 1808 – 1809, RIP.