In 1809 England sought to persuade Austria to join the confederation opposing Napoleon, Benjamin Bathurst, a 25-year-old diplomat who had already distinguished himself in foreign service, went to Vienna to promise an attack on the French who were occupying Spain in return for Austria’s alignment with England. It proved a bad bargain: Napoleon was victorious at Wagram on the Danube River, and Austria was forced to code territory to him.
That fall, Bathurst began to make his way back home through Germany. On November 25, traveling under the name of Koch and posing as a wealthy merchant, he and his secretary and valet stopped at an inn in Perleberg. A witness at the inn reported that he seemed very nervous. He asked the commander of the local garrison to provide armed guards against mysterious pursuers – perhaps agents of Napoleon.
In the middle of the evening, as his coach was preparing to leave, Bathurst went out into the otherwise deserted street, walked around his horses . . . .
And was gone.
His valet, who had been at the rear of the coach with the baggage, cast a look down each side of the coach and saw only the hostler who had harnessed the horses. His secretary, standing in the doorway of the inn to pay the bill, had not seen him return. The soldiers stationed at each end of the street had seen no one pass.
The authorities searched first the inn and then all of Perleberg. Inquiries from the British Foreign Office brought a denial from Napoleon that his agents had been involved. Stories circulated that Bathurst had been robbed and murdered, that he had secretly gone on to a port and been lost at sea, and so on – but all that is known about Benjamin Bathurst’s disappearance from a quiet street in a small German town is summed up in the words of Charles Fort, that tireless collector of events that have no rhyme or reason: “Under observation, he walked around to the other side of the horses.”
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