Opposite the Equestrian Centre in Devonshire stands a plaque to the memory of Freer Cox who, nearly fifty years ago, decreed that the land extending south from Vesey Street, all the way across the marsh, be preserved in its natural state forever.
One might say that Freer Cox was a man ahead of his time. He died in 1957, years before conservation became a household word.
A secret well kept, certainly during his life, was that Freer possessed what he defined as ‘second sight’. Perhaps he had inherited this extraordinary gift from his ancestor, Christiana Love Dill, whose ability to see the ghosts of the newly dead, called wraiths, plagued her time and time again during the 18th century. Two hundred years later, Freer Cox suffered the same affliction, and indeed he looked upon it as a curse.
Freer recalled that on the morning of his eleventh birthday, he went to his mother’s bedroom and told her he had just seen his grandmother, who lived across the way, sitting in a tree in the front garden. Mrs. Cox asked her son to lead her outside and show her the tree. “You see Freer, your grandmother isn’t there. You imagined that you saw her.”
Just then Mrs. Cox’s sister came up the drive and relayed the news that their mother had died only minutes before, at the exact moment Freer had seen her ghost in the garden!
Years later, during a reception at Government House, Freer took one of the guests aside and confided that an acquaintance of theirs named Gurney was standing nearby, staring at Freer in the most peculiar manner.
“You do see him there, don’t you?” Freer asked.
“No. I don’t. Besides, Gurney is not well enough to come out just now,” replied the guest.
“Well, he is there, plain as day, I assure you. He looks so odd though.” As Freer continued to observe Gurney, the ‘apparition’ turned and disappeared into the gathering.
Later that evening Freer learned of Gurney’s death, which occurred at the same time as the appearance at Government House.
In April of 1934, Freer was travelling aboard a ship from New York to Southampton, England. The third morning out was a beautiful, calm day and he decided to go up to the Promenade Deck very early to enjoy the sunrise. He was alone there for a time but was soon joined by a young officer who stopped nearby. The officer was strikingly handsome with large blue eyes. But beyond the good looks, Freer felt immediately that the man was deeply troubled.
“Can I be of any assistance to you?” Freer asked.
Without speaking, the officer looked hopelessly out to sea and then turned and walked away.
All that day Freer could not take his mind off the troubled young man. Finally, at dinner that evening, he approached the Captain and asked whether he might speak with him alone.
The Captain complied.
“There’s something I must tell you, Sir,” began Freer. “I was on deck very early this morning and was approached by one of your officers. He seemed to be in a state of considerable distress.”
“Did he give his name?” asked the Captain.
“No, he didn’t say anything.”
“Can you describe him?”
“Oh, indeed I can,” answered Freer. “He was an extremely handsome man, tall, blonde, with striking blue eyes.”
The Captain turned ashen.
“Would you please sit with me a minute, Mr. Cox? Are you certain you saw this man?”
“Well, there is presently none of my crew to match your description…except one.”
“Who is it then?” asked Freer anxiously.
“The officer you describe was with this ship on its last voyage to Southampton. For some reason he became depressed, and a few days out at sea he took his life by jumping overboard!”
Above all else, the ghostly encounter abroad that ship ws to haunt Freer the most.
Early one spring morning in 1957, as Freer gazed into the bedroom mirror, combing his hair, he was startled to see his own image standing just behind him, watching him intently. Quickly turning to catch the vision in its tracks, and finding nothing there, he exhaled with cautious deliberation, realizing the portent of this encounter… his time had come.
He relayed his premonition to his immediate family saying he expected to leave them within a few hours, for sure was the pattern of all his previous revelations concerning friends and family.
As the following day dawned, Freer Cox passed away quietly.
Born at Mayflower, Devonshire in 1888, Freer Cox was a keen advocate of preservation. He was also a horticulturalist and served as the Bermuda Garden Club’s Founder President. It is interesting that the many varieties of hibiscus we see growing along the Island’s byways today are descendants of Freer’s hybrids.
For more spooky stories, pick up a copy of Bermuda’s Favourite Haunts by John Cox, Mac Musson and Joan Skinner.