"...we should pass over all biographies of 'the good and the great,' while we search carefully the slight records of wretches who died in prison, in Bedlam, or upon the gallows."
~Edgar Allan Poe

Monday, August 24, 2015

Captain King and the Golden Needle

Joseph McPherson was an Englishman who lived in Egypt as a British security chief from 1904 until his death in 1946.  In 1983, his letters were published under the title of "Bimbashi McPherson: A Life in Egypt." In one of these letters, McPherson briefly described the illness and death of a Captain King. It is one of the eeriest deaths I have ever read about. McPherson's description reads more like a passage in a Victorian Gothic novel than anything from real life.

McPherson stated that early in 1918, King was found on a seat in Cairo's Esbekieh Gardens, "in a semi-somnolent condition, as though drugged or bewitched...The doctors found no lesions, no indication of a blow, no trace of poisoning, nothing to account for his condition, which persisted, and aggravated. He was in no pain, and all his faculties were normal, except that he seemed unable to rouse himself, or to take the least interest in people or things around him." When spoken to, King merely stared blankly and said, "She scratched my eye with a golden needle, and gave me second sight."

McPherson wrote, "Time brought no improvement, and after many days, he became feverish and delirious, repeating the above words, and those only, innumerable times.

"One night he beckoned his nurse to his bedside, and said impressively and in a confidential tone: 'She scratched my eye--she scratched my eye, with a golden needle, a golden needle, and gave me second sight--and gave me second sight--and gave me...'"

Those were the last words King ever said. Soon after this, he died.

McPherson described how he discussed King's baffling end with a Colonel Russell. Neither man had ever heard of any Eastern custom or superstition that could account for what had happened. Russell told him that King's autopsy had failed to explain why he died. However, photos of the body showed a "mark like a scratch" on the corner of one eye.

McPherson made efforts to investigate the mystery. He visited "clairvoyants, alchemists, spiritualists, Druzes, Chaldeans, Persians, weird people from all sorts of weird places, but never elicited the smallest explanation." His inquiries about King's life and associates showed him to be a "normal, pleasant, sporting officer, a moderate drinker, never suspected of drugs, not unduly interested, as far as his friends could judge, in hypnotism, spiritualism, or occult matters. He had a rather conspicuous weakness for women, especially 'Gyppy girls,' as his officer friends dubbed them; and he had been seen, several times recently, driving in his dogcart with a lady in eastern attire--young and beautiful as far as her gauzy white yashmak allowed those who saw her to judge. He had taken a lot of chaff about this 'camarade,' good humoredly, but without taking anyone into his confidence."

McPherson tried to trace this woman, but was unable to find anything more about her. He sighed that "neither I nor, as far as I know, anyone has obtained the smallest clue to King's mysterious illness and death."

It's safe to say no one ever will.

[Note: Many, many thanks to John Bellen for bringing this unjustly obscure slice of The Weird to my attention.]


  1. Reading here of King's calm contentment in his otherworldly death is still creepy, even though I've read it before!

    1. This one really haunted me. Thank you again for the heads-up.

  2. More turn-of-the-century weirdness in Egypt . . . have you tried the Mamur Zapt novels by Michael Pearce? He has a lizard man and a cat woman, but I don't remember anything about a golden needle. I normally don't like historical novels (even though I studied history), but Michael Pearce is extremely entertaining, and very knowledgeable about Egypt under British rule.

    1. No, haven't heard of those. Sounds interesting.

  3. My great uncle, Joseph McPherson's original letters, which I hold, prefaced the Golden Needle story with the title 'An Early Case, A Failure and a Mystery' and concludes: Possibly some reader of this can throw some light on the Golden Needle. If so, I should not only be personally grateful, but he would certainly earn the gratitude of the Military, and Police, and of myself as Mamur Zapt.' He describes the post as 'being full of weird interest and more incident than any other two years of my life, even the preceeding years of active service in the field.'

  4. My great uncle, Joseph (Bimbashi) McPherson, ended his letter on the case, which he describes as a 'Failure and a Mystery' by saying 'Possibly some reader ofthis can throw some light on the Golden Needle. If so, I should not only be personally grateful, but he would certainly earn the gratitude of the military and police and of myself as Mamur Zapt.' (letter to Irene, 1917). He describes his time as Mamur Zapt as 'a dark period', one which 'prevented me from partaking in the last triumphal dash forward of the Crusaders..a lurid nightmare of weird interest and more incident than any other two years of my life even the preceding years of active service in the field.'


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