Missing reverend may have had ‘morbid fear of marriage’

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Seen on the fo'c'sle  of HMS Implacable are Portsmouth Sea Rangers in 1937. Lord and Lady Baden-Powell are in the middle. 'Picture: Robert James Collection

NOSTALGIA: Legendary founders of scouting for boys and girls visit Portsmouth

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Like many holidaymakers, the Rev Benjamin Speke was attracted to the south coast, though his arrival in Portsmouth on a January day in 1868 was out of season.

A brother to the explorer John Hanning Speke, who is credited as having traced the source of the Nile, the clergyman was seemingly less adventurous.

A keen reader, he braced the elements, taking his book to the seashore in between embarking on excursions to the Isle of Wight, Southampton and Netley Abbey. At the end of the month, he set off for Plymouth to continue his coastal tour.

While in Portsmouth, newspaper articles appeared nationwide concerning the clergyman’s whereabouts.

He had set off to officiate at a friend’s wedding in London but disappeared.

On the day he left Portsmouth, it was reported in the Hampshire Telegraph that Speke’s hat had been found in St James’s Park, London, and that a reward of £500 was being offered.

On this day in 1868, the Daily News reported the reverend’s discovery. He had been arrested in Cornwall having been mistaken for another man wanted by the police.

Various theories were suggested for Speke’s Reggie Perrin moment. One was that he had felt the pressure of family expectations and had developed a ‘morbid fear of marriage’ – from John Sadden’s The Portsmouth Book of Days.