We use cookies to enhance your experience on our website. By continuing to use our website, you are agreeing to our use of cookies. You can change your cookie settings at any time. Find out more
Coppin, Louisa (1845–1849), supposed ghost, was born on 7 September 1845 at Ivy House, 34 Strand Road, Londonderry, the third child of Dora (d. 1866) and William Coppin (1805–1895). William Coppin was born on 9 October 1805 and was a surveyor for ships and engines of the Board of Trade and of the Londonderry emigration board. An important figure in the River Foyle shipbuilding industry, in the mid-nineteenth century he employed 500–700 men. His most significant construction was the steamer Great Northern (1842), ahead of its time in being screw-propeller driven; but despite conversion to naval specifications, it failed to win a government contract. Although he subsequently built several smaller vessels, after a disastrous dockyard fire in 1846 Coppin turned his attention to salvage. In the same year he failed to refloat SS Great Britain, which had run aground off Dundrum Bay, co. Down. Nevertheless, he successfully raised more than 140 ships. Between 1857 and 1886 he also lodged several patents for effective maritime and rail inventions.

Coppin had had several paranormal experiences and his daughter Louisa, or Little Weesy as she was known, began her extraordinary posthumous career in October 1849, five months after her death at Ivy House on 27 May 1849 from gastric fever. She allegedly appeared to her family as ‘a ball of bluish light’, revealing the position of Sir John Franklin's lost polar expedition by means of ‘writing on the wall’, stating: ‘Erebus and Terror, Sir John Franklin, Lancaster Sound, Prince Regent Inlet, Point Victory, Victoria Channel’ and ‘a complete Arctic scene’ (Skewes, 1889, 74–5). The Admiralty ignored this advice, but a desperate Lady Franklin proved receptive to this unorthodox guide when approached by Captain Coppin in May 1850 and went on to direct searches to the south, as Weesy had suggested, previous searches having been too far north.

The story of Little Weesy was not made public until 1889, thirteen years after Lady Franklin's death, when J. Henry Skewes, vicar of Holy Trinity, Liverpool, published a verbose, inaccurate, and sensationalist book entitled Sir John Franklin, the true secret of the discovery of his fate: a ‘Revelation’, ‘A little child shall lead them’. Its first edition was reviewed in the Pall Mall Gazette of 9 May 1889, which provoked Admiral Sir Leopold McClintock to write denying any influence of Weesy's apparition upon his largely successful Fox expedition three decades earlier. Both McClintock and Sophia Cracroft, Lady Franklin's niece, were anxious to state that paranormal advice had never been heeded in the Franklin search. Skewes's second edition of 1890 included a supplement which proved that it had; but by quoting a letter from W. Parker Snow of the Prince Albert, published in the Morning Star of 19 October 1860 to support his claim, he unwittingly also showed that he had enormously embellished Weesy's message to fit the facts retrospectively. This embellishment included the use of place names such as Victoria Channel, which were not in use until after Weesy's apparent message. Miss Cracroft was even quoted by Skewes as suggesting to William Coppin in the 1850s that the story should be published by Charles Dickens in Household Words—an idea which he wisely vetoed on grounds of family privacy.

No relevant correspondence with Captain Coppin, nor the vital chart drawn by his daughter Ann, supposedly on Weesy's instructions, exists among Lady Franklin's papers at the Scott Polar Research Institute, though other documents there confirm the use of other mediums. Moreover, Ann Coppin had been presented with a book inscribed: ‘in memory of her deep sympathy in the Arctic expedition. From her sincere friend, Jane Franklin, Nov., 1863’ (Skewes, 1890, 313). As Lady Franklin's biographer, Frances Woodward, summarizes her faith in psychics: ‘there is reason only to grieve that a fine mind should be thus prostrated’ (Woodward, 267). It therefore appears certain that the more conventionally Christian Sophia Cracroft deliberately destroyed all primary evidence of Weesy's role, probably at the time of her aunt's death in 1875.

William Coppin died aged almost ninety, on 17 April 1895, and was interred with the rest of his family, including Louisa, in the graveyard of St Augustine's Church, Londonderry. Ivy House, which he had built in 1840, and where the Weesy apparitions took place, was demolished in 1994, despite the efforts of the Foyle Civic Trust to save that historic site.

Ralph Lloyd-Jones

Sources  

A. Malley and M. McLaughlin, Captain William Coppin (1992) · J. H. Skewes, Sir John Franklin: the true secret of the discovery of his fate, 1st edn (1889) · J. H. Skewes, Sir John Franklin, 2nd edn with supplement (1890) · Morning Star (19 Oct 1860) · Pall Mall Gazette (9 May 1889) · Pall Mall Gazette (11 May 1889) · Liverpool Courier (4 June 1889) · Liverpool Mercury (4 June 1889) · Liverpool Mercury (16 June 1889) · Liverpool Mercury (22 June 1889) · Liverpool Daily Post (6 June 1889) · St Stephen's Review (13 July 1889) · St Stephen's Review (9 Nov 1889) · F. J. Woodward, Portrait of Jane, a life of Lady Franklin (1951) · R. Lloyd-Jones, ‘The paranormal Arctic: Lady Franklin, Sophia Cracroft and Captain and “Little Weesy” Coppin’, Polar Record, 37 (2001), 27–34