Published by Blavatsky Study Center. Online Edition copyright 2004.

[Madame Blavatsky in Simla]

by Edward J. Buck

[Excerpted from Simla, Past and Present by Edward
John Buck.  Calcutta:  Thacker, Spink, 1904, pp. 116-122.]

. . . In 1867, ‘Rothney House,’ then called ‘Rothney Castle’ passed into the hands of the late Mr. P. Mitchell, C.I.E., a well-known personage in Simla during his day. He resided in ‘Rothney Castle’ for some years, and afterwards sold the place to Mr. A. O. Hume, then a Secretary to the Government of India. Mr. Hume proceeded to convert the house into a veritable palace, which tradition says he fully expected would be bought for a Viceregal residence in view of the fact that the Governor-General then occupied ‘Peterhoff,’ a building far too small for Viceregal entertainments. From first to last he spent over two lakhs on the grounds and buildings. He added enormous reception rooms suitable for large dinner parties and balls, as well as a magnificent conservatory and spacious hall on the walls of which he displayed his superb collection of Indian horns. He engaged the services of an European gardener, and with his aid he made the grounds and conservatory a perpetual horticultural exhibition, to which he courteously admitted all visitors.

But, possibly because ‘Rothney Castle’ can only be reached by a troublesome climb, any anticipations which Mr. Hume may have formed of the purchase of the building by Government were not realized, and Mr. Hume himself made little use of the larger rooms otherwise except that he converted one of them into a museum for his wonderful collection of birds, and for occasional dances.

Mr. Hume, a grandson of the celebrated politician Joseph Hume, was himself a remarkable character. Of exceptional ability and brain power, and endowed with a wonderful talent for organisation, he was not free from the eccentricity which sometimes accompanies genius. Lord Mayo, attracted by his reputation and personality, placed him in charge of the Agricultural Department which, with the co-operation of Sir John Strachey, His Excellency had, in 1870, created for the development of agricultural improvements and reforms. . . .

Mr. Hume was essentially a man of hobbies, and whatever hobby he took up was ridden well and hard. At the time that he was brought to Simla the special subject to which he had been devoting his energies was that of ornithology. Possessed of ample private means, he had in his employ an army of collectors, some of them Europeans working on liberal salaries even beyond the limits of India proper, while many private collectors, falling under the influence of Mr. Hume’s genius, gave him strenuous assistance in all parts of the Indian Empire. Many birds new to science were discovered by himself or by his agents. The specimens were all brought to ‘Rothney Castle’ and arranged there in classified order in cabinets which lined the walls of the room utilized as a museum. The collections were rapidly augmenting when suddenly Mr. Hume mounted another hobby. This time it was Theosophy! And one of the tenets of that creed being to take no life, telegrams were sent to the collectors to stop work and shoot no more birds, while at the same time an offer was made to the authorities of the British Museum to present the entire collection to that institution on condition that they would send out an expert to overhaul the specimens at ‘Rothney Castle.’ The offer was naturally accepted; Mr. Sharpe, one of the staff, was sent to Simla and the collection removed to the British, and then the Kensington Museum, where it forms one of the most valuable assets.

Mr. Hume was undoubtedly led to the worship of Theosophy by the High Priestess of that cult, Madame Blavatzky, at whose disposal the hospitality of ‘Rothney Castle’ was always placed. A Theosophical society was formed of which the leading spirits were Madame Blavatzky, Mr. Hume himself and Mr. Sinnett, then editor of the Pioneer and still, it is believed, a leader of Theosophical work in London. Strenuous efforts were made to bring into the fold influential officials and other residents of Simla, and it was even whispered that Madame Blavatzky, who when first arriving in the country had been placed under the surveillance of the police as a suspected Russian agent, had a political object in gaining adherents to her creed! Certain it is that Madame Blavatzky and her American disciple, Colonel Olcott, preached the doctrine that the knowledge and learning of the East reached far higher planes than the science of the West, and that the oriental should not look upon the occidental as a superior being.

Madame Blavatzky was in the early eighties a constant summer guest at the Rothney palace, the situation of which on Jakko, whence is commanded an uninterrupted view of the snowy peaks of Tibet, was peculiarly favourable for the intercourse of the Theosophical priestess with her familiar ‘Kut Humi,’ who in astral form (or otherwise) had chosen for his home the isolation of the Trans-Himalayan steppes. More than once did Madame Blavatzky invoke his aid at ‘Rothney Castle.’ But on two notable occasions she gave, unaided, manifestations of her power with the object of gaining the faith of those doubting votaries of Theosophy who called for a sign. One of these miracles is of historical interest. There were gathered together at the ‘Rothney Castle’ dinner table all the believers and possible believers in the Theosophical creed then at Simla. Madame was solicited, probably by her own arrangement, to give an example of the power which the true Theosophist acquires by asceticism, faith and self-denial. She protested like a young lady asking for a song: "It is very trying to me; it exhausts much; no, no, I cannot, I cannot;" but further pressed, at last exclaimed, "Well then, I must, but it is hard, it is hard! Mrs. Hume! (turning to her hostess) what is there that you would like? You shall say. Have you lost anything that you would find?"

Mrs. Hume. - "Yes. A year or more ago I lost a brooch. Find that and it will be indeed wonderful."

Madame. - "It is hard but IT SHALL BE DONE!! Khitmatgar! Bring me one lantern!"

The lantern brought, Madame rose, led the way through the opened doors leading to the garden; there halting, she pointed to a bush and commanded, "Dig there!!" A spade produced, earth was removed and lo! there was the brooch. The guests wonderstruck and, some of them at least, convinced, returned to the table where a succinct account of the miracle was drawn up and signed by all present, including two Honourable Members of Council. Is not this miracle with many more recorded in the chronicles published by Mr. Sinnett shortly after the event? On another occasion a picnic party was troubled by the circumstance that there was one tea cup short. "Never mind," said Madame, who was present and in a complaisant humour, "I shall find one!" and sure enough a cup (of the same pattern!) was dug up from under another bush, and again the miracle produced a profound impression.

Sir Edward Buck, who . . . succeeded Mr. Hume in charge of the Agricultural Department, has told the writer of the attempt made to bring him, among others, into the Theosophical fold. The story may be given in, as far as they can be remembered, his own words: -

"I was one," he said, "of a small dinner party, men only present, at which Mr. A., a leading theosophist, was also a guest. After dinner a discussion took place on the miracles recorded in the then recently printed booklet issued by the Editor of the Pioneer. Mr. A., an exceedingly clever man, held his own surprisingly well against the scoffing antagonists who attacked the Theosophical faith. Although always interested in the questions with which Theosophy was concerned, I refrained from joining in the discussion, which circled round one of the leading tenets of Theosophy, viz., that such power could be gained over matter by ‘adepts’ who by asceticism had reached the ‘higher planes’ that they could disintegrate a solid body, pass it through another, and reconstruct it on the other side, as well as transfer it any distance. This granted of course all kinds of developments were possible. Walking home with Mr. A. to Jakko where I was living in a house above ‘Rothney Castle,’ I told him that I believed that I could explain the whole series of miracles in a more simple way. ‘What way?’ said Mr. A. ‘It is too late now,’ I replied, ‘but I will call at "Rothney Castle" to-morrow evening at 9 o’clock and tell you over an after-dinner cigar.’ I kept my appointment, but was a quarter of an hour late. I asked the servant who opened the door to let Mr. A. know I was there, but instead of being taken to his private room, was ushered into the small drawing-room where a congregation of Theosophists was assembled in full force. I apologized, explaining that I had only come for a chat with Mr. A. ‘Oh! we know what you arranged to chat about,’ said Mr. Hume, who presided, ‘and all want to hear what you have to say.’ I protested that what I might say would offend some of those present, but protests were useless. I referred, of course, to Madame Blavatzky, who was reclining in one of those long deck chairs familiar to the P. and O. traveller, and enjoying a cigarette. She however made no sign. ‘It is a pity,’ began Mr. Hume, ‘that you were a quarter of an hour late. If you had been here at 9, you would have seen the arrival of a communication from Kut Humi (handing me a letter), which those present (turning to the congregation) will tell you descended from the roof a few minutes ago.’ I read it. Addressed to Madame, the purport of it was that she need not trouble herself with attempts to make proselytes of the incredulous. Enough that those who believed and practised should gain the higher planes of knowledge and power. What mattered it to them that the rest of human kind wallowed in ignorance. The adepts would smile at them in contempt from their superior height! The text of the letter might indeed have been that to preach to the ignorant would be to ‘cast pearls before swine.’ Reading through the letter it struck me that Kut Humi must have had considerable intercourse with America, as more than one of the phrases appeared to savour of the Yankee dialect. And did not Colonel Olcott come from America? However, this episode concluded, began my cross-examination.

Mr. H. - You assert that you can explain the miracles recorded by Mr. Sinnett in a simple way. How?

Sir E. B. - Which one do you choose?

Mr. H. - The discovery of the brooch.

Sir E. B. - Is not Madame Blavatzky a powerful mesmerist?

Mr. H. - Yes.

Sir E. B. - Had she not been for some time at ‘Rothney Castle’ before the occurrence of the miracle?

Mr. H. - Yes.

Sir E. B. - Is Mrs. Hume a believer in her powers?

Mr. H. - Certainly.

Sir E. B. - Then let us assume that Madame Blavatzky had acquired such mesmeric power over Mrs. Hume as to make her give utterance to a certain wish. Is not the rest easy?

Mr. H. - You imply that the brooch was already buried!

Sir E. B. - You have drawn the inference.

Madame B. (rising from her chair and waving her cigarette in Sir Edward Buck’s face), - You come here, sir, to insolt me. You call me cheat, etc., etc., etc.!!

"Madame Blavatsky, be it said, was a powerfully made woman of about 50 years of age - almost a virago - somewhat coarse in feature. She was still attractive in the intellectual force which was expressed in her countenance, and I had always felt a certain admiration and respect for the strength of her character. At this moment she appeared formidable, and I sought to assuage her assumed fury. The conversation continued: -

Sir E. B. - Madame Blavatzky pray be calm! Of course you know that my explanation is absurd. But have you not erred in neglecting the principles so clearly expressed in this letter of Kut Humi’s? Have you not cast pearls before swine? We ignorant people who live on lower planes have not attained to the spiritual level of the initiated, and are obliged to seek for foolish explanations of miracles which to them are no mystery. Why, then, publish your miracles to the world?

"Madame Blavatsky, who had not done with me yet, sank again into the deck chair and Mr. Hume continued his cross-examination. Other miracles, such as that of passing a ring into a cushion, were cited, a similar explanation being suggested by me in each case, to the accompaniment of angry growls from Madame Blavatzky. But she had been waiting all the time to play her trump card, as the ensuing dialogue will show.

M. B. - Now, sir, I will show you one thing that shall convince you! You have something to do with agriculture?

Sir E. B. - Yes, I have the honour to administer the Department of Agriculture.

M. B. - Well, sir, you shall plant a seed and it shall grow in six months! I shall plant that seed and it shall grow in six minutes!

Sir E. B. - Madame, I pray you spare yourself that trouble. No doubt you can do as you say, but I, in my ignorant scepticism, should only believe it to be the mango trick of the Madras conjurors.

M. B. (rising in fury), - What, sir! you class me with those vulgar impostors? You call yourself gentleman, etc., etc.

Sir Edward Buck. - Mr. Hume, I begged you not to open this conversation. I foresaw the result, and it is better that I should now retire (bowing adieu and moving to the door). But before leaving I should wish to make one suggestion to Madame Blavatzky. Will she permit me to go to the Viceroy to-morrow and ask His Excellency to transfer the Agricultural Department from my charge to hers? For that Department was recently created to deal with the protection of the country against famine, and if Madame Blavatzky can raise crops in six minutes, what more is wanted? Good night!"

"I did not venture to call at ‘Rothney Castle’ again, at any rate while Madame was there. But I always regretted that I had so far lost my temper as to decline seeing that six-minute trick, which would have at any rate been interesting. I never saw Madame Blavatzky again. And it was not long afterwards that her clever impostures were exposed at Madras. But I have always said of her, as the two clerical dignitaries said of Mrs. Proudie, ‘She was a wonderful woman.’"

Thus far Sir Edward Buck. Mr. Hume, in a printed brochure on Madame Blavatzky, said that she was the most marvellous liar he had ever met, but excused her on the ground that she used deception with the honest object of converting to a higher faith. So far as that faith is expressed by ‘Theosophy’ its temples have since Madame Blavatzky’s departure been transferred from ‘Rothney Castle’ to Paris and London.

In the later years of his residence at ‘Rothney Castle’ Mr. Hume devoted his time to the furtherance of what had been ostensibly one of Madame Blavatzky’s objects, though no doubt from better motives, viz., the elevation of the native community to a higher and more dignified status. In all honest sincerity he to this end became President of the Congress and aided that body with much good advice and with much good money. But he was more than once constrained to charge his followers with failure to themselves contribute that practical and financial support to the movement which he considered it demanded. However this may be, there is no doubt that in being deprived of the able leadership of Mr. Hume on his retirement to England the Congress sustained a severe loss. And of Mr. Hume too, may it be said "He was a wonderful man!" . . .