Published by Blavatsky Study Center. Online Edition copyright 2004.

Mr. Eglinton

By Eleanor Mildred Sidgwick.

[Reprinted from the Journal of the Society for Psychical Research
(London), June 1886, pp. 282-287.]

[Most of this article is not reprinted.  We reproduce only the portion of Mrs. Sidgwick's article dealing with her analysis of Mr. William Eglinton's
involvement with Madame Blavatsky and the Theosophists.---BA Editor.]

This online edition is reprinted with permission
of the Society for Psychical Research, London.

Before laying before the readers of the Journal a collection of evidence received from members of the Society about slate-writing experiences with Mr. Eglinton, it seems desirable to recall two incidents in his career which show that we must not assume any disinclination on his part to pass off conjuring performances as occult phenomena.

. . . . The [second] . . . incident which I shall mention is the alleged occult conveyance of a letter from Mr. Eglinton on board the Vega to Mrs. Gordon at Howrah --- an incident which appears to me to involve Mr. Eglinton inextricably in the manufacture of spurious Theosophical phenomenon.  Details will be found in Hints on Esoteric Theosophy, No. 1, second edition, pp. 108-125, and in Proceedings of the Society for Psychical Research, Vol. III., pp. 254-256.  One additional piece of evidence furnished to me by Mr. Hodgson I give below.  As I have no space to give the full details of the case here, I shall confine myself to a brief statement of what appear to me the important points.

Mr. Eglinton, who had been staying with Colonel and Mrs. Gordon, at Howrah, went on board the Vega in the Hooghly on his way to England, on March 14th, 1882.  The next morning a telegram came for him (from Madame Blavatsky, I presume from the context), which Mrs. Gordon opened, saying that one of the Mahatmas wished him, while Colonel Olcott was at Howrah, to send letters in his handwriting from on board ship, and that he would be helped.  Mrs. Gordon advised him, --- should he consent, to get some fellow-passenger to endorse the letter before sending it off to her.  He wrote from Fisherman’s Point on the 15th, saying, “Personally I am very doubtful whether these letters can be managed, but I will do what I can in the matter.”  The Vega left Ceylon on the 22nd, and on the 23rd a telegram from Madame Blavatsky asked the party at Howrah to fix a time for a sitting.  They named 9 p.m., Madras time on the 24th, and at that hour Colonel and Mrs. Gordon and Colonel Olcott sat in Mr. Eglinton’s late bedroom.  After a few minutes a packet fell among them, consisting of a letter in Mr. Eglinton’s handwriting, dated March 24th, a message from Madame Blavatsky, dated at Bombay, the 24th, and written on the backs of three of her visiting cards; also a large card such as Mr. Eglinton had a packet of and used at his seances.  The writing on this latter card purported to be by two of the Mahatmas.  All these cards and the letter were threaded together with a piece of blue sewing silk.  The flap of the envelope was marked with three Latin crosses in pencil.  The letter expressed Mr. Eglinton’s conversion to a “complete belief” in the “Brothers,” an opinion which would henceforth be “firm and unalterable.”  He also said that he should read the letter “to Mrs. B[oughton] and ask her to mark the envelope,” and made other remarks; but there seems to have been nothing in the letter which could not perfectly well have been written before he left India.  In return for Mr. Eglinton’s expressions of confidence in him “Koot Hoomi” wrote on the card about Mr. Eglinton’s wonderful mediumship and general excellence of character.

In the meanwhile, at Bombay, about 8 p.m. (Bombay time), a party of Theosophists were sitting with Madame Blavatsky, when a letter was seen to fall.  It contained a closed envelope addressed to Mrs. Gordon, on the reverse side of which were three crosses in pencil.  This letter Madame Blavatsky strung with three of her visiting cards on a thread of blue silk, and placed it on a certain bookcase, no other member of the party having marked it in any way.  The whole party then left the room, and when they returned some minutes later the packet had disappeared --- “evaporated,” as they expressed it.  But as the bookcase stood immediately in front of a venetianed door communicating with the room of Madame Blavatsky’s servant, Babula, who was accustomed to help her in the production of marvels, and as the venetian spaces of this door are wide enough to allow a hand and part of the arm to pass through, it seems more probable that Babula removed the packet than that it disappeared in any more mysterious manner.

On the Vega a letter was duly shown to Mrs. B[oughton], who was asked to mark it, but there was a little difficulty about the mark.  The letter which appeared at Calcutta was marked by three crosses in a horizontal line.  Mr. Eglinton marked the one which he showed to Mrs. B[oughton] with one cross; she crossed that cross obliquely, twice, making an asterisk of it.  But --- to quote Mrs. Gordon’s words: ---

"With the similar incapacity to understand the important element of test conditions which distinguishes nearly all mediums and persons long familiarised with occult phenomena, Mr. Eglinton unfortunately opened the envelope which had been first marked, he having enclosed another letter and made it too heavy.  He then used a new envelope, and being unable to find at the moment the lady who marked the former envelope, he, in the presence of three witnesses, made the crosses, differing, as you say, from those made before.  But tiresome as this mistake on his part is, it leaves the substantial elements of the wonderful feat accomplished altogether untouched.  The letter was read, before being sent, to several of the passengers on board the Vega, and that would alone establish its identity except on the hypothesis of fraudulent collusion between Mr. Eglinton and the founders of the Theosophical Society in India."

We see, therefore, that there is absolutely nothing to identify the letters seen on the Vega, at Bombay, and at Calcutta, and that both the change of mark on the Vega and the occurrences at Bombay are exceedingly suggestive of pre-arrangement and fictitious miracles.

But this is not all.  A Mr. J. E. O’Conor, a Theosophist, on board the Vega, hearing of Mr. Eglinton’s intention of sending by occult means a letter to Madame Blavatsky, asked to have one of his own sent too.  Mr. Eglinton agreed to put this letter with his, and let it take its chance, and afterwards told Mr. O’Conor that it had gone.  Nothing was heard of this letter in India at the time of the fall of Mr. Eglinton’s.  Neither did Mr. O’Conor hear anything of it.  Later, however, Madame Blavatsky stated that it had arrived soon after the other, and it was said that she had made no public mention of it because it was a private letter.  I have seen the letter, and cannot but regard this excuse for not mentioning it as frivolous, since the letter, though doubtless technically a private one (as Mr. Eglinton’s was), contained nothing that might not be published anywhere, and was pretty obviously written with the sole object of obtaining a test phenomenon.  The following is Mr. Hodgson’s account of the result of his inquiries into the matter: ---

[Mr. Hodgson’s Account of the O'Conor Letter]

So far as I have been able to ascertain, the fact that Mr. O’Conor had written under the circumstances described was first made known publicly in India by Mr. O’Conor himself.  Mr. A. O. Hume, in the letter quoted on p. 125 of Hints on Esoteric Theosophy No. 1 (Second Edition) writes: “Mrs. Gordon was apparently not aware, as I am, that Mr. -------‘s letter duly reached Madame Blavatsky on the same day as Mr. Eglinton’s letter.”  And in a footnote Mr. Hume adds that the letter in question was in his possession, “together with a letter of Madame Blavatsky’s of the 28th of March, enclosing it and explaining why she wished the matter kept secret.”  Now, if Mr. Hume had received Mr. O’Conor’s letter in the ordinary course of the post leaving Bombay on the 28th or 29th of March, it would, I conceive, be difficult to dispute that some “occult” power had been displayed.  But I find on inquiry from Mr. Hume, that he saw neither Mr. O’Conor’s letter nor Madame Blavatsky’s till June 6th.  It seems that after the appearance of the article in the Englishman on May 27th (vide Hints &c., p. 118) and the letter by Mrs. Gordon in the Englishman on June 5th (vide Hints, &c., p. 122), Colonel Olcott wrote to Mr. Hume, enclosing (a) a letter purporting to have been written by Madame Blavatsky to him on March 28th or 29th (the second figure of the date being doubtful), (b) an envelope addressed to Colonel Olcott, post-marked Bombay, March 29th, registered, and (c) Mr. O’Conor’s letter, torn into three pieces, contained in an envelope docketed thus: “Letter from O’Conor, of Simla, to H. P. B., received by her by Astral post, March 24th, 1882, and enclosed to me in her letter of 29th March, 1882. --- H. S. O.”  In the letter accompanying these documents Colonel Olcott requested Mr. Hume to write to the Englishman and explain the matter; and hence Mr. Hume’s letter of June 7th, which appeared in the Englishman of June 13th.  The postmarked envelope described above seems to be the sole piece of evidence worth calling such that Madame Blavatsky sent a letter to Colonel Olcott on March 29th, while the evidence that this envelope contained either Mr. O’Conor’s letter or Madame Blavatsky’s letter in which she referred to the receipt of Mr. O’Conor’s, rests solely on Colonel Olcott’s memory, in which, as we have already seen, but little trust can be placed.  Madame Blavatsky says in her letter, writing of Mr. O’Conor: “He is on board, it seems, and wrote by the ‘same opportunity,’ he says.  I know where it would lead to were I to take any notice of his letter.  New tests, new scandals, and new botherations.  I tore it up, but upon second thought had Babula find the pieces, and after reading them to Damodar, who was alone with me when it came, I now send them to you.”  It may be worth mentioning that the phrase, “same opportunity,” does not occur in Mr. O’Conor’s letter, though he says in the middle of his letter, “I am taking advantage of the opportunity to write myself.”

I now proceed to give accounts of slate-writing seances [with William Eglinton]. . . .


[See also Mrs. Sidgwick's article titled The Charges Against Mr. Eglinton.---BAO Editor.]