Independent Testimony as to the Mediumship of Florence Cook

From The Arthur Conan Doyle Encyclopedia
Frontispiece and Title page

Independent Testimony as to the Mediumship of Florence Cook is an Appendix written by Arthur Conan Doyle published in 1926 in the William Crookes's book Researches in the Phenomena of Spiritualism published by Two Worlds Publishing Co. Ltd.

Appendix by Arthur Conan Doyle

Appendix p. 135
Appendix p. 136
Appendix p. 137
Appendix p. 138
Appendix p. 139
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Appendix p. 144

The most connected account of the mediumship of Miss Florence Cook, apart from that of Professor Crookes, is to be found in Miss Florence Marryat's "There is No Death," a most interesting book of practical experiences, which is now published in a very cheap edition (Rider & Co.). From it I make the following extracts. Miss Marryat, it should be added, was an excellent witness, all of whose statements have stood the test of time. At the time when Miss Marryat (Mrs. Ross-Church) met the medium, the latter had become Mrs. Elgie Corner.

"The first time," she writes, "that I ever met Florence Cook was in Mr. Dunphy's private house, when my little daughter appeared through her.

"On that occasion, as we were sitting at supper after the seance — a party of perhaps thirty people — the whole dinner-table, with everything upon it, rose bodily in the air to a level with our knees, and the dishes and glasses swayed about in a perilous manner, without, however, coming to any permanent harm. I was so much astonished at, and interested by, what I saw that evening that I became most anxious to make the personal acquaintance of Miss Cook. She was the medium for the celebrated spirit, 'Katie King,' of whom so much has been believed and disbelieved, and the seances she gave at her parents' house in Hackney for the purpose of seeing this figure alone, used to be crowded by the cleverest and most scientific men of the day, Serjeants Cox and Ballantyne, Mr. S. C. Hall, Mr. Crookes, and many others being on terms of the greatest intimacy with her. Mr. William Harrison, of the 'Spiritualist' paper, was the one to procure me an introduction to the family and an entrance to the seances, for which I shall always feel grateful to him.

"The order of these seances was always the same. Miss Cook retired to a back room, divided from the audience by a thin damask curtain, and presently the form of 'Katie King' would appear dressed in white and walk out amongst the sitters in gaslight, and talk like one of themselves. Florence Cook, as I mentioned before, is a very small, slight brunette, with dark eyes and dark curly hair, and a delicate aquiline nose. Sometimes 'Katie' resembled her exactly; at others, she was totally different. Sometimes, too, she measured the same height as her medium; at others she was much taller. I have a large photograph of 'Katie' taken under limelight. In it she appears as the double of Florrie Cook, yet Florrie was looking on whilst the picture was taken. I have sat for her ,several times with Mr. Crookes, and seen the tests applied which are mentioned in his book on the subject. I have seen Florrie's dark curls nailed down to the floor outside the curtain, in view of the audience, whilst 'Katie' walked about and talked with us. I have seen Florrie placed on the scale of a weighing-machine constructed by Mr. Crookes for the purpose, behind the curtain, whilst the balance remained in sight. I have seen under these circumstances that the medium weighed eight stone in a normal condition, and that, as soon as the materialised form was fully developed, the balance ran up to four stone. Moreover, I have seen both Florrie and 'Katie' together on several occasions, so I can have no doubt on the subject that they were two separate creatures. Still, I can quite understand how difficult it must have been for strangers to compare the strong likeness that existed between the medium and the spirit, without suspecting that they were one and the same person. One evening 'Katie' walked out and perched herself upon my knee. I could feel she was a much plumper and heavier woman than Miss Cook, but she wonderfully resembled her in features, and I told her so. 'Katie' did not seem to consider it a compliment. She shrugged her shoulders, made a grimace, and said, 'I know I am; I can't help it, but I was much prettier than that in earth life. You shall see some day — you shall see.' After she had finally retired that evening she put her head out at the curtain again, and said, with the strong lisp she always had, 'I want Mrs. Ross-Church.'

"I rose and went to her, when she pulled me inside the curtain, when I found it was so thin that the gas shining through it from the outer room made everything in the inner quite visible. 'Katie' pulled my dress impatiently, and said, 'Sit down on the ground,' which I did. She then seated herself in my lap, saying, 'And now, dear, we'll have a good 'confab,' like women do, on earth.' Florence Cook, meanwhile, was lying on a mattress on the ground close to us, wrapped in a deep, trance. 'Katie' seemed very anxious I should ascertain beyond doubt that it was Florrie. 'Touch her,' she said. 'Take her hand, pull her curls. Do you see that it is Florrie lying there?' When I assured her I was quite satisfied there was no doubt of it, the spirit said, 'Then look round this way, and see what I was like in earth life.' I turned to the form in my arms, and what was my amazement to see a woman fair as the day, with large grey or blue eyes, a white skin and a profusion of golden red hair. 'Katie' enjoyed my surprise, and asked me, 'Ain't I prettier than Florrie now?' She then rose and procured a pair of scissors from the table and cut off a lock of her own hair and a lock of the medium's, and gave them to me. I have them safe to this day. One is almost black, soft and silky the other coarse golden red. After she had made me this present, 'Katie,' said, 'Go back now, but don't tell the others to-night, or they'll all want to see me.' On another very warm evening she sat on my lap amongst the audience, and I felt perspiration on her arm. This surprised me, and I asked her if, for the time being, she had the veins, nerves and secretions of a human being; if blood ran through her body and she had a heart and lungs. Her answer was, 'I have everything that Florrie has.'

"On that occasion also she called me after her into the back room, and, dropping her white garment, stood perfectly naked before me. 'Now,' she said, 'you can see that I am a woman.' Which, indeed, she was, and a most beautifully-made woman, too, and I examined her well, whilst Miss Cook lay beside us on the floor. Instead of dismissing me this time, 'Katie' told me to sit down by the medium, and having brought me a candle and matches, said I was to strike a light as soon as she gave three knocks, as Florrie would be hysterical on awaking and need my assistance. She then knelt down and kissed me, and I saw she was still naked. 'Where is your dress, Katie?' I asked. 'Oh, that's gone,' she said: 'I've sent it on before me.' As she spoke thus, kneeling beside me, she rapped three times on the floor. I struck the match almost simultaneously with the signal, but as it flared up 'Katie King' was gone like a flash of lightning, and Miss Cook, as she had predicted, awoke with a burst of frightened tears, and had to be soothed into tranquillity again. On another occasion 'Katie King' was asked at the beginning of the seance by one of the company to say why she could not appear in the light of more than one gas burner. The question seemed to irritate her, and she replied, 'I have told you all, several times before, that I can't stay under a searching light. I don't know why, but I can't, and if you want to prove the truth of what I say, turn up all the gas and see what will happen to me. Only remember, if you do there will be no seance to-night, because I shan't be able to come back again, and you must take your choice.'

"Upon this assertion it was put to the vote if the trial should be made or not, and all present (Mr. S. C. Hall was one of the party) decided we would prefer to witness the effect of a full glare of gas upon the materialised form than to have the usual sitting, as it would settle the vexed question of the necessity of gloom (if not darkness) for a materialising seance for ever. We accordingly told 'Katie' of our choice, and she consented to stand the test, though she said afterwards we had put her to much pain. She took up her station against the drawing-room wall, with her arms extended as if she were crucified. Then three gas-burners were turned on to their full extent, in a room about sixteen feet square. The effect upon 'Katie King' was marvellous. She looked like herself for the space of a second only, then she began gradually to melt away. I can compare the dematerialisation of her form to nothing but a wax doll melting before a hot fire. First the features became blurred and indistinct; they seemed to run into each other. The eyes sunk in the sockets, the nose disappeared, the frontal bone fell in. Next the limbs appeared to give way under her, and she sank lower and lower on the carpet like a crumbling edifice. At last there was nothing but her head left above the ground; then a heap of white drapery only, which disappeared with a whisk, as if a hand had pulled it after her, and we were left staring by the light of three gas-burners at the spot on which 'Katie King' had stood. [1]

"She was always attired in white drapery, but it varied in quality. Sometimes it looked like long cloth; at others like mull muslin or jaconet; oftenest it was a species of thick cotton net. The sitters were much given to asking 'Katie' for a piece of her dress to keep, as a souvenir of their visit, and when they received it would seal it up carefully in an envelope and convey it home, and were much surprised, on examining their treasure, to find it had totally disappeared.

"'Katie' used to say that nothing material about her could be made to last without taking away some of the medium's vitality and weakening her in consequence. One evening, when she was cutting off pieces of her dress rather lavishly, I remarked that it would require a great deal of mending. She answered, 'I'll show you how we mend dresses in the Spirit World.' She then doubled up the front breadth of her garment a dozen times and cut two or three round holes in it. I am sure, when she let it fall again, there must have been thirty or forty holes, and 'Katie' said, 'Isn't that a nice cullender?'

"She then commenced, whilst we stood close to her, to shake her skirt gently about, and in a minute it was as perfect as before, without a hole to be seen. When we expressed our astonishment, she told me to take the scissors and cut off her hair. She had a profusion of ringlets falling to her waist that night. I obeyed religiously, hacking the hair wherever I could, whilst she kept on saying, 'Cut more! cut more ! not for yourself, you know, because you can't take it away!'

"So I cut off curl after curl, and as fast as they fell to the ground the hair grew again upon her head. When I had finished, 'Katie' asked me to examine her hair to see if I could detect any place where I had used the scissors, and I did so without any effect. Neither was the severed hair to be found. It had vanished out of sight. 'Katie' was photographed many times by limelight by Mr. Alfred Crookes, but her portraits are all too much like her medium to be of any value in establishing her claim to a separate identity. She had always stated she should not appear on this earth after the month of May, 1874, and accordingly, on the 21st she assembled her friends to say 'Good-bye' to them, and I was one of the number. 'Katie' had asked Miss Cook to provide her with a large basket of flowers and ribbons, and she sat on the floor and made up a bouquet for each of her friends to keep in remembrance of her.

"Mine, which consists of lilies of the valley and pink geranium, looks almost as fresh to-day, nearly seventeen years after, as it did when she gave it to me. It was accompanied by the following words, which 'Katie' wrote on a sheet of paper in my presence:—

'From Annie Owen de Morgan (alias "Katie") to her friend, Florence Marryat Ross-Church. With love. Pensez a moi.May 21st, 1874.'

"The farewell scene was as pathetic as if we had been parting with a dear companion by death. 'Katie' herself did not seem to know how to go. She returned again and again to have a last look, especially at Mr. Crookes, who was as attached to her as she was to him. Her prediction has been fulfilled, and from that day Florence Cook never saw her again nor heard anything about her. Her place was shortly filled by another influence, who called herself 'Marie,' and who danced and sung in a truly professional style, and certainly as Miss Cook never either danced or sung. I should not have mentioned the appearance of this spirit, whom I only saw once or twice, excepting for the following reason. On one occasion Miss Cook (then Mrs. Corner) was giving a public seance at the rooms of the National British Association of Spiritualists, at which a certain :Sir George Sitwell, a very young man, was present, and at which he declared that the medium cheated, and that the spirit 'Marie' was herself, dressed up to deceive the audience. Letters appeared in the newspapers about it, and the whole press came down upon Spiritualists, and declared them all to be either knaves or fools. These notices were published on the morning of a day on which Miss Cook was engaged to give another public seance, at which I was present. She was naturally very much cut up about them. Her reputation was at stake; her honour had been called into question, and being a proud girl, she resented it bitterly. Her present audience was chiefly composed of friends, but, before commencing, she put it to us whether, whilst under such a stigma, she had better not sit at all. We, who had all tested her and believed in her, were unanimous, in repudiating the vile charges brought against her, and in begging the seance should proceed. Florrie refused, however, to sit unless someone remained in the cabinet with her, and she chose me for the purpose. I was, therefore, tied to her securely with a stout rope, and we remained thus fastened together for the whole of the evening. Under which conditions 'Marie' appeared, and sung and danced outside the cabinet, just as she had done to Sir George Sitwell, whilst her medium remained tied to me. So much for men who decide a matter before they have sifted it to the bottom. Mrs. Elgie Corner has long since given up mediumship, either private or public, and lives deep down in the heart of Wales, where the babble and scandal of the city affect her no longer. But she told me, only last year, that she would not pass through the suffering she had endured on account of Spiritualism again for all the good this world could give her."

One point which will strike the critic in this account is the remark that sometimes the spirit form would exactly resemble the medium, while at other times it would be totally different. Every experienced investigator has had the same result. Working with Miss Bessinet, I have frequently seen faces which were identical with her own, and afterwards those which could not possibly have been hers — two appearing sometimes at the same moment. The natural explanation would be that it actually is the medium's face, and if she be in a trance state it is possible that such an explanation would be innocent as well as true, the forces which controlled her using her as best they could when the conditions did not admit of materialisation. Sometimes the medium's own form may be used with ectoplasmic additions. Thus the great German authority, Dr. Schrenck-Notzing, says, in talking of one of the photographs of "Eva," taken with ectoplasmic drapery around her: [2]

"The photograph is interesting as throwing a light on the genesis of the so-called 'transfiguration,' i.e., the medium takes upon herself the part of the spirit, endeavouring to dramatise the character of the person in question by clothing herself in the materialized fabrics. This transition stage is found in nearly all materializing mediums. The literature of the subject records a large number of attempts at the exposure of mediums thus impersonating 'spirits,' e.g., that of the medium Bastian by the Crown Prince Rudolph, that of Crookes' medium, Miss Cook; that of Mrs. d'Esperance, etc. In all these cases the medium was seized, but the fabrics used for masking immediately disappeared, and were not afterwards found."

The case of the alleged exposure of Mrs. Corner seemed to have been exactly as Dr. Schrenck-Notzing describes, and such incidents bringing undeserved reproach upon the medium will always occur if the sitters do not take the precaution of securely fastening him or her. Experienced mediums are aware of this, and take precautions accordingly. The writer can well remember having a sitting with the famous medium, Evan Powell, in the privacy of his own bedroom. Powell insisted upon being tied up, and on the writer remarking that such a precaution was unnecessary, since long experiment had quite convinced him of his honesty, he answered : "I must insist upon it as a protection for myself. How can I answer for what I may do when I am unconscious in a trance? I might unconsciously wander round the room, and you, finding me doing so, would lose confidence in me for ever." This saying throws a strong light upon such cases as the alleged exposure of Mrs. Corner by Major Sitwell and others. In that case all present testified to the appearance of white garments, while the medium, when seized, had nothing of the sort.


  1. Some discredit was cast upon this account, and even so high an authority as Sir Oliver Lodge was misled by the assertion of Sir William that he did not witness it. An examination of Miss Marryat's evidence will show that she never claimed that he did.
  2. "The Phenomena of Materialisation" (English translation), page 97.