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22 May 1859, Edinburgh M.D., Kt, KStJ, D.L., LL.D., Sportsman, Writer, Poet, Politician, Justicer, Spiritualist Crowborough, 7 July 1930

Spirits Photographs Shown by Conan Doyle

From The Arthur Conan Doyle Encyclopedia

Spirits Photographs Shown by Conan Doyle is an article of a journalist of The Sydney Morning Herald (Australia) published on 22 november 1920.

Spirits Photographs Shown by Conan Doyle

The Sydney Morning Herald (22 november 1920)


There was plenty to interest and bewilder Saturday afternoon's huge audience at the Town Hall, at Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's third lecture, in the remarkable series of spirit photographs which he displayed, and in the strange histories which he related of some of these pictures.

The first photograph shown was that of the great luncheon party assembled in London to bid him farewell before his tour of Australia. When, having stated in his speech at this luncheon that he had spoken directly face to face with eleven of his dead relatives and friends he asked that those who could say the same thing should stand up, 250 of the 290 present stood up. Next was shown a group, which included Sir Arthur himself, members of a society which investigates these super-normal photographs, testing every possible explanation that could be given. While this group was being taken, he said, it was suggested: "Why not have a psychic photograph?" Hope, the Crewe medium, who was present, replied that this would have to be approached from a religious angle; and forth - with the members resolved themselves into a little prayer-meeting. "For," Sir Arthur explained, "you must not assume on these occasions the attitude of a sergeant-major talking to a recruit. You must go down upon your knees."

"Now I'll show you the psychic picture we got!" he announced. This ushered in the spirit photographs. The same group was thrown upon the screen sideways, and in the midst of the misty psychoplasmic cloud which partly obscured the living sitters, there was discerned, at right angles to them, a clear picture of a human face, that of a dark-haired man of early middle age, with the left eye partly closed. This, the lecturer announced, was a photograph of a dead relative of one of the company. When photographers declare that they can do all this," said Sir Arthur, "they must first collect together twenty men of the class in that group as witnesses."

The "Crewe circle," comprising Mrs. Hope and Mrs. Buxton, had, he said, been giving spirit photographs to the public for many years. When he went to Crewe he hoped to secure a portrait of his son, who had died a year earlier. He obtained instead on the first occasion a written message from the late Archdeacon Colley, who during his lifetime had announced his conversion to spiritualism. This message from the archdeacon, whom he had never met, was thrown upon the screen. It was written distinctly across three branches of the white, vapoury substance, and read, "Well done, friend Doyle! I welcome you to Crewe. Greetings to all. - T. Colley." The writing was similar, with the like characteristics in the signature, to that of a letter written in his lifetime by Archdeacon Colley, and shown upon the screen.

Next morning, the lecturer continued, he went, down again, and obtained a portrait of his son. This was shown, the young man's face, with a startled expression, clearly appearing at the left shoulder of Sir Arthur's portrait, and surrounded by a psychoplasmic arch. His son's likeness, he said, would be recognised by those who had known him in life, but it was not a good one. In explanation of this he said that the spirits were experimenting in this photography, under the guidance of some higher control. Whether the pictures were produced by direct method or by transference was not known. He instanced the fact that a photographed page of the Codex Alexandrinus in the British Museum contained certain small alterations from the text as a possible proof of the transference theory.

The strange history of another picture which was shown, that which Lady Glenconnor obtained at Crewe, was related by Sir Arthur as furnishing a final proof of the genuineness of this photography. She was disappointed in securing, instead of a portrait of her son, that of a stranger. Mr. Hewat Mackenzie's family sought a picture of a relative of theirs, but obtained nothing. When at a seance they asked him why he had not come on to their plate at Crewe, he replied that the conditions were impossible, but that he had come on to Lady Glenconnor's plate. They communicated with Lady Glenconnor, and the picture, when they received it in reply, proved to be an admirable likeness of their own boy.

A series of four pictures the lecturer produced as proof which he would be prepared to submit to a Jury in any court, subjecting himself to be cross-examined. This, he considered, would be more satisfactory than a debate, where both sides remained divided and nothing occurred. (Applause.) These, four photographs gave the history of a spirit picture of Mrs. Lydia Haigh. She appeared in a portrait of two living people, Mr. and Mrs. Coates, of Rothesay, who had not known her in life, M'Alister, an Army officer, seeking at the same time a picture of a dead friend received Instead a long message stating that the stranger in the Coates's portrait was Mrs. Haigh, who had died on September 13, 1906; that she wished her relatives to know that she was happy, and for that reason had sent her picture. The date of her death was verified by her certificate, which also gave the address of her husband, and when the picture was sent to him he at once recognised his wife.

Of four spirit faces surrounding a sitter, one easily recognised that of W. T. Stead. Another was announced as that of Andrew Jackson Davis, the famous American trance speaker, who lived in 1845. In America, where this picture was scoured, two of the faces could not be identified. One of those, a lady's, was recognised in Melbourne as that of Mrs. Annie Bright. The fourth face, that of an elderly man, remains unidentified.

A message in the handwriting of Mr. W. T. Stead, and with his well-known signature, was shown surrounding the portrait of an old friend, Mr. Walker. The message convoyed Mr. Stead's last words, "I will remember to keep you posted!"

Among other spirit pictures were a portrait of Dr. Russel Wallace's mother; one of John Ruskin, at the breast of his flowing white garment an oriel window, which the lecturer suggested to be an allusion to his architectural pursuits; one of a venerable patriarch with an open page from the book he had in his hand, this page containing some verses of St. Mark's Gospel in a Cingalese dialect, unknown to the medium, Boursnell, and deciphered at the India Office, a picture in which the medium was unexpectedly surrounded by birds and flowers, though Dr. Traill Taylor, who took tho picture, is not a Spiritualist, and insisted upon making all the preparations himself and excluding all but the medium and himself from the room; a Reynolds or Greuze portrait of an attractive child, with eager eyes, gazing from a crystal - a picture, the lecturer explained, which puzzled Mr. Gwynne, the war correspondent, when he called him in to see it. Another picture was shown as revealing the sad mystery of the disappearance of a servant girl from a Scottish family. One of the members of the household sought a spirit photograph, and below her shoulder in the developed print was the face of the missing girl, and beneath hers the face of a baby.

Three pictures were exhibited of Katie King, the celebrated visitor of the family of Sir William Crookes for two years. In one of these, Crookes, then a rising young scientist, was shown arm-in-arm with Katie King. Another picture was that of a hotel corridor at Norfolk, taken with a minute's exposure. Across the corridor, and filling the centre of the scene, was a white, misty shape terminating in the distance in the shadowy head and shoulders of a girl. Along the centre ran a well-defined zigzag white line, apparently of light. The lady who took the picture was not psychic; but investigation showed, said Sir Arthur, that there was a legend about some housekeeper who used to wander round the hotel with a candle.

There were pictures of psychoplasm, long white pillars like stalagmites. This substance, he said, exuded from the medium, who from this cause lost 20 or 30 lb. of weight in a trance, and would die if the pillar were suddenly cut off. A small piece of the substance which had been removed was shown by analysis to possess carbonate of lime and phosphates, constituents of the human body. Psychoplasm came from the medium in the form of a gas or vapour, gradually became more solid, and by some force entirely apart from the observers or the medium, took the shape of the human face, arms, and other limbs. The assumption was that into this shell the spirit came.

An investigator going to Crewe was required to bring his own photographic plates and his own carrier, and to do his own developing and fixing. All this was insisted upon. It was preferred, If possible, that he should also bring his own camera; but if he had none, one was lent to him. They preferred, in fact, that no one but he should touch the plate from start to finish. "In the case of my photographs," said Sir Arthur, "if there was any swindle, this (holding up his hand) is the hand that did it, for none other ever touched the plates." (Applause.)

In his introductory address, Sir Arthur, in reply to the allegation that he was making money out of this tour, announced, amidst loud applause, that he had never in his life taken one shilling from any lecture he had delivered. The surplus from those lectures would he left here for the development of the Australian Spiritualist Church. (Applause.) He acknowledged his indebtedness to the Press of Sydney, which had, he said, treated him very kindly, and had given both sides of the case impartially. Replying to the argument in one published article that one might expect the messages from the dead to be of greater importance, he contended that to a mother and father who had lost their boy, there was nothing more important in the universe than to know where that boy was.

He is to lecture again next Saturday, and show a further collection of photographs.