Leadbeater, Jinarajadasa and the Criminal Law of Ceylon

In 1889, having “discovered” a young Singhalese boy, Curuppumullage Jinarajadasa (1875-1953), whom he later claimed to be the reincarnation of his brother, Gerald (who had never existed), Leadbeater planned to take the boy back to England with him, and, given that the boy was under 14 years of age and under the control of his parents who refused to consent to the boy leaving Ceylon, therefore to abduct the boy. See: https://cwleadbeater.wordpress.com/2016/09/11/the-abduction-of-jinarajadasa-2/


The relevant sections of The Penal Code for Ceylon, 1885, are quoted below.


Whoever conveys any person beyond the limits of Ceylon without the consent of that person or of some person legally authorized to consent on behalf of that person, is said to “kidnap that person from Ceylon”.

This was the crime Leadbeater was attempting to commit. He did not have the consent of “person legally authorized to consent on behalf of” Jinarajadasa, that is, his father.


Whoever takes or entices any minor under fourteen years of age if a male, or under sixteen years of age if a female, or any person of unsound mind, without the consent of such guardian, is said to “kidnap such minor or person from lawful guardianship”.

This was a crime Leadbeater committed. He both enticed and took Jinarajadasa, being a male under fourteen years of age, without the consent of his guardian. Jinarajadasa was born on 16 December 1875. Leadbeater enticed, assisted and “took” Jinarajadasa from his parents in the days prior to 28 November 1889 (when the ship on which he was to be taken to England sailed), at which time Jinarajadas was under fourteen years of age. He did not attain fourteen years of age until 16 December 1889.


Whoever by force compels, or by any deceitful means, or by abuse of authority or any other means of compulsion, induces any person to go from any place, is said to” abduct” that person.

Either by “deceitful means” (as the law would certainly understand it) or by “abuse of authority”, by telling the boy that the Master required him to accompany Leadbeater to England, Leadbeater induced Jinarajadasa to go from his parents’ home.


Whoever kidnaps any person from Ceylon or from lawful guardianship shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to seven years, and shall also be liable to fine.

Leadbeater attempted (and an attempt at the commission of a crime is in itself a crime) to kidnap Jinarajadasa from Ceylon, and did (albeit for a short period) kidnap him from “lawful guardianship”, rendering himself liable to a maximum penalty of seven years imprisonment, with or without a fine.


Whoever kidnaps or abducts any person with intent to cause that person to be secretly andwrongfully confined shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to seven years, and shall also be liable to fine.

As Jinarajadasa himself wrote:

Bit by bit I collected a few clothes, which were put in a carpet bag, and on a certain afternoon I took them to a particular place in Colombo where a sailor from the ship met me, and I gave the bag to him. That evening I slipped away from home, and went to the beach, where I found C. W. L. It was utterly dark, and a monsoon wind was blowing, with huge waves. I was told that the ship’s boat was out there beyond the waves, and that I was to swim out. I had on only a dhoti and a coat. I stripped and gave these to C. W. L. and plunged into the waves. Just beyond the breakers I saw something white, and this was the boat. Two sailors hauled me in. I still vividly recall the sensation of cold and shivering as I lay crouched at the bottom, with a strong wind blowing. The boat took me to the ship, and the Chief Mate conducted me to a cabin, where I found my carpet bag. I stayed locked in the cabin that night and the whole of the next day and night, also a part of the following day.

I was locked in not as a prisoner but to prevent any of the sailors, stevedores and others knowing of my presence on board, and to prevent the police who were inquiring after me from getting to know where I was. I had put in the carpet bag two volumes of Jules Verne, so I was happy enough.

[from C. Jinarajadasa Occult Investigations. A Description of the Work of Annie Besant and Charles Leadbeater Theosophical Publishing House, Adyar, 1938:115-122]

Jinarajadasa was, in legal terms, “secretly and wrongfully confined”, rendering Leadbeater liable to a maximum penalty of seven years imprisonment, with or without a fine. That Jinarajadasa himself did not object to the confinement was irrelevant: as a boy under fourteen years of age he did not have the legal capacity to give consent.

For The Penal Code for Ceylon, 1885, see: http://hrlibrary.umn.edu/research/srilanka/statutes/Penal_Code.pdf

Esoteric Sections and the Historian

Esoteric bodies do not like their affairs to be discussed, either by historians or anyone else. This is particularly the case when the earlier history of the  esoteric  school  has been  racked  by  controversy,  and  it  is  still  regarded  with  suspicion and even hostility by some Theosophists in the wider world. So the discussion of the history of the E.S. is not  encouraged in the T. S., either in meetings or in print. Apart from a valuable  and  long-running  discussion  in  “The  Canadian  Theosophist”  in  the  mid-1960s, to which  the  then  Outer  Head  of  the  E. S. contributed,  there  are  only  the  incidental  and infrequent references in most T. S. journals. One may naturally sympathise with this policy.

Any kind of training can be disrupted by controversy, and so can any wider Society. In no time such a discussion may get on to such questions as whether Mr. Leadbeater was a very great occultist or apostate; whether Mr. Judge was fairly treated or numerous other undead issues smouldering in Theosophical breasts. Far better to focus on things that unite.

Other  organisations  have  come  up  with  various  compromises  to  accommodate  the attempts  of  historians  to  study  the  sensitive  past.  Most  British  public  records  are  made available  in  the  Public  Record  Office  after  30  years. Lambeth Palace Library,  which  holds the papers of the Archbishop of Canterbury, has a 40 year rule. Even the Jesuits, who have played  a  prominent  role  in  the  history  of  Theosophy  as  the  alleged  inspirers  of  those  who annoyed  the  leaders  of  the  time,  have  made  changes.  J.  C.  H.  Aveling,  in  his  book The Jesuits (London, Blond & Briggs, 1981) notes:


“Of  recent  years  the  Society  has,  to  some  degree,  significantly  modified  its traditional  rules  of  rigid  secrecy  about  its  internal  affairs.  The  Jesuit Constitutions,  for centuries  printed  (like  the  Society’s  other  book  of  rules)  privately  and  for  limited circulation  among members,  are  now  for  sale  to  the  public.  Today  the  shelving  of all major  public  libraries contains  the  fifty  large  volumes  of  the  continuing  series  of  the Monumenta  Historica Societatis  Jesu.  This  is  a  vast  compendium  of  published  private records  of  the  early,  formative  days  of  the  society.  An  increasing  number  of  Jesuit archives  in  Rome  and  elsewhere  have  recently  been  opened  to  outsiders:  hitherto  they were shut even to the generality of Jesuits. This  new  attitude  of  openness,  and  the  effects  of  the  training  of  some  Jesuit historians  in  the  spirit  and  techniques  of  modern  research,  has  started  to  produce marked  changes  in  Jesuit  historical  writing.  In the past, with  few  exceptions,  their historians, were untrained and had very little access to archives. The superiors had what then seemed to be excellent reasons for a distinct distrust of history. The calls on their manpower  were  so  great  that  historical  writing  came  very  low  on  the  official  list  of priorities. Archives were primitive, dirty, uncatalogued storerooms. Their contents were frequently  scattered  or  lost  when  persecution  of  the  Society  led  to  confiscation  of  its houses  and  expulsion  of  the  inmates. Moreover the old Society had long been accustomed to, even trained to, a posture of defensiveness. Ordinary prudence seemed to  dictate  locking  up  archives  and  using  Jesuit  historians  largely  as  defenders  of  the good  name  of  the  Society  from  calumnies.  Hence  Jesuit  historians  automatically worked  within  the  narrow  bounds  of  officially-approved  traditions.  Today they are emerging from the old catacomb.  It  is  not  surprising  that  some  still  shrink  from  the unaccustomed  glare  of  the  light  of  day,  and  others  are  enebriated  by  it  and  launch out into radical reassessments of Jesuit history, treating tradition as so much legend.”

At present the Esoteric School for Adyar T. S. members is a good deal more secret than the Jesuits in its history. In fact, it has preserved secrecy more effectively than the Golden Dawn in many respects.  Sometime members such as Mead and Ernest Wood (Is This Theosophy?)  were  careful  even  in  their  critical  comments  to  respect  undertakings  of secrecy,  especially  about  methods  of  training.

The  historian,  as  I  have  said,  sympathises with  this  wish  to  preserve  confidentiality,  but  cannot  be  expected  to  avoid  discussion  of events  of  decades  ago  because  of  their  controversial  nature.  Let us therefore suggest for discussion some things to be desired. (Our remarks apply firstly to the Adyar E. S. but could be  extended  to  other  esoteric  bodies  in  the  Theosophical  world,  from  California  to  New York to Dornach.)

1) There should be some public one-volume histories of the E. S. written by members and non-members of the E. S.

2) There should be a rule of a certain number of years, say 50 years, before which archival material is normally made available.

3)  Letters from historians to the E.S.  should  receive  replies,  even  if  the  reply  is  (as it  is  sometimes bound to be) “No”. Mr. Tillette’s claim (in “The Elder Brother”) that some of his letters were not answered is disquieting.

4) It would be useful if there were a public statement, even if only a few hundred words, of what the E. S. today is: a school for yoga; a school of initiation; under the Inner Headship of H.P.B.’s  Mahatmas  or  just  the  humble  Headship  of  the  senior  Theosophist  who  at  present has to bear that heavy responsibility? This will help historians to place the E. S. in context.

The article, “Esoteric Sections and the Historian” by Leslie Price, from which this abstract comes, appeared in the quarterly journal Theosophical History January 1986 Vol.1 No.5 pages 90-96. It was reprinted with some additional footnotes in Psypioneer Journal Volume 12, No. 3: May – June 2016 http://www.woodlandway.org/PDF/PP12.3-May-June2016.pdf



Wikipedia….not quite accurate

In 1862, when Leadbeater was eight years old, his father died from tuberculosis. Four years later a bank in which the family’s savings were invested became bankrupt. Without finances for college, Leadbeater sought work soon after graduating from high school in order to provide for his mother and himself. He worked at various clerical jobs. During the evenings he became largely self-educated. For example, he studied astronomy and had a 12-inch reflector telescope (which was very expensive at the time) to observe the heavens at night. He also studied French, Latin and Greek. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charles_Webster_Leadbeater  Accessed 27 September 2016


Leadbeater’s father, Charles Leadbeater, did indeed die of tuberculosis in 1862. And, when Leadbeater was about eight years old….according to the facts of his birth certificate and Baptismal certificate, but not according to every account he gave of his birth date, which was 1847. The Wikipedia entry fails to mention this significant discrepancy.

Overend, Gurney and Company was a London wholesale discount bank, known as “the bankers’ bank”, which collapsed in 1866 owing about £11 million. However, having been born and raised in the slums of Stockport to a father described as a “cashier” to a railway company, there is no evidence that “the family’s savings” ever existed. Given that the cashier to a railway company raised his son in a slum, and then moved to various addresses as a “lodger” in poor, working class areas of London, on what basis could a family fortune be assumed? Leadbeater himself claimed that his studies at the University of Oxford were “cut short” by the bank collapse. Setting aside the fact that there is no record of him ever qualifying for, matriculating to, being admitted to or studying at the University, in 1866 (given his real as opposed to fraudulent birth day) he would have been twelve years of age at the time which, even for a most remarkable student, would have been an improbably young age for a student at the University of Oxford.

“Graduating from high school”? The concept of a “high school” was unknown in England at the time. Until the Elementary Education Act 1870 legally compulsory schooling did not exist; the Act required children had to attend between the ages of 5 and 10, with exceptions such as illness, if children worked, or lived too far from a school. This requirement was reinforced by the Elementary Education Act 1880. So, having been born in 1854, Leadbeater was not required by law to attend even what is now known as primary (in in the USA, elementary) school. However, it is probable that he attended Church of England schools attached to local churches in the areas in which he lived, on in one of the “ragged schools”, charitable organisations dedicated to the free education of destitute children. Insofar as “high schools” existed, they were the private fee-paying, ironically called “public schools” (including the most esteemed, like Eton, Harrow and Rugby), which were entirely for the sons (not the daughters) of the wealthy.

“Worked at various clerical jobs”? The 1871 census return (when Leadbeater was 17) records that he was living with his mother in Tottenham, and described himself as a “commercial clerk”. Leadbeater claimed that he had worked for a ship-broker and then for a railway contractor, and then worked for the bank of William Deacons and Company for two years. Assuming that the two earlier positions, with the ship-broker and the railway contractor, each lasted a year or two (which, given the specification of his employment with the bank as two years is not unreasonable), he had begun paid employment around the age of eleven, having completed the then not legally compulsory school attendance to that age.

“Studied astronomy”? There is no evidence at all that Leadbeater ever studied astronomy.  In the Friends of Theosophical Archives Newsletter [Issue VI Spring-Summer 2016 – available on-line at http://hypatia.gr/fota/images/newsletter/Fota_Newsletter06.pdf ] the eminent historian of esotericism, Dr Robert Gilbert, provides, in passing, an interesting comment on Leadbeater’s claim to have owned and used a telescope in his days as a Curate at Bramshott:

Among my non-esoteric interests is the work of Victorian popularisers of science, and one valuable source of information is the journal Knowledge, a Victorian weekly “Illustrated Magazine of Science. Plainly Worded – Exactly Described”; in some respects a secular parallel to The Vahan, for both journals contain news, letters, reviews, questions & answers, and announcements. In one issue of Knowledge, I was surprised to find a letter of C.W. Leadbeater on observations of ‘The Lunar Eclipse’. [Vol. 6, No. 157, Oct. 31, 1884. p. 371] He writes from ‘Liphook, Hants.’, where he lived while a curate at Bramshott, and he describes the telescope that he used as an ‘8 1/2 in. Calver’s reflector’. He doesn’t say that it was his telescope, but Gregory Tillett notes that Leadbeater ‘owned a twelve-inch reflector telescope’. [Gregory Tillett, The Elder Brother. A biography of Charles Webster Leadbeater. London, Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1982, p. 23. A twelve inch telescope by Calver would have cost more than £300.]

Now, all of this is not simply nit-picking, for an intriguing question arises. Leadbeater was evidently still enthusiastically observing just two weeks before he sailed for India in November 1884. But as it would have been very difficult to have taken the telescope with him, we should ask ‘what became of the telescope?’ (and any relevant notebooks). I suspect that it wasn’t his, for it was a fine instrument that would have cost him at least £150 – more than his annual income; nor was it likely to have belonged to his companions – there were four observers – who were probably young parishioners. There is no evidence that Leadbeater’s wealthy, and usually absent, uncle and patron, Canon Capes, had any interest in astronomy, so either Leadbeater casually discarded an expensive telescope, or, as I suspect, it was a case of exaggeration in the cause of wish fulfilment: an early example of a Leadbeater fantasy.

“Studied French, Latin and Greek”? There is no evidence at all that Leadbeater ever studied French. He was required as part of his examinations as a “Literate” in the Diocese of Winchester prior to his ordination to have a basic knowledge of Latin and New Testament Greek. However, the Rector of Bramshott, the classically educated scholar, Canon William Capes, under whom Leadbeater served as a Curate, wrote scathingly of one of his Curates who was incapable of pronouncing Greek names in a reading from Scripture in English. This could only have been Leadbeater. The other Curate was a classically educated scholar with degrees from the University of Oxford.



The Slums of Stockport

Given the harsh reality of the world into which Leadbeater was born and spent his early childhood, it is entirely understandable that he would want to create a different, better, fantasy world. He was born, not (as he claimed) in a romantic upper-class rural manor house (Lea Green Hall), but in a squalid street (Thomson Street off Greek Street, near the railway station) in the slums of Stockport, an industrial area of Manchester in England. The slums of Stockport have long gone, subject to an extensive program of “slum clearance”.


One area of the Stockport slums prior to the “slum clearance” in 1965

Likewise, one can understand his claim (as published by Mrs Besant) of a distinguished past by declaring that he was a “great English gentleman” and that “one is not at all surprised to learn of his association in earlier years with Lytton, Tennyson, Ruskin, Charles Kingsley, Sir William Crookes, Sinnett and others of equal calibre.” A man who could claim that his ancestors, who traced their descent from Charlemagne (c742-814), moved from Normandy to England “with or soon after William the Conqueror” (1066) and were given lands in Northumbria. A man whose great-grandfather had been a cadet in the Honourable East India Company who served in Madras. A man whose father “had been a man of considerable reputation in London in his youth, in the days of King William IV of somewhat inglorious memory”, but who, after he married, “disappeared altogether from the London firmament of which he had been a luminary” and lived at his ancestral home. In a squalid street (Thomson Street off Greek Street, near the railway station) in the slums of Stockport?

Friedrich Engels (1820-1895), the German philosopher, social scientist, and journalist, and co-author with Karl Marx of The Communist Manifesto (1848), published The Condition of the Working Class in England in 1885, based on his personal observations and research in Manchester.


There is Stockport, too, which lies on the Cheshire side of the Mersey, but belongs nevertheless to the manufacturing district of Manchester. It lies in a narrow valley along the Mersey, so that the streets slope down a steep hill on one side and up an equally steep one on the other, while the railway from Manchester to Birmingham passes over a high viaduct above the city and the whole valley. Stockport is renowned throughout the entire district as one of the duskiest, smokiest holes, and looks, indeed, especially when viewed from the viaduct, excessively repellent. But far more repulsive are the cottages and cellar dwellings of the working-class, which stretch in long rows through all parts of the town from the valley bottom to the crest of the hill. I do not remember to have seen so many cellars used as dwellings in any other town of this district.

Condition of the Working Class in England, by Engels, 1845 Text available on-line at: https://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1845/condition-working-class/ch04.htm

A Missing Portrait?


A posting on Facebook from the International Theosophical History Conference held in London last weekend with the note:

A small competition for those who have been there before – what is missing this year that was there previously on the wall of London’s Theosophical Society’s living room?

The answer is, of course, “the portrait of C.W. Leadbeater”.

Blavatsky Lodge in London took the deliberate decision to remove the portrait. I do not know whether their reasons for doing so have been published.

Scott-Elliot, Leadbeater and Atlantis

Using “astral clairvoyance”, Leadbeater assisted William Scott-Elliot to write his book The Story of Atlantis. A Geographical, Historical and Ethnological Sketch Theosophical Publishing Society, London, 1896, for which Sinnett wrote the preface.


Leadbeater consulted material on the history of the earth found in the occult museum of which the Master KH was the Keeper of the Records. This material included models of the earth at it various evolutionary stages. Leadbeater drew the maps included in the book. In the Preface, Scott-Elliot notes that access had been gained to “some maps and other records physically preserved from the remote periods concerned” (p. ix) but no further information was given lest the credibility of the book be diminished.


For a summary of Scott-Elliot’s work, cf, L. Sprague de Camp Lost Continents. The Atlantis Theme in History, Science, and Literature Ballantine Books, New York, 1970:51-72.

Jinarajadasa, who was present during Leadbeater’s psychic research for Scott-Elliot, recorded:

Soon after Dr. Besant became a member of the London Lodge group, discussions took place in it with regard to the migrations of various races of the past. In connection with this, both she and Bishop Leadbeater investigated certain periods of Atlantean civilisation. In order to understand the development of root-races, Bishop Leadbeater investigated the past shape of the earth, and after consulting the maps and globes kept in the Occult Museum of the Adepts, drew the maps of Lemuria and Atlantis which are in the book by Mr. W. Scott-Elliot under the title The Story of Atlantis. It was considered more effective for publicity that the maps should not be announced as due to clairvoyance. Mr. Scott-Elliot merely says, “it has been the privilege of the writer to be allowed to obtain copies—more or less complete—of four of these”. I regret greatly that when the original drawings were passed on to him, no copies were kept. I recall how years later Bishop Leadbeater expressed great regret that a particular map which he drew, of a system of locks for canals, used by Atlantean engineers, could not be recovered by him, as he considered that the Atlanteans had a novel idea not known to engineers to-day. It was too tiresome a task to do the work over again.

C. Jinarajadasa Occult Investigations. A Description of the Work of Annie Besant and C.W. Leadbeater Theosophical Publishing House, Adyar, 1938

G.F.Scott Elliott

William Travers Scott-Elliot (sometimes incorrectly spelled Scott-Elliott) (1849-1919) was a Theosophist best known for his work on the concept of root races, including The Story of Atlantis (1896) and The Lost Lemuria (1904), later combined in 1925 into a single volume called The Story of Atlantis and the Lost Lemuria.


Scott-Elliot came from a wealthy, aristocratic Scottish family based in Arkleton near Langholm, and was the Tenth Laird of Arkleton following his father’s death. He was the son of William Scott-Elliot of Arkleton (1877-1901) and Margaret Scott-Elliot (nee Wallace), and had one sister, Louisa.

Scott-Elliot was an East India Merchant and amateur anthropologist. An early member of the London Lodge of the Theosophical society, in 1893 he wrote The Evolution of Humanity, issued as part of the Transactions of the London Lodge (issue 17).

In 1893 Scott-Elliot married Matilda (Maude) Louise Travers (1859-1929), daughter of Dr Robert Boyle Travers F.R.C.S., of Farsid Lodge, Rostellan, County Cork, Ireland. She was a psychic and a member of the Theosophical Society, known under the pseudonym of “Mary”, who worked as a medium for Sinnett in his London Lodge [see Daniel Caldwell and Michelle B. Graye, “Mary Unveiled,” Theosophical History 1:8 (October, 1986), 206].

Scott-Elliot and his wife had a son, Captain Walter Travers Scott-Elliot (1895-1977) who was a British company director and politician who served one term as a Member of Parliament. He was murdered, along with his wife, by Archibald Hall, whom he had hired as a butler.

In 1899 Scott-Elliot was awarded the T. Subba Row Medal for his contributions to “esoteric science and philosophy”. In 1904 he added detail on Lemuria to his work on Atlantis, attempting to use contemporary scientific evidence to back up Leadbeater’s claims.

The text of The Story of Atlantis is available on-line at: http://www.sacred-texts.com/atl/soa/index.htm

The text of The Lost Lemuria is available on-line at: http://www.sacred-texts.com/atl/tll/index.htm

The text of The Story of Atlantis and the Lost Lemuria is available on-line at: http://www.gutenberg.org/files/21796/21796-h/21796-h.htm

Some sections of the books have been criticised for their racism – for example:

The degraded remnants of the Third Root Race who still inhabit the earth may be recognised in the aborigines of Australia, the Andaman Islanders, some hill tribes of India, the Tierra-del-Fuegans, the Bushmen of Africa, and some other savage tribes. The entities now inhabiting these bodies must have belonged to the animal kingdom in the early part of this Manvantara. It was probably during the evolution of the Lemurian race and before the “door was shut” on the entities thronging up from below, that these attained the human kingdom.

Scott-Elliot was also the author of:

The Evolution of Humanity Issue 17 of Transactions of the London Lodge of the Theosophical Society, Theosophical Society (Great Britain). London Lodge, Kegan Paul, Trench, Trübner, & Co., 1893.


The Great Law: a Study of Religious Origins and of the Unity Underlying Them London and New York: Longmans, Green, and Co., 1899. Written as W. Williamson. Digital version available on-line at: https://archive.org/details/b24885964

The Times and Teaching of Jesus Christ London, Longmans, Green and Co., 1912. Written as W. Williamson.

See also:

Joscelyn Godwin Atlantis and the Cycles of Time: Prophecies, Traditions, and Occult Revelations Inner Traditions, Rochester VT, 2011: Chapter 4: Later Theosophists

Scott-Elliot’s works on Atlantis and Lemuria were also influential on the teachings on those subjects by Rudolf Steiner – see: http://anthrowiki.at/William_Scott-Elliot

Pablo Sender in Australia

The Theosophical Society in Australia has announced that Dr Pablo Sender will be visiting Australia in the “second half of April 1917” to speak at the “2017 School of Theosophy” – http://austheos.org.au/wp-content/uploads/2016/09/tina-2016-september.pdf – and it seems to me that Dr Sender’s visit would be an excellent opportunity for him to participate in an academic debate regarding C.W. Leadbeater, given his strenuous defence of Leadbeater in response to my blog: https://cwleadbeater.wordpress.com/2016/08/22/dr-sender-responds/

I note that Dr Sender has failed to reply to my two (basic) criticisms of my responses to his defences of Leadbeater: https://cwleadbeater.wordpress.com/2016/08/27/special-pleading-for-an-arhat/ and https://cwleadbeater.wordpress.com/2016/08/26/even-if-it-is-a-lie/

So – perhaps a public discussion on “Is C.W. Leadbeater a reliable source?” could be organized? Perhaps at the Theosophical Society in Australia’s national headquarters, or yet at The Manor (the national centre of the Esoteric School – or whatever it is now called – in the Australia)?

I would, of course, expect no financial benefit from participating in such a discussion and would be happy for any income derived to benefit the Theosophical Order of Service.

I eagerly await the response of Dr Sender and the Theosophical Society in Australia.

International Theosophical History Conference

I have been both excited and depressed to received photographs from the current International Theosophical History Conference in London – see http://theosophicalsociety.org.uk/theosophical-history-conference : excited because this international movement for the serious study of Theosophical History continues to grow and to thrive, and depressed because I was not able to attend, having been present and presented paper as conferences in London and San Diego in the Past.

A gathering of serious scholars of Theosophical History, with the accompanying dialogue, discussion and debate…exciting, challenging, intellectually demanding. It is sad that such a tradition of historical conferences has not (apparently) received any financial support from the (Adyar) Theosophical Society (including the vast financial support given to the Theosophical Society in America from the Kern Foundation), and this must raise many questions. Presumably the principal that “There is No Religion Higher than Truth” does not apply to scholarly, objectively historical research has been abandoned by, at least, the (Adyar) Theosophical Society.

I will leave without comment the threats issued against the organizers of the International Theosophical History Conference in the USA when I presented a paper referring to the “Egyptian Rite”…that story remains to be made public.

Reginald Farrer

Amongst the distinctly eccentric individuals who were attracted to Bishop Arnold Mathew, and later to Bishop James Wedgwood, was Reginald Elphinstone Astley Edward Rupert Farrer (1874-1933). He was a friend of Wedgwood, and had been ordained a Priest by Bishop Mathew in 1914.

It was Farrer who precipitated the action by Mathew that led to Wedgwood’s resignation from Mathew’s church and, ultimately, the foundation of the Liberal Catholic Church. He had written to Wedgwood on January 22, 1915:

After many weeks of indecision and pondering I have come to the conclusion that I am going to yield to a kind of reaction from out-Heroding Herod with regard to the  Old Catholic Church. Of course Church Work and Christian symbolism and ceremonial has always appealed to me very strongly, but I am convinced that the Church and the Cross represent the old Dispensation, that the T.S. and the [Order of the] Star represent the new one. It may be that our Old Catholic Church has some part to play in the Master’s Plans and in the new Dispensation, but I have definitely decided to work wholeheartedly for the New.

On the same day, Farrer wrote to Mathew resigning as Treasurer, Secretary and Registrar of the Church because he had “decided to do some Theosophical work”. This caused Mathew considerable distress and he seems to have finally realized that his Theosophical clergy felt it (as Farrer phrased it) their “duty to work always firstly for Theosophy and secondly for our movement…” and believed that “the work of the Theosophical Society has the Blessing of our Lord on it as much as the Church has….”. Farrer wrote a subsequent letter declaring: “I have made a serious mistake in making the Profession of Faith and taking the Ordination Vow.”

On August 6, 1915, Mathew issued a decree – “Pastoral Letter On Membership in the Theosophical Society and in the Order of the Star in the East” – condemning “absolutely and irrevocably all association, on the part of our Faithful people, with Societies which tolerate the publication of what in our eyes is blasphemy and paganism, presented in a seductive and dangerous guise” and requiring that any clergy or laity who were members of either the Theosophical Society or the Order of the Star in the East must resign from them.

Mathew wrote to Farrer on September 30, 1915, expressing his anger and distress:

…the tone of your letter is that of a very naughty wilful son. I did not give you the option of ‘resigning’ or of leaving the Church for the sake of Theosophy. What I did was to require you to fulfil honourably and loyally your vow of obedience to me. . . . You cannot release yourself in this wild way from your obligations. YOU have made vows and you are in honour bound to keep them. . . You have no business to ‘must and will go and seek for Truth wherever you can find it’. Good gracious.. . Imagine this from a man who has lately become a Catholic and. .. . an Apostle of Catholicism by ordination! If you were not satisfied that Catholicism is Truth why in Heaven’s Name did you embrace it and become its Apostle? If Catholicism is not good enough for you, you had no right whatever to ask for sacred Orders and with the others cause me the utmost pain and embarrassment. Of course I supposed you all to be real and genuine converts to the true Faith, and not half and half Christians with a dash of Pantheism and a soupçon of Paganism thrown in. It is all most disturbing and shocking and reveals more and more the mischief done to you by association with the tenets of what I must call not Theosophy but Theosophistry.

Following the “Pastoral Letter On Membership in the Theosophical Society and in the Order of the Star in the East” Wedgwood and his Theosophical colleagues resigned from Mathew’s movement. In his letter of November 12, 1915, Wedgwood stated:

These circumstances make it totally impossible for me to continue my official relations with you, and I hereby submit my resignation from your movement. Since you have broken faith with me this resignation is tantamount to a declaration of independence and I shall continue my ministration.


Farrer (standing) and Wedgwood at Wedgwood’s ordination as a Bishop

Farrer followed Wedgwood after the break with Mathew, but resigned in 1919, returned 1920, and resigned from the Church again 1920, but maintained his involvement in the Theosophical Society and Co-Masonry. However, on February 28, 1922, Farrer wrote to the leader of Co-Masonry tendering his resignation, and making very serious allegations against Wedgwood and others. His letter, which inevitably became known as “The Farrer Letter”, was widely circulated and, eventually, made public. It referred to allegations of sexual misconduct in a letter to Mrs Besant from the leading Sydney Theosophist, T.H. Martyn.

The imputation against myself as well as against Wedgwood, [Bishop Robert] King and Clark in Mr Martyn’s letter is but too true.  Yet I would have you believe that I was led astray by those whom I considered to be my superiors both morally and spiritually.  I was not strong enough to control my own lower nature and gave way to a practice that I am now heartily ashamed of.  Reparation for the stain that I have brought upon the Order I cannot make, and I have come to the mournful conclusion chat it is incumbent on me to ask you to strike my name from the role of Co-Masonry.  Wedgwood absolutely declines to give up the malpractice.  Again, [Jose] Acuna who is also addicted to this vice had actually stood sponsor for one of his ‘friends’ who was initiated into Emulation Lodge recently.

Both Farrer and Wedgwood had been warned of potential Police action against them. Farrer left England on the day he wrote his letter of resignation. Wedgwood submitted his resignation from the Church, the Theosophical Society and Co-Masonry in a letter to Mrs Besant dated 7 March, 1922, and he too left England. Nothing is known as Farrer’s subsequent life, except that he died in England in 1933.

Reginald Farrer was the son of Captain John Farrer (1820-1873) of the 1st Regiment of Life Guards in County Tipperary, Ireland, and Augusta Louisa Newton (Wigney)(1837-1920) who married in 1852. Farrer had two brothers, William Dent Mountjoy Cecil Phillips (born 1854) and Thornton Harte (1857-1900), and two sisters, Violet Augusta (1957-1874) and Hyacinthe Jacqueline Ormond Blanche (1867-1938).

In the 1881 census, the first after Farrer’s birth, he was living in Bridgewater Lodge with his mother (described as a widow), his sister, his niece, Gladys Vivian (born 1878) and four servants, including a lady’s maid and a footman. In the 1891 census, he was living with his mother, described as “living on her own means” and brother, Thornton, at “Bridgewater Lodge”, Maidenhead. In the 1901 census he and his brother William were living with their mother in “Bridgewater Lodge”, Maidenhead, and described as “living on their own means”, with four servants.

Farrer was educated at Radley College, near Radley, Oxfordshire, England, founded in 1847, which he attended 1888-1890.

It does not appear that any of the three brothers married. Violet died young and unmarried. Hyacinthe married three times: (1) Robert Watson (1885; he died in 1894); (2)Frederick Thomas Cosier (1894; divorced 1908; (3) Captain The Honourable Alistair George Hay (1861-1929) of the Black Watch, son of George Hay Drummond, 12th Earl of Kinnoull, in 1909. She had no children.

The family appears to have been wealthy, given the residences in which it lived and the number of servants it employed, and none of the sons seems to have engaged in paid employment. However, the mother and the sons all died leaving very small estates. When Reginald Farrer died he left an estate of less than one hundred pounds. This may suggest that they lived on income from some sort of family trust but had no rights to the capital.


The Godby Tapes

The late Michael Godby (1940-1995) was a devoted Liberal Catholic in the Wedgwood, although not the Leadbeater, tradition, and spent considerable time over many years undertaking research into the origins of the Church and the intentions of Wedgwood as its founder. Together with a (now former) Liberal Catholic Priest, Brian Parry, he wrote a study of the Liberal Catholic Liturgy which sought to provide a mystical (in the Wedgwood sense) rather than an occult (in the Leadbeater, “Science of the Sacraments” sense) interpretation of the rite: The Work of Transformation: A Pictorial Exploration into the Holy Eucharist as Celebrated in the Liberal Catholic Church St Alban Press, Sydney, 1972.

During periods of research in England, Michael interviewed as many as possible of those who had memories of Wedgwood and the origins of the Liberal Catholic Church. Working professionally with the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, Michael had the skills and technology to produced recordings of very high standard.

Michael gave me copies of all his research material, including the interviews in the now almost unimaginably primitive form of cassette tapes. We corresponded at length over many years. I travelled with him on one of his research trips to England, and we visited Bramshott (where Leadbeater had been an Anglican Curate) together.

One of Michael’s most valuable informants was Oscar Kollerstrom who had originally been one of Leadbeater’s “boys” but became a disciple of Wedgwood, and, much to Leadbeater’s disapproval, left Australia to follow Wedgwood to Europe. Michael recorded long interviews with Kollerstrom who had been present in Sydney when Wedgwood and Leadbeater formulated the shape of the new Liberal Catholic Church.

One interview with Kollerstrom has now been made available on Pedro Oliveira’s web site: http://www.cwlworld.info/html/liberal_catholic_church.html – scroll down to “An interview with Oscar Köllerström, conducted by Michael Godby. In it Köllerström reminisces about Bishops Wedgwood and Leadbeater and the beginnings of the Liberal Catholic Church in Sydney.

In the future I hope to find all my taped copies of Michael’s interviews and have them converted to make it possible to provide access to them here.