The Burt Divorce Case

One of the very few cases in which Leadbeater was ever obliged to give evidence in court was that of a petition for divorce by a Liberal Catholic Priest (and later Bishop) Lawrence Wilfred Burt. It was a strange case in which curious evidence was given about “etheric vision”, astral travel and Burt supposedly leaving his body to visit his wife to “blow on your lovely neck, kiss you on the ear and whisper lovely thoughts”. Burt was even obliged to deny that he had “ascended several planes on the path to the Theosophical Nirvana.”

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National Advocate (Bathurst) 5 April 1928

Unsurprisingly, there were multiple, often daily, reports in newspapers in New South Wales and Queensland and elsewhere in Australia.

In the suit, Lawrence Wilfred Burt, who described himself as a company director, petitioned for a divorce from Josephine Mary Burt (formerly Sewell), also known as Miss Shasta Bertini, on the ground of her alleged adultery with one Alfred O’Shea (a well-known tenor who was joined as co-respondent), and also on the ground of her alleged adultery with one John Wallace Atkinson (who was also joined as co-respondent). Mrs Burt, O’Shea and Atkinson denied the alleged adultery, and Mrs Burt further alleged that petitioner had been guilty of cruelty towards her, and “by his wilful neglect and misconduct had conduced to the adultery (if any)” as alleged by him. She asked that the petition be dismissed, and that she be granted a decree for judicial separation. Burt, in a reply, denied the cruelty, neglect, and misconduct alleged by his wife.

Burt had paid a firm of private inquiry agents £10 a week for 12 weeks to watch his wife,

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Truth (Western Australia) April 22 1928

Leadbeater was called on subpoena and “produced a book containing records of the matrimonial and spiritual affairs of Rev. Lawrence Wilfred Burt” but, stating that he possessed no letters and other documents, was permitted to leave. As one newspaper reported: [Leadbeater] made a remarkable and unusual figure in that sedate gathering, his silvery-white hair and long snowy beard shining in the electric glare. His ecclesiastical black coat was buttoned at the throat, and between the triangular opening hung a gorgeous golden cross.

During a cross-examination that lasted for ten hours, Burt was asked by the barrister for O’Shea: “You are a close personal friend of Bishop Leadbeater?” “Yes.” “Have you heard he was charged with certain practices?” Burt replied: “I know that the practices alleged against him were impossible.”

The judgment went against Burt: The plaintiff in this suit, Lawrence Wilfred Burt, a priest of the Liberal Catholic Church, sued for a divorce from Josephine Mary Burt (formerly Sewell), and professionally known as Shasta Bertini, alleging adultery with Alfred O’Shea and John Wallace Atkinson, professionally known as Jack Kinson, both co-respondents being prominent in Sydney musical circles. The petitioner and respondent were married in Brisbane in 1910, according to the rites of the Methodist Church. The hearing of evidence in the suit occupied several days. There was no actual proof of adultery, the principal witness for the petitioner, Alfred Edward Warner, also a priest of the Liberal Catholic Church, giving evidence of conversations between O’Shea and the respondent on separate occasions, from which, it was suggested, inferences of guilty relations might be drawn. During the course of the hearing, the co-respondent, Atkinson, was discharged from the suit, his Honor being of opinion that there was no evidence to connect him with the charges. His Honor dismissed the petitioner’s suit, and directed the petitioner to pay the costs of the respondent and both co-respondents.

The costs would have been considerable since the case involved seven barristers.

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Lawrence Wilfred Burt (1883-1962) had been ordained priest by Wedgwood in 1917, and was ordained bishop by Bishop Tweedie in 1939, and served as the Regionary Bishop for Australia 1943-1961.

 

 

 

 

 

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