Various attempts have been made by Leadbeater’s supporters to deal with the 1906 scandal, the committee of inquiry and what followed. Supporters of Leadbeater, past and present, have shown a remarkable incapacity for accurately representing inconvenient facts.
At the convention of the Theosophical Society in Australia held in Sydney at Easter 1922, with Mrs Besant and Leadbeater present for some of the time, heated debate raged about Leadbeater.
During a debate on what was essentially a motion of confidence in Besant and Leadbeater, Leadbeater addressed the 1906 issue by declaring that the proceedings of the 1906 committee had been reviewed by another committee, “including eminent judges and barristers”, in 1908 which had cleared him of all charges.
This was reported in Dawn. The Official Organ of the T.S. Loyalty League (Sydney) Vol 1 No 4, 1 May 1922:
While having no wish to revive what has become known as The Leadbeater Case, it is necessary to repudiate a brief statement made by Mr. Leadbeater at the close of the debate on the vote of confidence at Sydney Convention on Easter Monday. That gentleman stated that the evidence against himself was finally disposed of at an official enquiry held in 1908. Of such an official enquiry we can find no record. Presumably, Mr. Leadbeater referred to some enquiry arranged for whitewashing purposes, of a hole-and-corner variety. The little value of such enquiry, and its decision, can be best realized from the fact that as late as 1913 Mr. Justice Bakewell, in the Madras High Court, after an exhaustive hearing, held “that Mr. Leadbeater was a man holding immoral opinions, highly unfit to associate with boys.” There is much more that might be quoted in the judgment delivered later at the Appeal Court, Madras; but we refrain from saying more. The point we emphasize is that no judgments such as those of 1913 could have been possible had the case against Mr. Leadbeater broken down in 1908, as he would have had those present at Convention believe. Had the speakers against the vote of confidence on Easter Monday not been gagged, and tricked out of their right to give reasons why they could not support any vote of confidence in Mr. Leadbeater, many of these points would have been made clear to members present.
The story of the 1908 committee, “including eminent judges and barristers”, is a somewhat confusing one.
A committee was appointed at the annual convention of the British Section of the Theosophical Society in 1908 in response to ever-increasing hostility to the prospect of Leadbeater being re-admitted to the Society. It was established to consider the question of his readmission. The committee consisted of Mrs Maude Sharpe (the General Secretary of the British Section); Edith Ward; G.R.S. Mead; Herbert Whyte and Herbert Burrows. Ward, Burrows and Mead had already expressed, and published statements of, their strong opposition to Leadbeater’s re-admission. Whyte and Sharpe were known to be supporters of Leadbeater. Numerous pamphlets were circulated giving the broadest possible publicity to the opinions of the special committee’s members. All the details of the 1906 trial were resurrected, copies of letters to and from Leadbeater were re-published, and emotions ran high. The committee prepared its report which the General Secretary and the Executive then suppressed by a vote of nine to five.
The nine members of the Executive the British Section of the Theosophical Society who voted to suppress the report – not the committee originally appointed by the convention – then resolved that, having considered all the evidence in the case, there was no reason why Leadbeater should not rejoin the Society.
Much was made of this Executive resolution in later years, when it came to be interpreted as a re-hearing of the 1906 charges by a committee appointed for that purpose. It is therefore important to note who were the members of the British Executive Committee voting in Leadbeater’s favour: Miss Esther Bright, Miss Green, Mrs Larmuth, Mr Alan Leo, Miss Hallett, Mr Alfred Hodgson-Smith, Mr James Wedgwood, Mr Herbert Whyte and Mrs Maude Sharpe. All had previously identified themselves as supporters of Leadbeater, and continued to be so in future years.
It is probably unnecessary to note that neither the original committee, nor the majority of the Executive which later came to be reinterpreted as that committee, included any judges of barristers, eminent or otherwise.
A second, equally imaginative, claim of vindication was published in the Theosophic Messenger in 1923 and reported in Dawn. The Official Organ of the T.S. Loyalty League (Sydney) Vol 2 No 8, 1 January 1923. The Police investigation into Leadbeater undertaken by the New South Wales Police, “brought about by the antagonists of Bishop Leadbeater, resulted in his exoneration.” The Minister for Justice found “no grounds for the base slanders” and, more impressively, “Now for the first time, the matter has come before a regularly constituted legal tribunal, and the result is that he is acquitted.”
A bit of thrilling news came by cable from Australia as the [American Theosophical Society] Convention was in session – that the police investigation, brought about in Sydney by the antagonists of Bishop Leadbeater, resulted in his exoneration. Cable news is necessarily abbreviated and details are lacking, but it seems that after his enemies had done their worst and the Department of Justice had made a prolonged investigation, the Minister of Justice finds that there are no grounds for the base slanders. For sixteen years the assailants of C.W.L. have slandered him in season and out, while he has gone calmly on with his work.
Now, for the first time, the matter has come before a regularly constituted legal tribunal, and the result is that he is acquitted. It is to be hoped that his defamers will now have the good sense to subside.
The “thrill” referred to owed its origin to a cablegram dispatched from Sydney by one, Dr. Lindberg, so it is stated in another column of The Messenger. Dr. Lindberg, it appears, is a “Liberal Catholic Church” priest. The message itself is not quoted, but it is described as “bearing the good news that Bishop C.W. Leadbeater had been officially cleared in the courts.”
This is the sort of misrepresentation that is ladled out to those who are satisfied to be credulous. It was at this Convention, however, that 27 delegates voted against the Resolution of Confidence in the same “Bishop” C.W. Leadbeater; so probably some, at any rate, who were present were not gulled by the cablegram. Let it be repeated that “Bishop” Leadbeater was not “exonerated” by the Police Enquiry in Sydney, nor was he “acquitted,” nor was he “cleared in the courts,” nor did the Minister for Justice find “that there are no grounds for the base slanders.” The Justice Department did announce that the Crown Solicitor has stated: “I am of opinion that there is not enough evidence available here to obtain a conviction on any charge.” (Italics ours. – Eds.)
In the same report it was announced that “the inquiry was conducted by the Criminal Investigation Department, that all the parties thought likely to be able to give relevant evidence were interviewed, and a number of boys who had been associated with Mr. Leadbeater were interrogated.” Mr. Leadbeater himself did not offer to give evidence, and as evidence was entirely voluntary and then not sworn, it will be gathered that the proceedings differed very greatly from a “court trial,” where witnesses are on oath and subject to cross-examination, thus The Messenger lets itself go when it announces that “the matter has come before a regularly constituted legal tribunal.”
As announced in the November issue of Dawn, the T.S. Loyalty League, through a representative, has had access to the evidence itself, and Dawn states without equivocation, in reply to these falsehoods published in America, that if the evidence is insufficient to obtain a conviction on a criminal charge it is amply sufficient to require a searching inquiry on behalf of the Theosophical Society and in the interests of its good name. If those in authority continue to throw dust in the eyes of members, and to ignore the demand for impartial enquiry, then it may become the painful duty of Dawn to give further information regarding the nature of the evidence itself. What the Theosophical Society wants to know is not whether a particular form of immorality is criminal in the eyes of the Law of New South Wales, but whether it is criminal in the sight of Heaven? Members want to know if people declared by their President as on the threshold of Divinity are that; or, lecherous adventurers deceiving her and through her them, and trailing their most sacred ideals in the mire to the dishonor of God and man.
What the New South Wales Police inquiry actually concluded can be ascertained from consulting the original documents of the case – Special Bundle 7792.2 – “Police enquiry into alleged immoral teachings of C.W. Leadbeater, “Bishop” of the Liberal Catholic Church (Enquiry held 1922)” – which are available in the New South Wales State Archives, see: https://cwleadbeater.wordpress.com/2016/04/16/archives-the-state-archives-of-new-south-wales/
A detailed account of the investigation and its conclusions is found in Gregory Tillett “Charles Webster Leadbeater 1854-1934. A Biographical Study” (PhD Thesis, University of Sydney, 1986) chapter 18: “Police Investigations” (pp. 639-693), text available on-line at: http://leadbeater.org/tillettcwlchap18.htm
The Police investigation was not a “regularly constituted legal tribunal”, nor yet a legal tribunal of any sort, nor were the results of the Police investigation submitted to any legal tribunal or court. Insofar as the Police made findings, they were all adverse to Leadbeater.
The Minister for Justice did not find that there were “no grounds for the base slanders”. He did not make any findings at all. As for Leadbeater having been “officially cleared in the courts”, given that the matter did not go before any court, such a statement is simply a falsehood.