OLD DIARY LEAVES, Fourth Series (1887-92)
by Henry Steel Olcott
AUSTRALIA AND THE HARTMANN BEQUEST
I REACHED Madras on the 12th of February and found awaiting me a pleasant surprise in the form of a letter from Professor Leon de Rosny, of the Sorbonne, informing me of my election as Honorary Member of the Société d’Ethnographie, of Paris, in the place of Samuel Birch, the renowned Orientalist, deceased. Professor de Rosny and I had been on friendly terms for several years, having been drawn together by our liking for Buddhistic philosophy. He told me once that he used my Buddhist Catechism in his lectures, and had told his pupils that they would find more real Buddhism in it than in any of the books published by the Orientalists.
Four days later I packed trunk and took the steamer for Colombo er route for Australia. I had to wait at Colombo from the 18th of February to the 3rd of March for the Australian boat, but every minute of my time was occupied. Among other things accomplished was the getting of my Fourteen Propositions, or Buddhist Platform, accepted and signed by Sumangala and Subhuti, the two ranking High
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Priests of Kandy, and enough more of the principal bhikshus to give it the imprimatur of Sinhalese Buddhism. This answered for the whole of the Southern School, as the Buddhism of Siam is identical with that of Burma and Ceylon. At Wellawatte, Panadure, Kandy, Katugastota, Dehiwalla, and other places, I lectured on behalf of the Buddhist schools, raising public subscriptions in some places, distributing prizes at others. The Buddhists of Arakan, through Wondauk Tha Dway, of Akyab, telegraphed me an urgent invitation to visit their country, and, with the message, telegraphed money for my expenses, but I was obliged to postpone the visit until a future occasion.
At this time an experiment was going on to create a Ceylon Section of the T. S., and I had made Dr. Daly General Secretary. The result, however, was thoroughly unsatisfactory, and so I removed him from office, but experimentally made him General Manager of Schools. I also issued an appeal to the public for the creation of a Wesak Fund to be used for foreign propaganda. I have never been able to get the Sinhalese interested in this work, their whole sympathies and endeavors being concentrated on the regulation of Buddhist affairs in their own country. The fact is, nowhere in the East have the people any very clear idea of foreign countries and nations, and rarely have I found them in India distinguishing between the white men of different nationalities, who are classified under the general name of “Europeans”; even Americans are so designated.
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There was lying in Colombo harbor at that time a Russian frigate on which the Czarewitch, the present Czar, was making the tour of the world, accompanied by a staff of eminent men. One of these gentlemen, during the Prince’s Indian tour, had called at Adyar during my absence in Burma, expressed much interest in Theosophy, and bought some of our books. I was sorry to have missed him, as also the ball at Government House, to which the new Governor, Lord Wenlock, had invited me “to have the honor of meeting His Imperial Highness the Czarewitch”. Learning from the Russian Consul at Colombo that some of the Crown Prince’s staff would be pleased to make my acquaintance, I went aboard the frigate and spent an hour in delightful conversation with Prince Hespére Oukhtomsky, Chief of the Département des Cultes, in the Ministére de l’Intérieur, who was acting as the Prince’s Private Secretary on this tour, and Lieutenant N. Crown, of the Navy Department at St. Petersburg, both charming men. I found myself particularly drawn to Prince Oukhtomsky because of his intense interest in Buddhism, which for many years he has made a special study among the Mongolian lamaseries. He has also given much time to the study of other religions. He was good enough to invite me to make the tour of the Buddhist monasteries of Siberia. He asked me for a copy of my Fourteen Propositions, so that he might translate them and circulate them among the Chief Priests of Buddhism throughout the empire. This he has since done.
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On the 1st of March Mr. Richard Harte arrived from Adyar on his way to England after about three years’ service at Headquarters.
As above noted, I sailed for Australia on March 3rd, on that noble P. & O. steamer “Oceana”. On the 5th I crossed the equator for the first time, but no tricks were played by the sailors on the passengers. The next day I saw what to me was a marvel, viz., a rainbow lying horizontally, instead of making the usual vertical arch. It seemed to me, as I noted it, “like a stiff rainbow melted down”. The passage through-out was very smooth and pleasant. On the 12th, by request, I lectured in the first saloon on “The Essence of Buddhism”. The chair was taken by Hon. J. T. Wilshire, M.P., who made a very nice speech at the close. We reached King George’s Sound on the 13th and anchored off Albany, but were quarantined because of the smallpox at Colombo, and were thus prevented from going ashore to have a look at the place. Port Adelaide was reached on the 17th, and Melbourne on the 18th. At the latter place I met Mrs. Pickett, one of our old members, at whose house at Kew there was a meeting of Theosophists to greet me. An old fellow-traveller in Japan, Mr. James Miller, of Melbourne, whom I had also met in London, breakfasted with me at my hotel, and I lunched with him the same day.
We sailed on the 20th for Sydney, and arrived there on the 23rd in the early morning. My old acquaintance, the Earl of Jersey, was Governor of New South
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Wales at this time; and as I had notified Lady Jersey of my coming, they both received me with the greatest kindness. I attended her Ladyship’s garden-party that same day, and dined at Government House the next evening. A more beautiful view than that from this place is hard to imagine. The building is on a gently sloping point, running out into the world-famous Sydney harbor, and a panorama of exquisite scenery stretches out before the spectator. The old proverb was “See Naples and die,” but, for my part, I should rather substitute, the name Sydney for Naples. Lord Jersey was vastly amused over an exchange of bantering notes in comic verse between Lady Jersey and myself about her joining our Society, which I urged on the score of her intelligent interest in mystical studies, and she declined from an instinct of that conservatism which made her one of the founders of the “Primrose League”. More delightful acquaintances than they I have never met.
I had the pleasure of becoming acquainted with several Theosophists, and on the 25th sailed for Brisbane on the coasting steamer “Barcoo”. A note that I made on the attractive appearance of the dining-saloon, which was finished in light wood in artistic designs, with white and dark marble panels, reminds me to say that most of the steamers plying around the stormy coasts of Australia, Tasmania, and New Zealand give the traveller every comfort that he could wish. As for the table, it merits every praise. My trip on this boat is worth mentioning only for one reason
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—that I met, as a fellow-passenger, a man who seemed to me a sort of lusus naturae. He was a prize fighter by profession, and a light-weight champion, but withal as quiet, gentlemanlike a person as one would want to meet; moreover, he was a pianist of great merit. He played with great feeling, and would sit there at the instrument and let his fingers ramble over the keys, bringing out sweet harmonies, while his head would be thrown back and a dreamy expression come into his eyes, as though he were catching at sweet sounds in a higher sphere. I wish I could remember the interesting story of his musical life that he told me; but as I only wrote in my Diary the words “three months’ inspiration,” it is all gone from me. A vague reminiscence that there was something about his having been overshadowed by the spirit of Harmony, and that this controlled him for the space of time indicated, and that the influence had never wholly left him since, floats before my memory. At any rate, there he was at the piano, improvising music while on his way to fill an engagement in the prize-ring, where he would pummel another brute and be pummelled by him until one or both should find themselves unable to “come to the scratch”.
I reached Brisbane on the 27th at 10 a.m. The town is one and a half hours’ sail up the river, and one is reminded, by the houses and farms along the banks, far more of America than of England. It being Good Friday, every office and shop was closed, and I could see nobody on business; but, with the “journalistic”
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instinct which runs so strong in my veins, I called at the office of the Observer and saw Mr. Rose, a liberal-minded Scotchman, the sub-editor, with whom I at once struck up a friendship. A paragraph in the next morning’s Courier brought me a flood of visitors all the next day. Mr. Rose lunched and dined with me at my hotel, and Mr. Woodcock, Chief Clerk of the Colonial Secretary’s Office, a very genial and pleasant gentleman, also dined with me. I spent the afternoon with Judge Paul, of the District Court, who has a Japanese house, all the materials for which were imported from the Flowery Kingdom, and set up by Japanese carpenters imported for the job. The Judge is decidedly one of the most interesting friends I ever made; and as we were almost constantly together during my stay in Brisbane, my souvenirs of the visit are delightful. My introduction at the Club brought me into contact with many of the cleverest men in town, among them journalists, and so my visit became town-talk; and when a long interview with me appeared in the Telegraph, it may be imagined how the stream of visitors at my rooms went on increasing. I became acquainted with a couple of charming people, Mr. and Mrs. Brough, the comedians, whose acting I greatly enjoyed, and both of whom became members of our Society.
The objective point of my journey was Toowoomba, as above stated, and for this place I left by train on the 30th and reached there after a ride through pleasant scenery, six hours, later. Mr. Wm. Castles, one of
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the late Mr. Hartmann’s executors, accompanied me, and the other one, Mr. J. Roessle, invited me to put up with him; but as there was friction between the heirs, the executors, and Mr. J. H. Watson, F.T.S., Superintendent of the Hartmann Nursery, I preferred to put up at the Imperial Hotel, so as to be perfectly impartial. I was delighted with the situation of Toowoomba, which has on one side great stretches of rolling meadows, and on the other, blue ranges of hills. On the morning after my arrival I met the Hartmann family—comprising his brother Hugo, his daughter Helena, his sons Carl and Herrman, his two executors, and his son-in-law, Mr. Davis, husband of Helena. Of course, as they had looked on me as an enemy, as legatee of their father, and had done their best to have the will broken without success, at first they received me with cold distrust. When, however, they came to see how little disposed I was to deal harshly with them, their ill-temper gradually disappeared, and at the end of the interview they placed their interests unreservedly in my hands, and declared that they would be satisfied with any partition of the estate, or compromise, which I might be willing to give. Poor things! they had been going about the town denouncing their father, complaining of their wrongs, and exciting prejudice against the Society, so that I was convinced that it would not have taken much to set the mob to stoning me out of the town, or giving me a coat of tar and feathers. And yet I as everybody else at Adyar was as innocent as the babe
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unborn of all procurement of, or consent to, the deceased man’s action, or sympathy with that sort of thing under any circumstances. I had had no suspicion that he intended to leave the Society a rupee, or that he had rupees to bequeath. If he had but hinted to me his purpose, I should have tried to dissuade him from doing a wrong to his family, and thus prevent them from sending their maledictions after him into Kamaloka. Those who are interested in looking through a full report on this case may do so by reading in the Theosophist for August, 1891, my article on “Our Australian Legacy: a Lesson”. A good understanding having been arrived at all around, I accepted the invitation of Mr. Watson to come and take up my residence with him at “Hartmann’s Gardens”.
It is, or was, a charming show-place, of popular resort, with acres laid out in ornamental landscape gardening, a profusion of pines, palms, aloes, and ornamental and flowering shrubs and plants, testifying to the botanical skill of the deceased owner. There was an extensive conservatory full of rare plants, and another attached to the house, with a lofty roof of wood, and a tower or lantern in the apex. In this latter room were cases of selected shells, corals, and butterflies, and jars of reptilia, all possessing a scientific value, while the four walls were covered with trophies, artistically composed, of strange weapons of war and the chase, utensils of husbandry, and fishing nets, spears, and tackle, as used by the savages of New Guinea. The nursery property is at the brow of a
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ridge 2,000 feet above sea-level, and from the house-front the delighted eye sweeps over a varied landscape of wild eucalyptus and other jungle and detached clearings, stretching 70 miles away to a range of bluish hills, far beyond which lies Brisbane, the capital of Queensland. Entering the nursery property from the public road, one drives through an avenue of trees indigenous to Oceania, and others of tropical habitat—such as cacti, aloes, and palms—until the way is barred by a fence which encloses the ornamental gardens and admits only foot-passengers. Beyond this, a grassy road as wide as the entrance avenue conducts, in tortuous ways, up to the house, which is perfectly embowered in a grove of umbrageous trees. The place is famed throughout the colony for its beauty, and known to thousands in the other Australian colonies as the home of the winner of several hundred diplomas and medals at their various horticultural shows. Mr. Hartmann was a tireless worker, and, besides attending to his business proper, kept up a correspondence with the most eminent botanists and naturalists, and gave his name to some new species of plants and insects. The gardens comprise 42 acres. Besides this estate, he owned shares in productive mines, and had a nice sum to his credit in bank. This was the property bequeathed to me for the Theosophical Society, my title to which had been declared perfect by the highest judicial tribunal. My readers will see, doubtless, in my renunciation of my rights in favor of the injured natural heirs, a practical lesson
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in what we Theosophists call altruism. At a rough estimate the estate was then worth about £5,000.
In thinking it all over, it seemed to me that if I gave back to the family four-fifths of the estate, from which they never expected to derive a penny of benefit, and kept one-fifth for the Society, I would, in some sort, be carrying out the wishes of Mr. Hartmann to give substantial help to our cause; it also seemed no more than right that the cost of my voyage both ways should be defrayed out of the money in bank. So, upon full reflection, I drafted and, at the next day’s meeting, laid before the family the following offer:
RANGE NURSERY, TOOWOOMBA, 9th April, 1891.
“I made the following offer to the children and brothers of the late C. H. Hartmann:
“I. I will sell to them, or to anybody they may choose as their attorney, all my right, title, and interest as P. T. S. in the residue of the estate for the sum of £1,000 (one thousand pounds) in cash, and a sum sufficient to cover the cost of my travelling expenses from and to India—say £130.
“II. I will execute any necessary legal paper to this effect, and instruct the executors to make over the property, legally mine, to them, in my place.
“III. If they wish it, I will take one-half of the £1,000 in cash, or three-fourths—as they prefer—say £500 or £750—and loan the remainder upon a primary mortgage with interest at six per cent (6%)1 per
1The local bank rate was 8½ per cent.
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annum, upon the Range Nursery Property (viz., 42 or 43 acres), with the buildings and improvements as they stand, but not including the nursery or hothouse stock. The mortgage may be left standing for five years or longer as may be hereafter mutually agreed upon between them and myself, or successor in office.
“IV. The family must all notify me of their acceptance of these terms, and of their desire that I shall execute the transfer-papers to one or two of their number as representatives of all the five.
“V. The family must undertake to settle all the legacies to individuals as made in the will.
“VI. This offer to be accepted on or before the 17th April instant.
H. S. OLCOTT, P.T.S.”
Without leaving the room the heirs accepted the offer, with expressions of warm gratitude. The document bears the following indorsement:
“We accept the above offer, and request that Colonel Olcott will recognise the Hon. Isambert, M.P., of Brisbane, as our agent and representative. (Signed) C. H. HARTMANN, H. H. HARTMANN, HELENA HARTMANN DAVIS. In presence of F. Harley Davis and John Roessler” (one of the two executors under the will).
I quote this document from the published narrative above mentioned, as the event is ten years old, and hundreds or thousands who will read this chapter
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will get from it their first intimation of this event and its sequel, which, I am delighted to say, received the unanimous approval of my colleagues in the Society. Somewhat later, there came a great panic in colonial real-estate values, and so I cancelled my claim for the £1,000 and gave over absolutely the whole estate to the family, taking nothing out of it save the bare cost of my journey and a few New Guinea curios, worth, perhaps, £5, which may be seen in the Adyar Library.
I was amused to see the instantaneous change of public opinion towards the Society and myself: the heirs now went about singing my praises, and the Australian press echoed the feeling, some saying that I had acted in a more truly Christian spirit than the trustees of a Scotch Presbyterian Church, who, being bequeathed a fortune of £16,000 by a fanatical woman, refused to give her pauper sister even a small annuity to keep her out of the workhouse. The first effect at Toowoomba was an invitation to deliver a public lecture on “Theosophy and Buddhism,” at which the chairman was an M. P. So it happened in every town which I visited. Even clergymen came each time to hear me, my rooms at the hotels were thronged with ladies and gentlemen of the highest social position, anxious to question me and join the Society; and—tell it not in Gath—Christian clergymen of orthodox repute and much influence joined the Society, whose bones the missionaries in India have been for years trying to gnaw!
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When I went to Australia we had but three weak Branches in that part of the world—those at Melbourne, Wellington (New Zealand), and Hobart (Tasmania). The one which Hartmann tried to open had utterly failed, and I found the unused charter among his papers, together with a number of diplomas of fellowship, dated 1881, but never delivered. When I left the country there were seven good ones, among whose members were thoroughgoing Mystics and Theosophists, from whom I then expected much, and who have not disappointed me. Before leaving Adelaide, S.A., I issued on 26th May the usual official Notice authorising the formation of a Section. I was not fortunate, as it turned out, much to my disappointment, in my nominations of the General and Assistant General Secretaries; but in the course of time everything has been settled for the best, and we have now in the colonies a body of men and women who compare favorably with the members of any other section of the Society.
I had bespoken my passage from Sydney to New Zealand, and on the 9th of May went to the company’s office at 2 p.m. with the money for my ticket, but, it being Saturday, found it closed, and so came away again. I was expected at Wellington, Auckland, and elsewhere, and great results were counted upon, among others the formation of new Branches. The Tasmanian friends had also engaged a public hall, and arranged for my accommodation and all other details. The death of H. P. B. changed my plans, made me cancel
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the New Zealand and Tasmanian programme, cable orders for a London Council, and embark for “home,” via., Colombo on 27th May, in the S.S. “Massilia”; on board which staunch vessel I lectured, by invitation of the passengers, and at kind Captain Fraser’s request for the benefit of that deserving charity, the Merchant Seamen’s Orphan Asylum. The tickets were one shilling each, and the neat sum of £4 l0s. was realised for the object specified. Captain Fraser was good enough to ask me to at least take half the proceeds for the Adyar Library, but I declined, as the money had not been paid for that purpose.
My first intimation of H. P. B.’s death was received by me “telepathically” from herself, and this was followed by a second similar message. The third I got from one of the reporters present at my closing lecture in Sydney, who told me, as I was about leaving the platform, that a press message had come from London announcing her decease. In my Diary entry for 9th May, 1891, I say: “Had an uneasy foreboding of H. P. B.’s death.” In that of the following day it is written: “This morning I feel that H. P. B. is dead: the third warning.” The last entry for that day says: “Cablegram, H. P. B. dead.” Only those who saw us together, and knew of the close mystical tie between us, can understand the sense of bereavement that came over me upon receipt of the direful news.