OLD DIARY LEAVES, Sixth Series (1896-98)
by Henry Steel Olcott
NEW ZEALAND TOUR
A LITTLE back of Hobart Town rises a hill called Mount Wellington which, though less than 4,500 feet in height, was at the time of our visit covered with snow and formed a superb background in photographs taken of the town from the deck of a ship. Altogether I think that Hobart deserves to be classed as one of the prettiest spots in the world. The twelve days of our visit were well filled with Society work, such as levees, private visits, conversation meetings, public lectures, and visits to charming localities under the friendly guidance of Miss Octavia Sussmann and other friends. At its meeting on the evening of 10th August, the Branch adopted my scheme for employing Miss Edger as Branch Inspector. She gave some excellent lectures, notably one on the rather hackneyed subject of “Karma and Reincarnation”.
I availed myself of the chance of a meeting of the principal Masonic Lodge to “work my way in”
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and assist in the work. It was extremely interesting to me as being so unlike what we have in America, but I must confess that I came away impressed with its puerile character as compared with Theosophy. Although it was thirty-four years since I had sat in a Masonic Lodge I felt that I should not care to repeat the experience during an equal space of time. One might say that the spirit of Theosophy, especially in its aspect of brotherhood and religious tolerance, was there, but buried out of sight in the husks of formalism and a species of theatrical display. Our readers may remember1 that at New York, when the Society had dwindled into a very small affair, H. P. B. and I had some talk with Masonic friends about making the Theosophic teachings a framework for a new Masonic degree, but that we abandoned it as impracticable.
Among the interesting persons whom we met was a young Englishman, a university graduate, who had got about him a group of ladies and another of gentlemen who were pursuing under his direction a course of reading accompanied by profitable discussions on high themes. I was greatly pleased to see the generous enthusiasm which he put into his work and the intellectual and spiritual results obtained. During the whole of our visit we had no idle nor wearisome time; we made a number of
1OLD DIARY LEAVES, Vol. I, p. 468.—ED.
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warm friendships and were sorry to have to leave Hobart, which we did at 5 p.m. on the 20th August, in the Union Company’s steamer Talune for Dunedin. During the next three days we experienced the delights of a rolling ship which flung us about under the impulse of a swell from the eastward, but on the fourth day we reached “The Bluffs”, a port of call about 150 miles from Dunedin. It was a splendid sunny day with that crispness in the air which gives us people of the temperate zone such a feeling of buoyant health. At the other side of the harbor, some fifty miles away, stretched a range of hills completely covered with snow, which stood out in brilliant splendor against a clear azure sky. In the afternoon we resumed our journey and the next day got to Port Chalmers, the seaport of Dunedin and an hour’s ride from the town. Messrs. George Richardson, A. W. Maurais, and Pearmain came aboard and with outstretched hands gave us a cordial welcome. Among our active workers in Australasia Mr. Maurais has always held a conspicuous place, his connection with a newspaper having enabled him to keep the subject of Theosophy well before the public. The other two gentlemen of the committee have also rendered most valuable services, and Mr. Richardson by the strength and purity of his character has lent
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dignity, to the office of President of the local Branch.
The next day I walked about town and made acquaintances. The streets are very hilly and there are many fine buildings. In the evening, I lectured on Spiritualism to a large audience, Mr. Richardson being in the chair. It was Miss Edger’s turn the next evening to lecture, and her subject, “What Theosophy can teach us”, was well handled. The next night was spent at Mr. Pearmain’s house at Sawyer’s Bay, a suburb particularly hard to reach on a rainy night when one has to tramp over the sleepers of the railway track to avoid making a long detour. I returned to town the next day and at 6-30 p.m. addressed a crowded audience on the subject of “Healing”. An amusing feature of the occasion was that after I had spoken an hour the audience made me go on for another one, thus dividing a long discourse into two shifts. We had to hold two levees a day to give a fair chance to all who wanted to talk with us. There was a Branch meeting on the evening of the 30th and on the next evening a “sociable” was given us at the “Tailoress’s Union Hall”, a title which I think must be unique. It certainly is suggestive of the existence among one class of colonial women workers of a spirit of self-helpfulness and organizing faculty. On the evening of the 1st of September Miss Edger
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and I dined at the house of one of our members whose daughter was so beautiful that I asked her father to give me her photograph: it was what some of the French writers call a “cameo face”, that is, one that seems made on purpose to be cut as a cameo in shell or stone. As the young lady has the greater beauty of being a good Theosophist I think she will not mind this passing note by an art-lover to her artistic form.
We sailed for Christchurch, September 3rd, on the steamer Te Anau, and had a rough time of it. We met a heavy swell outside the harbor and were tossed about all night; the weather was cold and rainy and every one on board was miserably uncomfortable. At 11 a.m. on the 4th we reached Christchurch, or rather Lyttleton, its harbor, some miles from town, where we were met and welcomed on behalf of the Branch by Mr. Rhodes and Mrs. Richmond, a lady who is known in India and Great Britain as well as in the colonies as an instructive platform speaker. I was the guest of Mrs. Fletcher, who made my stay most pleasant. At that time there flourished in that town the notorious bigamist and confidence-man, the “Rev.” A. B. Worthington, a native of one of the Western States of America, gifted with great oratorical powers, a handsome person, persuasive in conversation, unscrupulous to the last degree; a man fit to
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teach high things but morally perverted; a woman-hunter whose career embraced a series of seven bigamous marriages in America and the pecuniary ruin of various wealthy ladies, whose money he got from them by lavish promises of mystical initiation and the acquisition of psychical powers. Just before my arrival he had made a great scandal in Christchurch by the seduction of a tall and handsome lady with whom he went through a bigamous marriage ceremony, but whose eyes were opened and heart broken by the discovery of still another liaison.
I was taken to see a fine church that he had built with the money of local dupes; a well-planned edifice with a spacious auditorium and a large round-fronted speaker’s platform that recalled the one in Henry Ward Beecher’s church at Brooklyn. His sermons, congregational talks and esoteric instructions to a select group of hypnotized men and budding prophetesses, were framed on Theosophical lines and he availed himself without compunction of the best things he could find in the books of Mrs. Besant and others of our writers. His villainy having been exposed by a male dupe, he fled the place, took refuge in another colonial town and with matchless effrontery began the same game over again. On the 10th of September the poor lady, the victim above mentioned and who had adopted
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the name “Sister Magdala”, came to see me and excited my warm sympathies by her tale of woe. I can see her now standing before me, with her large eyes swimming with tears and her tall, graceful figure shaken with grief. I tried to give her some comfort and she brightened up for the time being, but alas! misery was her karmic inheritance for this life and since the interview in question she has committed suicide. The case of this man Worthington furnishes a romantic chapter for the history of the rogues of both sexes who have utilized the Theosophical teachings, sometimes as members and sometimes as non-members, for the promotion of vile personal ends. Worthington’s is a sad case, however looked at, for, as said above, he was possessed of talents and, but for the perversion of his lower nature as regards women and money, for each of which he had an equal hunger—although he wanted money only to squander it—he might have been one of the most useful as well as eloquent religious teachers of the day. He taught a gilded Theosophy with surpassing eloquence, and when his crises came and he was sent to prison for terms of years (as he was, and is now) his followers had no natural rallying centre save in the Theosophical Society. Of the character of “Sister Magdala” before and after her relations with Worthington, I am not well enough
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informed to speak, save that undoubtedly she was Worthington’s victim, completely under the glamor which he could throw over people whom he wished to victimize. Whether she consciously helped him to deceive others is a matter which no one can decide in the case of any hysteric or hypnotic sensitive; the medical authorities are still divided in opinion as to moral responsibility, and the Courts of law as well.
On the 9th September I visited the fine Museum, where I saw a Maori house made of natural size and pattern, a large number of Maori curiosities, and reconstructed skeletons of the gigantic ostrich-shaped Moa (Dinornis) which stood about 14 feet high and had thigh bones stouter than those of a horse.
My dear friend Mrs. Aiken, of the Christchurch Branch, told me a curious story about a picture in this gallery, which illustrates what we would call the recollection of a past birth, but which the cautious scientist has recently christened “regressive memory”. A lady was visiting the gallery with her little boy when, pointing to a certain landscape, he said: “Oh, Mother, I painted that picture!” The mother was about to pass it over as a mere jest, but when she told the child that the picture had been painted a great many years before he was born, he replied: “I can’t help that, Mamma, but I know I painted it. At first I intended it for a
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sunset, but I changed my mind and on the other side of the canvas painted a sunrise.” The Mother, being a Theosophist, at least by conviction, was immediately struck with the possible importance of the fact, so she persuaded the Superintendent of the Museum to have the picture taken down for examination and, sure enough, there was found on the back of the canvas the unfinished sketch that the child had spoken of. The story was told me in good faith and, if my memory serves, the incident was known generally by the members of our local Branch.
The women of Christchurch impressed me as being more than usually intelligent and self-resolute. I attended a meeting of them with Miss Edger (at Mrs. Aiken’s house) which we both addressed. I was particularly charmed with a Mrs. Ada Wells, the recognized leader of the Women’s Suffrage movement, who is credited with having been the chief agent in getting the suffrage bill enacted. In the evening Miss Edger lectured on “Christianity” and I on “Buddhism”, our farewell addresses in Christchurch, for the next day we embarked at Lyttleton for Wellington on the. steamer Roturunda, where we arrived at 10 o’clock the next morning. My hosts there were Mr. and Mrs. Ellison. In the afternoon there was a conversation meeting in our Branch hall, and in the evening a lecture on
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“Re-birth of the Soul”: the audience was large and attentive and there was much applause. During our stay at this place I made agreeable acquaintances among our members, some of whom were very earnest. Miss Edger was stopping at another house but both of us had many visits from inquirers and my two lectures were well attended. On the evening of the 16th (September) there was a Branch meeting at which a resolution approving of the appointment of Miss Edger as Inspector of Branches was adopted. The next day I had the curious experience of having my right hand molded at the request of a local palmist who seemed to think that the lines were exceptional enough to warrant her going to his trouble and expense.
On the 18th we left by train for Pahiatua, a small interior place where we had some very intelligent Branch members. It was my good fortune to be the guest of a very musical family, all the adult members of which played on instruments and some had fine voices. Such an episode as that is a most charming interlude when one is travelling over long distances by sea and land, with one’s time constantly occupied with public functions. On the 21st we left by carriage for Woodville, the district where Mr. E. T. Sturdy lived when he first wrote me to inquire about Theosophy. In the evening there was a Branch
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meeting and the resolution adopted about Miss Edger’s inspectorship. The next day I had a séance with a cranky medium who pretended to be controlled by H. P. B.! In proof of this she was obliging enough to give me what was supposed to be the signature of my dear old chum, written in lead pencil on a scrap of paper, but all the Bertillons and Netherclifts in the world would never have the audacity to trace any resemblance between that scrawl and H. P. B.’s signature. After giving one lecture on “Reincarnation” on the 22nd, I left Woodville with my companion on the 23rd for Wellington, which we reached at 9 p.m., after a seven hours’ ride by train.
The weather was terribly gusty and rainy, the beginning of a great rain-storm. The 24th, Friday, was our appointed day of departure but the gale was so powerful and the light made so obscure by torrential rains that, instead of leaving at 1 a.m. the boat, the Richmond, did not begin her voyage for Nelson (N .Z.) until midnight, and lay at anchor in the lower bay until 2 p.m. The morning broke clear, the sky was bright, the gale had blown itself out and we had smooth water until we reached Nelson at 5 p.m., calling en route at Picton, a pretty land-locked harbor. We were put up by Mrs. Saxon, a married daughter of our old friend Mrs. Pickett. I lectured that evening on
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“Spiritualism” and on the following one on “Healing”. On the third day Miss Edger and I sailed for Auckland in the SS. Mahinapua. On the 28th we stopped all day at a place called New Plymouth and at 10 p.m. resumed the voyage. Fortunately we had a calm sea and the wee steamer did not roll much, although we had expected it.
We reached Auckland on the 29th at 10-30 a.m. Mr. and Mrs. Draffin, Dr. Sanders, President, Auckland T. S., Mr. F. Davidson, Assistant General Secretary, Mrs. Hemus, Miss Edger’s sister, and other friends met us. The Draffins took me to their house and Miss Edger went to her sister’s. In the evening there was a reception given us at the Branch rooms, which had been tastefully decorated with foliage and flowers, mainly lilies.
One would never think when walking through the streets that Auckland had been settled as late as 1840, for it has what a Highland friend of mine calls “an elderly, settled look”. The climate is warmer than it is in the South Island, the temperature ranging from about 60° to 80° F., which to us Indians is almost overcoat weather, but in comparison with Christchurch and Dunedin it is almost tropical; in fact the South Island people scornfully say that the Aucklanders have the way of lying on their backs until the ripe peaches drop into their mouths. This reproach—evidently unwarranted
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and due perhaps to a little jealousy of Auckland’s beautiful surroundings and to its greater size—is exactly like that applied to the Jamaica Negroes, who are contemptuously said by the Whites to be so lazy that, lying under a banana tree, they are too lazy to get up to pluck one, but pull it down with their prehensile toes. So far as I saw during my New Zealand tour, the scanty population are as active and eager in the pursuit of wealth as the average Britons whom one meets in other parts of the Empire. I have pasted in my diary a printed list of my engagements during my stay at Auckland, from Sep. 29th to Oct. 12th. It includes a reception, three Branch meetings, four “At Homes”, three lectures, and a picnic to Lake Takapuma, leaving not an idle day. At a joint meeting of the two Auckland Branches my suggestion with regard to Miss Edger’s inspectorship was unanimously approved.
In Auckland as, indeed, throughout the colonies, there is a good deal of psychism and search after phenomena, mediumistic and otherwise. One of our own members, in fact, one of the oldest in New Zealand, since deceased, was Mr. James Cox, who had such a reputation as a psychometrist, principally by way of diagnosing disease, that he made a good living by practising the profession. He was constantly going between Auckland and Sydney to see
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patients. Rarely, he would use his power for the finding of lost property and persons. The three most noted men in our Auckland centre were Dr. Sanders, Mr. Draffin and Mr. Samuel Stuart, whose contributions to The Theosophist have made his name familiar in the many countries in which the magazine has readers. Of the talented lady members the only ones of whom I permit myself to speak are Miss Edger, her sisters, and Mrs. Draffin, who has suddenly blossomed out as an eloquent platform speaker after having passed through a very severe illness. I received so many kindnesses and so much brotherly courtesy during my fortnight’s Auckland visit that I always think of it with gratitude and pleasure. The visit came to an end on the 12th October when Miss Edger and I sailed for Sydney in the SS. Waihora. There were many friends to see us off, despite the blowing of a heavy westerly gale against which it was difficult to keep one’s footing on the wharf. Among them was Mrs. Stuart, a dear white-haired old lady of seventy old years, since deceased.