Sir Arthur Conan Doyle Visits Doncaster

On May 26th, 1919 Doncaster had a visit from the creator of Sherlock Holmes, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. He wasn’t here to talk about the great detective though, but about his other great interest, Spiritualism.

The evening at the Corn Exchange consisted of firstly a lecture by Sir Arthur, then a demonstration of clairvoyance by the medium Tom Tyrell. Mr Tyrrell was one of the most well-known and celebrated mediums of his time, and he appeared alongside Sir Arthur in many of his lecture tour appearances.

Arthur Conan Doyle by Walter Benington ,1914

Title: Arthur Conan Doyle by Walter Benington ,1914
Description: Public Domain by-nc

The lecture, entitled “Death and the Hereafter”, appears to have enthralled the audience. The reporter from the Doncaster Gazette wrote that during the talk Sir Arthur had said “If I were to disappear from this platform, I would leave an exact mould of my body standing here. A clairvoyant would see it. That is my Spirit Body.” The reporter went on to say:

“Sir Arthur had told his audience so many things about the range of Spiritualistic phenomena, and with such an air of conviction….that possibly…members of the audience would not have been overwhelmed with astonishment if he had….vanished from view, like Mr H.G. Wells’ ‘Invisible Man’…  He did not do that however but continued with his lecture….a lecture full of interest to all hearers, whether believers, sceptics, impartial enquirers or merely those who….had come in quest of ‘some new thing’”.

Sir Arthur talked about why he himself had come to be such a passionate believer, what Spiritualism is and the reasons why messages came from the spirit world. He spoke of the consolation Spiritualism had brought to parents bereaved in the war, saying that he had sent people to a medium in London and had received letter after letter testifying to the revelations they had received. Though he “frankly admitted that there were cases of rascality”, he described mediumship as “a particular natural endowment”.

But the main attraction of the evening seems to have been the demonstration given by Mr Tyrrell of this natural talent. The lights were not lowered, but the medium claimed to see spirits in the hall and gave minute descriptions of their clothes and appearance and gave their names and addresses. In several instances people in the audience recognised these names and claimed that the “spirit greetings” were for themselves.

Arthur Conan Doyle advert in the local newspaper

Title: Arthur Conan Doyle advert in the local newspaper
Description: Doncaster Gazette 23rd May 1919 by-nc

The final message was for Sir Arthur himself and contained several pieces of information that the great man agreed were correct. Mr Tyrrell said that the sender of the message was none other than Sir Arthur’s old friend Oscar Wilde….

The Gazette at this time had a weekly column called “Here and There” and the following week its author gave his view on what he had seen. He said he had gone with an open mind as he had never been to a séance or seen a medium at work, and he certainly felt that seeing Mr Tyrrell at work was a remarkable experience. But he then gave an insight into two of the “alleged spirits” that the medium had described. One was a young girl who Mr Tyrrell claimed to see with “lightning over her head” and who he claimed had died from a lightning strike. The reporter had a vague memory of something like this and on looking in the archives of the newspaper he found that indeed a young girl of the name given had been killed in such a way in a village near Doncaster five years previously. However he also discovered that in the same edition of the paper there was a story about a deceased local clergyman – a spirit the medium had also allegedly received a message from during the demonstration. So our columnist felt that there may be a more mundane explanation for the phenomenon, though he did say that Sir Arthur had given many examples that could not be explained at all. He decided to stick with Shakespeare – “there are  more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamed of in your philosophy”.

Doncaster has many claims to fame but who would have thought that such a famous man as Sir Arthur Conan Doyle had chosen our town to be part of his nationwide lecture tour?

It would be interesting to know if there are any other records of his visit, perhaps among the archives of our Spiritualist churches that existed at the time and are still going strong today.