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John Oxley Library

Famous Visitors to Queensland - Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

By JOL Admin | 3 November 2008

In January 1921 Brisbane was honoured by the visit of the internationally famous British author Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, creator of the unforgettable detective team of Sherlock Holmes and Dr Watson. However it was not Conan Doyle’s tales of amazing feats of detection that attracted public attention but his controversial lecture tour preaching the “absolute truth” of the beliefs and practices of Spiritualism. A Presbyterian cleric in Melbourne prayed ardently that Conan Doyle may “never arrive safely in Australia” and in Brisbane Reverend James Cosh asked that he may be “brought into the true light, as it is in Jesus Christ”.

Conan Doyle was one of hundreds and thousands of mourners who turned to Spiritualism for consolation after losing loved ones during the First World War. Deeply depressed by the deaths of his son, brother, two brothers-in-law and two nephews Conan Doyle found solace in Spiritualism’s claims of scientific proof of spirit existence and communication between the living and the dead.

Addressing a packed Brisbane audience in “a big, strong, rolling voice” Conan Doyle outlined the “absolute strength of evidence” from his own scientific research into the subject, and referred to visits from his son who called “Father! Father!”, kissed him on the brow and told him he was “So happy”. His study of 40 scripts of spiritualist messages published as “The New Revelation” had left him without “the faintest doubt as to what awaits me at the other side of the bar; therefore, death loses all its terrors’.

In closing Conan Doyle observed that he’d been told he could expect only “one person” at his Brisbane lectures.  In fact the city had a strong core of devotees and one of Conan Doyle’s special honours during his visit was to lay the foundation stone for the Brisbane Spiritualist Church. Already in the early 1880s a weekly magazine The Australian Spiritualist was being published in Brisbane and there were practitioners like the daughters of German-born musician Professor A. Seal who recorded musical scripts transmitted to them by their father from the grave.

Copies of The Australian Spiritualist, the A Seal Papers and the E Jack Cutting Book, which contains press clippings about Conan Doyle’s visit to Brisbane, are held in the Queensland State Library.

We would love to hear from you if you have further information or any photographs relating to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s visit or to the history of Spiritualism in Queensland.

Professor Anna Haebich

Historian in Residence

John Oxley Library


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