“A thousand kisses darling”: Sex, scandal and spirituality in the life of Charles Webster Leadbeater – IV
This post examines the “third phase” of the Leadbeater scandal – the events in Australia and Leadbeater’s association with the Liberal Catholic Church.
A third scandal
In 1914, more rumblings came from the direction of the Point Loma theosophists under Mrs Tingley. More pamphlets were circulated, again raking over much of Leadbeater’s troubles in 1906, with some additional material from the Krishnamurti custody case. One of the pamphlets questioned Mrs Besant’s judgement by noting that she had proclaimed, in an article for The Theosophist in 1910 that the General Secretary of the TS in America to be a “Theosophical Worthy” when he had, at the time that the article was published, been arrested for writing obscene letters to a young boy. This was a reference to Alex Fullerton, who had been arrested in 1910 for sending “improper letters” to a sixteen year-old boy through the mail. 1
Joseph Fussell, author of some of the pamphlets, also expressed his shock at the revelations in the Lives of Alcyone – particularly that Leadbeater had been married to both Krishna and his brother in previous incarnations, and also that in a previous life, Jesus Christ had been married to Julius Caesar. 2 Fussell sent copies of his pamphlets, together with a covering letter, to the Attorney General of New South Wales, suggesting that the police make an investigation of Leadbeater.
In Sydney, Leadbeater had thrown himself into supervising the development of a number of organisations related to the TS. In May 1915 for example, over 2,000 people came to his Easter Sunday address in Melbourne. He began to speak of a new sub-race which was emerging in New Zealand and Australia as part of the preparation for the advent of the World-teacher. In 1916 Leadbeater was joined by another Theosophical activist – James Ingall Wedgwood. 3
James Wedgwood & the Liberal Catholic Church
James Wedgwood joined the Theosophical Society in 1904, and became its General Secretary in 1911. He was also active in the Co-Masonry movement, founded the Temple of the Rosy Cross – a ceremonially-oriented order, devoted to the study of various esoteric subjects such as Kabbalah and Christian symbolism, and acting in preparation for the Coming of the World Teacher. In 1913, Wedgwood approached Arnold Harris Mathew, Archbishop of the Old Catholic Church in Britain, who ordained him as a priest. Wedgwood encouraged fellow members of the TS to join his new church, and many of its priests and laity were also theosophists. In 1915 Mathew declared Theosophy to be heretical, and ordered all OCC priests to resign from the TS. A schism ensued, which left Mathew isolated, and resulted in Wedgwood becoming the OCC’s presiding bishop.
In 1916, Wedgwood arrived in Australia, and initiated Leadbeater as a bishop of the OCC. 4 Wedgwood and Leadbeater began an extensive programme of reworking the liturgy of the new church, in a fashion which combined elements of Catholicism with Theosophical teachings. Mrs Besant’s approval of these developments was sought and given – indeed, writing in The Theosophist in 1916, she prophesied that the OCC had a great future before it, and would, in all likelihood, become the “future Church of Christianity”. By 1918, the OCC had become the Liberal Catholic Church (LCC). Unlike other groups associated with the TS (such as Co-Masonry) which admitted men and women on an equal basis, the LCC had an entirely male priesthood. Leadbeater explained that this particular form of grace was one that flowed “through the male organism”. Whilst lay men and boys could serve in minor roles, there were no such opportunities for women.
In July 1917, The Australian Attorney-General instructed the Sydney Police to initiate an investigation of Leadbeater. Leadbeater, as would prove to be the case on successive occasions, was too ill to be interviewed. The police noted that Leadbeater had been running some kind of Theosophical boys school for the last 3 years, and that at present there were 6-7 boys in school, aged between 8 and 14 years old. They interviewed several reputable residents in the locality, all of whom gave the opinion that Leadbeater was a “sodomist”, but no one had seen anything that would warrant any action being taken. In January 1918, a report was given to the Attorney-General which concluded that there was no evidence to support the charges that Leadbeater was guilty of immoral teachings or practices. The file was kept open however, and two years later, was used in a major investigation.
The Martyn Letter
More adversity was not long in coming. In 1921, an American journal, the OE Literary Critic, published a letter from one T.H Martyn 5 to Mrs Besant in pamphlet form. The Martyn Letter, as it came to be known, asked Mrs Besant for clarification over the occult status of Leadbeater and Wedgwood. Leadbeater had lived in the home of the Martyns from 1914-1918. He outlined the charges made against Leadbeater and also questioned Leadbeater’s clairvoyance, recounting an incident in 1917 when Leadbeater had told 5 Sydney TS members that they had undergone initiations, yet on the night in question, most of them had not slept at all due to excitement, and none of them could remember anything at all:
As an instance on a certain date in July 1917 five of us were told we had taken various initiations. No one remembered anything In the morning – some had hardly slept feeling rather excited. I do not remember at any time anyone remembering any real experience or anything of what happened on any of these occasions. All the same I took all that quite seriously. By this time (1917) Mrs. Martyn had become intensely unhappy about C.W.L. in the house. She had seen naked boys in his bed and other facts had come to her knowledge. I refused to sympathize with her views and for my sake she kept her peace and I held things together. Later (1918-19) scarlet fever in the house caused Leadbeater and his boys to move out temporarily and all my persuasions were insufficient to induce Mrs. Martyn to have him back again. She point-blank refused – though again in consideration for my own feelings – she told me nothing of what she knew. I only learned that on my return from America, 1919-20.
In addition, Martyn addressed the problem of James Wedgwood, of whose sexual immorality Martyn had no doubt, yet Leadbeater remained insistent that Wedgwood was an Initiate. The remainder of the letter concerned Wedgwood, the allegations of immorality that Martyn had heard about in England and America, which, he alleged, had been confirmed by senior TS members in London.
In 1919 Martyn had travelled to America on business, where he encountered Hubert Van Hook. To Martyn’s horror, Hubert spoke freely about Leadbeater ‘faking’ the Lives of Alycone and of his general immorality when it came to boys. Martyn had already been approached by one of Leadbeater’s boys, who told him about his sexual relations with Leadbeater, but Martyn had refused to believe it, given his belief in Leadbeater’s high occult status. Now he reluctantly came to the conclusion that Leadbeater was a ‘sex-pervert’. More shocks were to come. Martyn travelled to London where he met Mrs. Besant. Mrs. Besant charged him to carry a secret message back to Wedgwood, ordering him to leave the TS, ES, and associated organisations, as she knew him to be guilty of “sex depravity”. She explained that a recent address she had given to the Esoteric Section, concerning black magic and sexual excess, was a direct reference to Wedgwood. She also stated quite categorically that, due to Wedgwood’s sexual behaviour, he was not to be considered an Initiate. Back in Sydney, Martyn sought the advice of Jinarasadasa (by that time, Mrs. Besant’s deputy in the Eosteric Section of the TS). Jinarasadasa immediately consulted Leadbeater, who gave assurances that Wedgwood was indeed an Initiate. Raja cabled Mrs Besant asking for confirmation, and she replied “Brother’s statement enough accept fact, cancel message sent.” This only served to cause Martyn more alarm, as prior to Raja sending his cable, Martyn had informed Leadbeater about the evidence of Wedgwood’s misdeeds, and later claimed that Leadbeater had said “Well, we had better get rid of him.”
The OE Literary Critic devoted itself to a series of attacks on Wedgwood and Leadbeater, declaring the latter to be ‘an ex-professor of Onanism’. The so-called cypher letter was printed, although not the most scandalous part, which it opined contained language “not to be uttered outside a nuptial chamber or a brothel”. These attacks continued throughout 1922. 6
Mrs Besant responded to the publication of the Martyn letter with a circular denouncing it as part of the conspiracy against the TS, herself, and Leadbeater. She sent out a challenge to the perpetrators, saying “if the circulators of this filth have any justification for making such accusations, they should at once place their information into the hands of the police.” Some of the critics of Leadbeater and Wedgwood did do exactly that, sending files on Leadbeater to the police in England, the USA, New Zealand and Australia.
The Farrer confession
Then another scandalous document appeared – the “Farrer confession”. Reginald Farrer was a Liberal Catholic priest, a friend of Wedgwood, a former pupil of Leadbeater, and had been one of Krishnamurti’s bodyguards in 1913. He was also Secretary of the League of Redemption, a Theosophically-inclined group concerned with the nature and cure of the “social evil”. Farrer had been the subject of various allegations of sexual immorality, in association with Wedgwood, and in February 1922 he tendered his resignation as a Co-Mason by letter, in which he stated that the allegations against him were true – as were those made against Wedgwood and two other LCC bishops. He also stated that he had been ‘led astray’ by those he considered as his superiors both morally and spiritually, and that he had “given way to a practice that I am now heartily ashamed of.” Farrer went on to say that Wedgwood “absolutely declines to give up the malpractice”. Wedgwood, when questioned, protested his innocence, but mentioned that he had received an anonymous letter warning him that if he did not leave England by the end of March, he would be arrested. He left England the same day. Farrer’s confession was reprinted by the OE Literary Critic.
In Sydney, it became known that E.L Grieg, the Secretary of the Sydney Lodge, had paid a private detective to follow Wedgwood around on his last visit to Sydney. The detective reported that Wedgwood had visited 18 public toilets in two hours and, when questioned about this, explained that he had been searching for a friend whom he had known in a previous life, but who had “gone wrong” and was in need of rescuing.
In England, Alfred Wilkinson, president of the Nottingham lodge of the TS, moved that the National Committee of the TS act to investigate and denounce the “rampant immorality” in the TS. He circulated an open letter 7 to all TS lodge officials which concluded that:
Four priests of the L.C. Church have been practically expelled for the practice of Sodomy, and no defence being offered, one naturally assumes guilt; and indeed there is much to support this assumption. The only one whose case demands the consideration of the Society is Mr Wedgwood, and that because of the fact that he has been pronounced by Mr Leadbeater to be an Initiate. We must candidly face the question whether Initiateship and the moral ruin of young boys by the practice mentioned are compatible.
The Farrarr confession was soon followed by Wedgwood’s resignation from the LCC, TS, Co-Masonry and other associated bodies. More documents appeared and the Sydney press too, continued to run articles about Theosophy and Leadbeater’s alleged activities, with headlines such as: “Leadbeater: a swish bish with the boys” and “Where Leadbeater bishes.”
A second police investigation
Following the latest round of allegations in the newpapers, the Sydney police conducted another investigation into Leadbeater. The details and results of this investigation were not generally known until GregoryTillett discussed them in his 1982 book, The Elder Brother. As with the previous investigation, Leadbeater was to ill to be questioned, but the police did interview the Martyns, Jinarajadasa, Krishnamurti and his brother, and nine of Leadbeater’s pupils. Leadbeater’s pupils emphatically denied any sexual irregularity had taken place. The only evidence which the police received which directly suggested that Leadbeater was sexually involved with his boys came from the Martyns.
Gregory Tillett notes that there is one document in the police archive which is significant – an account by one of Leadbeater’s pupils that Leadbeater encouraged him to bathe then lie down on Leadbeater’s bed in his bathing wrapper, and that on one occasion, Leadbeater “caught hold of the boy’s person and proceeded to masturbate him”. The Head of the Criminal Investigation Department, who led the inquiry, concluded that “there are good grounds for believing that Leadbeater is a sex-pervert.”
In April 1922, the Sydney lodge (which had been the largest lodge in the world, with 900 members) seceded from the TS under the leadership of Martyn, and formed the Independent Theosophical Society (ITS). This feud was covered by the press, who dragged out all the previous scandals once more. The Farrer Confession was brought up, and Mrs Besant’s assertion that it had been withdrawn was found to be untrue. Leadbeater also responded by publishing an attack in the Esoteric Section’s bulletin on the Sydney TS members who had opposed a motion of support for him and Mrs Besant, pointing out that at least half of them were German or Austrian in origin – the implication being that they were agents of the “Lords of the Dark Face”. Dawn – the magazine of the ITS published these revelations and refuted them, noting of the 14 individuals that ten of them had been born in Britain or Australia, as had their parents. The Trustees of the Sydney Lodge, which owned the HQ building, then evicted the Esoteric Section, on the grounds of Leadbeater’s racist allegations.
But whilst the trouble in Sydney was being reframed in terms of the opposition to the Coming of the World Teacher, its influence was to be much wider. In July 1922, an eminent Indian member, B.P. Wadia, who had managed the Adyar estate for many years, announced his resignation, explaining that in his view, the TS had strayed from its original ideals and purpose, that it had become “an organisation “where the noble ideals of Theosophical Ethics are exploited and dragged down into the mire of psychism and immorality.”
The OE Literary Critic continued to be critical of Leadbeater, the LCC and Theosophical doings, and in 1926, one of Leadbeater’s supporters, Gustav Kollerstrom, initiated a lawsuit against the paper Truth claiming £10,000 in damages. The Truth claimed to be delighted and announced its intention to call Leadbeater as a witness and to produce documents from the Police investigation. Kollerstrom sought to withdraw the suit, but Truth refused and when the case finally came to court, Kollerstrom’s solicitors did not present a case and he was ordered to pay the full costs to the newspaper. Leadbeater was (again) too ill to appear in court.
Joy Dixon Divine Feminine: Theosophy and Feminism in England (The John Hopkins University Press, 2001)
Robert Ellwood Islands of the Dawn: The Story of Alternative Spirituality in New Zealand (University of Hawaii Press, 1993)
Joscelyn Godwin The Theosophical Enlightenment (State University of New York Press, 1994)
Emmett A Greenwalt California Utopia: Point Loma: 1897-1942 (Point Loma Publications, 1978)
Alex Owen The Place of Enchantment: British Occultism and the Culture of the Modern (University of Chicago Press, 2004)
Gregory Tillett The Elder Brother (Routledge Kegan and Paul, 1982)
Peter Washington Madame Blavatsky’s Baboon: Theosophy and the Emergence of the Western Guru (Secker & Warburg, 1993)
Gregory Tillett Charles Webster Leadbeater 1854-1934 : a biographical study (University of Sydney eScholarship Repository)
Some examples of newspaper denouncements of Leadbeater can be viewed at The Paperspast archive
- The case against Fullerton was dropped after a plea of insanity was made, and he was incarcerated in an asylum. According to Emmett Greenwalt (1978) the charges made against Fullerton were brought about by Katherine Tingley: “worried parents of a boy seduced by Fullerton brought the lad to Point Loma to be reformed. As evidence of the seduction, they brought incriminating letters from the New Yorker (i.e. Fullerton) to the youth. ” Tingley sent copies of these letters to to Anthony Comstock, head of the New York Society for the Suppression of Vice (and instigator of the infamous Comstock Act). It’s likely that Tingley blamed Fullerton for the sensational press coverage of her Point Loma community. The affair was reported in the New York papers (The Sun April 8, 1910). ↩
- Lives of Alcyone was not without its critics, and Leadbeater’s research was lampooned in a poem which began: “In the Lives, in the Lives, I’ve had all sorts of husbands and wives” (Tillett, p465). ↩
- (24 March 1883 – 13 March 1951). Wedgwood was active in various masonic orders – see biography – and had a brush with Crowley in 1913 over issues of masonic succession in the wake of the death of Jonathan Yarker. ↩
- It was Leadbeater’s fondness for wearing his LCC vestments that earned him the moniker of “bishop”. Tillett reproduces a letter from Leadbeater to Annie Besant, written shortly after his ordination, in which he says that his Master assured him that had he remained in the mainstream church, he would have been a bishop by now. ↩
- Former Corresponding Secretary of the Esoteric Section of the TS in Australia. He was succeeded by Leadbeater. ↩
- Some digitised examples of the O.E. Literary Critic – plus a short biographical sketch of its editor, Dr. H.N Stokes, can be accessed at the Blavatsky Study Center ↩
- See Tillett, p662 ↩