While Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s first Belfast lecture was a big hit with all those who like that sort of thing, his presence here wasn’t universally celebrated. In fact, his visit triggered the sort of protests normally reserved for those trying to interfere with the flying of the Union Flag on public buildings.
Anyway, Doyle wasn’t scared, and he stayed to deliver his second lecture, “Proofs of Immortality,” on 14 May 1925. The following account is taken from The Northern Whig and Belfast Post of 15 May 1925.
“PROOFS OF IMMORTALITY”
SIR A. CONAN DOYLE’S LECTURE IN BELFAST
“The Proofs of Immortality” was the title of the second lecture given last evening by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle on Spiritualism in the Ulster Hall, Belfast.
Attribution: Bundesarchiv, Bild 102-10068 / CC-BY-SA 3.0
Mr. Joseph Irwin, who presided, said one of the most encouraging things at the present time was the spirit of enquiry that was abroad. They were, therefore, glad to have Sir Arthur Conan Doyle with them, because he had specialised in the subject of psychic phenomena. Some people were satisfied to accept the assurances given them by religious teachers and what was in the Scriptures regarding immortality. But there was a great mass of people and, he thought, the thinking people, who found themselves quite unable to accept such assurances. They wanted a more solid foundation for their faith.
Sir Conan Doyle said he had received many questions, but he could not answer them at that meeting. He would answer one gentleman who was very anxious to know if there was such a place as hell. He could assure him that according to their knowledge there was no eternal institution, but those who did evil in this world would have to enter chastening circles for a time.
SPIRITUALISM AND PSYCHIC PHOTOGRAPHY
Proceeding, Sir Conan narrated experiments in what he described as a great science at its beginning. He related how ectoplasm, emanating from mediums, became an animate form. The substance had been chemically analysed, and it was found to consist largely of the constituents of the human body. One of the slides shown depicted the small house where in 1848, the lectures said, there took place occurrences which gave rise to the Spiritualist movement. A pedlar had been murdered in the house, and some years later a family named Fox went to reside there. Two girls in the family were mediumistic. Loud noises and rappings were heard, and one of the little girls said to the unseen spirit, “Do as I do.” The whole story was gradually received from the pedlar, whose spirit it was. Efforts were made to find the body, but without success, and this was quoted against Spiritualists. But in 1904 the house was taken away by Spiritualists - to be erected in another place - and they found beneath the foundations the skeleton of a man, and beside it a pedlar’s tin box.
The lecturer went on to speak of psychic photography, of which he showed several examples on the screen. Three French experimenters arranged a seance, and had ready a bucket of paraffin. They asked the spirit to place his hand in it, and he did so. They then asked him to place his hand on the table, and afterwards to dissolve. When the figure dissolved they found on the table a paraffin glove. Sir Conan said he was always prepared to admit the existence of a certain amount of fraud, but where sitters knew their business it would be impossible. Mediums should be tied in their chairs. The experiments made by Sir William Crooks with the medium Florrie Cook were described, and photographs shown of the spirit, a female figure, who said her name had been Katie King. After appearances extending over two and a half years she said her mission was finished. The spirit had come down, the lecturer declared, to manifest to people that immortality was a scientific fact. All this happened fifty years ago, but so misled was the human race that it would not accept the testimony.
In spite of cruel persecution and wicked falsehood they had some excellent psychic photographers. The ordinary standards of photography, Sir Conan added, should not be used to judge psychic photography. He described what took place at Crewe, where he went in the hope of obtaining a spirit photograph of his son. The result proved that spirit photographs were not emanations from the brains of persons present when they were taken. When the plate used on this occasion was developed there was a message welcoming “Friend Doyle,” and signed “T. Colley.” This was, the lecturer said, Archdeacon Colley, who had been dead ten years. He afterwards got a photograph of his son, but the likeness was not a good one.
Another photograph showed a tablet with writing upon it in some language.They eventually discovered it to be Singalese, and the words were the first two verses of St. Mark’s Gospel. This use of a practically unknown language, said the lecturer, showed how clever they were on the other side - they wanted to give a convincing proof. Two “ghost photographs” were then shown. Ghosts, the lecturer explained, were the earthbound spirits of human beings who died, but had not mounted up because they had been so engrossed in the tasks of the world. Having lost all spiritual sense they wandered for a time on the earth plane, until the time when through some agency they turned to more spiritual matters. In conversation with these undeveloped spirits he gathered that they do not realise they were dead. They saw people who, not seeing the spirits, walked on and took no notice of them. The spirits appeared, as it were, in a sort of nightmare. He knew one man who had been dead 76 years.
The lecturer showed a spirit photograph of Abraham Lincoln, who had been, he said, a Spiritualist, and had received help from the great fathers of the American Republic at a crisis in the American Civil War. Several other remarkable photographs were exhibited on the screen, and Sir Conan denied emphatically that spirit photographs taken at the London Cenotaph were faked.
The Northern Whig and Belfast Post, 15 May 1925