William Barrett 


     PROFESSOR AT Physics at the Royal College of Science for Dublin from 1873-1910 and one of the distinguished early psychical researchers. In fact, it was Barrett who first initiated the founding of both the American and British Society for Psychical Research. Studies in mesmeric trance aroused his curiosity for the physical phenomena of spiritualism. 

He began his first investigations in 1874. Two years later he submitted a paper on Some Phenomena Associated with Abnormal Conditions of Mind to the British Association for the Advancement of Science. The Biological Committee refused it and the Anthropological Sub-section only accepted it on the casting vote of the chairman, Dr. Alfred Russel Wallace. The paper contained an exposition of the professor's experiments in telepathy, the existence of which he considered proved, holding that the method of communication is probably explainable by some form of nervous induction. As regards to physical phenomena he was inclined to attribute the more marvellous ones (levitation, fire test) to hallucination. But he declared that he himself witnessed raps in broad daylight, out-of-doors under conditions which made trickery impossible. 

In conclusion he urges the appointment of a committee for mesmerism and spiritualism. Sir William Crookes, Dr. Alfred Russel Wallace, Lord Rayleigh and Col. Lane Fox seconded the motion but - probably owing to the sensation produced by the Lankester Slade scandal - no action was taken. 

In January, 1882, Barrett called a conference in the offices of the British National Association of Spiritualists. At this conference the Society for Psychical Research was born. During a visit to the United States in 1885 he gave the impetus to the foundation of the American SPR. 

His theory of hallucination as regards the greater physical phenomena was soon cast aside. He found mediums in personal friends who were above suspicion and he could carry out experiments in daylight. Miss Florrie Clark and the Lauders, a professional photographer of Dublin and his niece, were mainly instrumental in convincing him of the error of his former theory.

Source (with minor modifications): An Encyclopaedia of Psychic Science by Nandor Fodor (1934).

Articles by William Barrett on this website:

Eusapia Palladino

Human Personality: The Subliminal Self
Psychology of Trance Phenomena

Some Reminiscences of Fifty Years' Psychical Research

Suggestions for Investigators in Conducting Psychical Experiments

Automatic Writing: The Evidence for Identity

Further Evidence for Survival After Death

Evidence of Identity in the Discarnate

Evidence from Abroad for Survival

Books by William Barrett on this website:

Death-Bed Visions - The Psychical Experiences of the Dying



Some parts of this page The International Survivalist Society 2004