John Elliotson

John Elliotson


          President of the Royal Medical and Chirurgical Society of London, the first great exponent of animal magnetism in Britain. He was introduced to the subject by Baron Du Potet in 1837, whom he allowed to experiment at University College Hospital to which he was attached as professor. His curiosity aroused, he himself began to study the phenomena and found two wonderful somnambules in the Okey sisters. The success of his experiments created a stir. When he applied for a demonstration in one of the theatres of the college he was refused permission and he was finally requested to discontinue mesmeric practice in the hospital. Following this, in the autumn of 1838, he resigned his professorship and severed his connections with the hospital. His enthusiasm sustained the first serious blow when Mr. Thomas Wakeley, the editor of The Lancet, invited the Okeys to his own house and demonstrated that the violent convulsions into which the patients were sent were produced when, unknown to Elliotson and the patients, the mesmerised piece of money which was supposed to call forth the phenomena, was resting in the waistcoat pocket of one of the company, also that if the subjects were kept in ignorance, unmesmerised water could produce sleep, whereas mesmerised water had no effect. After this the Okeys were considered exposed and The Lancet closed its columns to mesmerism.

Elliotson, nevertheless, was not discouraged. The year 1843 witnessed the birth of The Zoist which continued, under the direction of Dr. Elliotson and Engledue until 1856. It was a magazine of mesmerism and phrenology. Elliotson was an enthusiastic phrenologist. He founded in 1824 the Phrenological Society of London and was its President in 1843. In mesmerism he saw a powerful means for phrenological research.

Nevertheless, The Zoist was mainly concerned with the therapeutic aspects of mesmerism. With the advent of Spiritualism it opened its columns to many critical articles on the phenomena. Elliotson himself attended a few sittings with Mrs. Hayden and described his experiences in an article "The Departed Spirits." He was pessimistic and attributed everything to the agency of the medium. Table-turning, however, meant something different. It fitted into the magnetic effluence theory and Elliotson, on the basis of observations of others alone concluded: "there probably is true movement of the table independent of muscular force." In 1863 he was introduced at Dieppe to D. D. Home with the result that, according to the Morning Post of August 3, 1868:

"he expressed his conviction of the truth of the phenomena, and became a sincere Christian, whose handbook henceforth was the Bible. Some time after this he said he had been living all his life in darkness and had thought there was nothing in existence but the material."

His first step after his conversion was to seek a reconciliation with Dr. Ashburner from whom he became alienated by the latter's espousal of Spiritualism. With the same burning zeal with which he opposed it previously he stood, up till his death, for the truth of Spiritualism.

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



Some parts of this page The International Survivalist Society 2004