CWL01.TXT (The Leadbeater Affair)
Jun 09, 1996 05:50 PM
HISTORY OF THE (ADYAR) THEOSOPHICAL SOCIETY
THE C.W.LEADBEATER AFFAIR, 1906-1908
AN INTRODUCTION by Alan Bain (c) 1996
In 1906 a former Anglican Clergyman and member of the Society, later to
become prominent in the Liberal Catholic Church, was called before a
committee headed by the President-Founder of the day, Colonel
H.S.Olcott, one of the co-founders of the Society together with Madame
H.P.Blavatsky, W.Q.Judge and others.
The charge against him was twofold: firstly that he taught young boys to
masturbate (then also called "self-abuse") on a regular, sometimes daily
basis, as necessary to their development and to help avoid the
temptations of the flesh in the future with women and "bad men." In
today's world, such advice might not be regarded with as much horror, if
any, as it was in late Victorian England, and there were those who,
whilst embarrased by such teaching, could see far enough ahead to
understand that, in itself, such advice might not be necessarily a bad
Among the grounds of complaint however was the fact that he was giving
such teaching to boys placed into his care by a parent or parents with
spiritual motives, but who were not informed of this aspect of his
teaching, and only found out via their children or other informants.
The second and more serious charge was that he encouraged the practice
by boys who had not yet reached an age where they would otherwise have
thought of it for themselves, nor in whom a physical sexual attraction
to girls, women, or "bad men" had begun to develop.
Even more serious was the charge that in the course of his
"instruction," he handled the boys intimately himself.
Leadbeater denied none of the charges - he admitted them. The committee
which sat to hear them had only, therefore, to decide which course of
action would be best taken in the interest of the welfare and reputation
of the Society. They could expel him, or in their wisdom, suggest to
him that he resign. He willingly resigned his membership of the Society
in the interest of the greater good, according to his own account, which
was not disputed.
The affair was not made public at the time, for obvious reasons, and as
the offender had resigned, there seemed little need to do so, not least
perhaps because the more serious aspects of his behaviour would, in
England and elsewhere, possibly or even probably have been grounds for
criminal charges to be brought against him.
With some relief at the avoidance of a potential international scandal
which would have harmed the Society enormously, the T.S. got on with its
business without him.
The calm was to be short-lived, for in 1908, the International
President, Annie Besant, sought his return to the theosophical fold, and
encouraged by supporters of Leadbeater, issued a letter to members
retracting her 1906 condemnation of his behaviour as part of this
campaign, which would become successful. In the process, however, the
very scandal which the Society had discreetly avoided in 1906, erupted
into the international arena of the T.S., and damage was done which had
lasting effects, many of which plague the Society to this day.
There were to be later scandals surrounding the name of Bishop
Leadbeater, particularly in Australia, and some account of these is
given in "The Elder Brother," a biography of Leadbeater by Gregory
Tillet, published in 1982.
I have chosen to begin this series of historical studies in the country
from which CWL, as he is often referred to, began his career, and which
is also my own homeland.
The article which follows is an account of the reaction to Annie
Besant's actions by members of the British Section of the Theosophical
Society, and is self-explanatory.
Some readers will wonder why I have not begun with the President's
letter mentioned above. This will become clear in later documents, as
there was also considerable dispute about the veracity and honesty of
some of the claims made in the letter which resulted in the publication
of a number of "open letters" and pamphlets, some of which have become
In the interest of historical research, however, I intend to make Annie
Besant's letter the next article in this series.
For a short time, in 1908, in Chicago, Illinois, a journal dealing
primarily with the details and campaigns within the American Section was
published under the banner of "The Theosophic Voice" which went to only
three issues. The first of these is available as a 32 page reprint, and
readers can contact me for further information. For members of
Theosophy International, I will post brief details on theos-buds.
In the meantime, the result of "The Leadbeater Affair" in his own
country can be revealed through the words, published in 1909, of those
who initiated the protest within the British Section - including some
important and respected thesophists of the time - and which now follows:
To the Members of the Theosophical Society
THE LEADBEATER CASE.
THE Protest Committee of the British Section appointed at the Caxton
Hall meeting on December 19, 1908, having issued on February 20 last the
following Final Protest Resolutions for signature by members of the
British Section, have now to place on record the result of their appeal
to the Section.
THAT WHEREAS, at the last Convention of the British Section of the
Theosophical Society, a Resolution was passed calling upon the President
and General Council of the Society to take such action as would ensure
"that the repudiation by the Society of this pernicious teaching (the
teaching which determined the resignation of Mr. C. W. Leadbeater) may
be unequivocal and final":
AND WHEREAS the President has replied to this Resolution in a printed
Letter to the Members of the Theosophical Society, dated November, 1908,
in which Letter she not merely declines to take any action to free the
Society from any taint of participation in this scandal, but even seeks
to condone Mr. Leadbeater's offence, thereby reversing her own previous
judgment of the matter; and further announces her willingness to welcome
Mr. Leadbeater back to membership in the Society without his repudiation
of the teaching above referred to:
AND WHEREAS the General Council of the Society at its Annual Meeting at
Adyar, in December, 1908, also refused to accept the appeal of the
British Section, and not merely declined to take any action to
repudiate, in the name of the Society, Mr. Leadbeater's teaching of
self-abuse, or to prevent the identification of this teaching with the
Society, but, on the contrary, has taken the very course which will
ensure the opposite effect, and has passed a Resolution stating that,
"there is no reason why Mr. C.W.Leadbeater should not return, if he
wishes, to his place in the Society"; and has thereby reversed the wise
judgment and action of the late President-Founder, Colonel H.S.Olcott:
AND WHEREAS this disastrous policy on the part of the President and
General Council must inevitably result - and indeed, has already
resulted - in the gravest public scandal, and in the association of Mr.
Leadbeater's degrading teachings with the Society itself:
NOW, THEREFORE, IT IS HEREBY AFFIRMED AND RESOLVED -
(1) That we, the undersigned Members of the Theosophical Society, desire
to express, in the first instance, our deep regret that the President
and General Council should not merely have refused to take any steps to
free the Society from this grave scandal but should actually have taken
the most effective means to identity it therewith.
(2) That we hereby desire to protest in the strongest possible manner
against this disastrous policy, to which the Society has now been
committed by its highest officials.
(3) That we hereby place on record our deep abhorrence of the gross
sexual practice into which Mr. Leadbeater - on his own confession - was
guilty of initiating certain boys.
(4) That we desire to express our conviction that the question at issue
is simply one of morality, but that it has been largely obscured by a
false glamour of so-called "occultism" and a specious appeal to so-
called "liberty of opinion."
(5) That we do not feel called upon to judge Mr. Leadbeater's motives,
nor do we condemn any who, in this matter, have honestly thought that
his further identification with the Society was desirable; but we
protest most strongly against the good name of the Society being
sacrificed for any one individual.
Three hundred and twenty-four members have signed the above Resolutions.
Of these members 206 have severed their connection with the Society, or
have notified their intention of doing so, and have signified their
willingness to have their names published in connection with this
Fifty-three other members have also signed the Protest and resigned, but
do not wish to have their names published.
Thirty-five members have signed, but have not yet decided as to
Thirty members have signed, but have signified their intention of
remaining in the Society, in the new International Section, or
There have also been a very large number of resignations by members who
have not signed this Protest, but who signed the first Resolutions sent
out in November last with the Reply of the Protest Committee to the
The following members of the Executive Committee have resigned, and have
left the Society:
HERBERT BURROWS. G.R.S.MEAD.
W.KINGSLAND. EDITH WARD.
The following Lodges have severed their connection with the Society.
ADELPHI President, J.M.Watkins.
BATTERSEA " A.P.Cattanach.
BRISTOL " Miss G.Platnauer.
DIDSBURY " E.E.Marsden.
DUBLIN " G.W.Russell.
EXETER " Lt.Col. Montague.
HULL " H.E.Nichol.
LONDON " A.P.Sinnett.
MIDDLESBROUGH " W.H.Thomas.
The following is an analysis of the signatures, and the names of the 206
members above referred to, who have resigned and consented to the
publication of their names.
ADELPHI LODGE:- J.M.Watkins (President). - Mrs. Watkins. - H.J.Dyer. -
Miss Saunders. - C.W.C.Barlow. - Miss Howsin. - A.F.Winckley.
BLAVATSKY LODGE: - G.R.S.Mead (President). - Mrs. Mead.
- Miss Eardley-Wilmot. - C.J.Barker. - Mrs. Barker. - Miss Tisdale. -
Miss M.Wolff van Sandau. - Mrs. E.Wood. - J.F.Tilly. - Mrs. Tilly. -
Miss J.R.Willats. - Mrs. A.M.A. Rice. - G.A.Simmons.
- Mrs. William Sharp. - J.R.Foster. - H.Burrows. - F.G.Castaneda. -
V.C.Turnbull. - Miss S.B.Wilson. - Mrs. C.A.Baynes. - Miss A.Claxton. -
Mrs. M.M.W.Kidston. - W.Theobald. - Mrs. Theobald. - Miss M.Theobald. -
Miss A.G.Theobald. - B.G.Theobald. - Mrs. F.E.Marshall. - Miss
C.E.Marshall. - W.T.Harrison. - Miss L.A.Peile. - Miss G.Linde. -
P.Hookham. - Miss L.Henderson. - Mrs. C.Macrae. - Dr. C.G.Currie. -
Mrs. Currie. - J.S.Brown. - Mrs. S.F.Dudley. - Miss S.E.Hall. -
H.A.Colvile. - Miss A.L.Gaimes. - J.A.Kinnison. - Mrs. Kinnison. -
H.R.Hogg. - Mrs. Hogg. - Mrs. Hoffmeister. - Mrs. M.H.Malan. - Miss
T.J.O'Connell. - W.F.Kirby. - J.R.Acton. - Mrs. A.K.Ledger. - Miss
J.Spence. - Miss E.M.L.Scull. - Col. R.H.Forman.
- A.M.Glass. - H.E.Colbett. - H.L.Shindler. - Thirty-five other
BATH LODGE:- F.Bligh Bond.
BATTERSEA LODGE:- A.P.Cattanach (President). - Mrs. Cattanach. - Miss
H.R.Gutteridge. - W.Hewett. - One other signatory.
BOURNEMOUTH LODGE:- E. H. Bellairs.
BRIGHTON LODGE:- Dr. Alfred King (President). - Mrs. King. -
J.F.Bigwood. - Four other signatories.
BRISTOL LODGE: - Miss G.S.Platnauer (President). - T.R.Freeman. - Miss
F.K.Simmons. - S.W.Smith. - F.H.Stevens. - Mrs. A.K.Furnival. - Miss
A.Dobbie. - F.H.Palmer. - One other signatory.
DIDSBURY LODGE:- E.E.Marsden (President). - Mrs. Marsden. - Mrs.
E.E.Worthington. - H.Levy. - Miss H.D.Mackie. - Miss F.Jackson. -
F.H.Clarke. - Mrs. Clarke. - Mrs. E.Harrold. - W.G.Wilson. - Mrs.
Wilson. - Miss K.Whitehead. - Miss E.Booth. - Miss L.Peck. - C.Midgley.
- Mrs. Midgley. -Five other signatories.
DUBLIN LODGE:- Mrs. M.E.Greene. - Mrs. G.E.Jones. - Mrs. L.Robinson. -
Miss. M.Kelly. - Mrs. Kelly. - J. Tingly. - Mrs. E.S.Thornton.
EDINBURGH LODGE:- Mrs. Drummond (President). - Miss E.Drummond. - Mrs.
M.H.Darlison. - Mrs. L.Handyside. - Mrs. M.H.Hebdens. - J.J.Bell. - Miss
Edith Grant. - Miss Cochrane. - Miss I. Cochrane. - Mrs. Frater. - Miss
Raeburn. - Miss E.C.Raeburn. - Mrs. Cragie Prophit. - Miss White. - Five
EXETER LODGE:- Lt.Col. L.A.D.Montague (President). - Miss Wheaton. -
Miss Z.L.Montague. - Miss F.Lake. - Miss E.E.Snodgrass. - Five other
GLASGOW LODGE:- R.H.Andrews. - Miss M.S.Ferguson.
H.P.B. LODGE:- H.E.Parry. - Miss C.E.Woods. - Mrs. C.F.Buller. -
S.A.Mappin. - Mrs. Mappin. - Mrs. C.B.Fernandez.
- Five other signatories.
HARROGATE LODGE:- Mrs. B.Ringrose. - Miss A. B. Woodhead.
HULL LODGE:- H.E.Nichol (President). - Mrs. Nichol. -J.W.Burton. - Mrs.
E.B.Burton. - Miss C.A.Eccles.
LONDON LODGE:- Lady Raines. - Mrs. B.H.M.Riddle. - Mrs. E.R.Cull. - Mrs.
C.G.R.Smith. - Mrs. K.Baldwin. - Mrs. H.Huntly.
- Mrs. N.Malan. - Mme. Gennadius. - C.B.Wheeler. - Mrs. J.M.S.Walker. -
Mrs. V.B.Thompson. -Three other signatories.
LIVERPOOL LODGE:- Mrs. C.B.Avery. - Mrs. M.Fulton. - Mrs. L.M.Queen. -
Miss M.Barber. - Miss B.M.Mylehreest. - Three other signatories.
LEEDS LODGE:- C.N.Goode. - Mrs. Goode. - A.W.Waddington.
MANCHESTER CITY LODGE:- J.Mayo. - Mrs. Hadfield. - Miss Hadfield. - Two
MIDDLESBROUGH LODGE:- W.H.Thomas (President). - Miss M.E.Thomas. - Baker
Hudson. - Mrs. M G.Macfadzean. - J.A.Jones.
- One other signatory.
NORTH LONDON LODGE: - V. Lewis. - Mrs. E.C.V.Worley. - One other
SHEFFIELD LODGE:- C.E.Young (President). - R.Cheatle. - R.Pexton. - Mrs.
Pexton. - J. Abey. - J.Wood. - One other signatory.
WEST LONDON LODGE:- Miss E.Ward (President). - Mrs. F.Ozanne. - Mrs.
G.B.O'Donnell. - Miss Fortescue. - Mrs. A.Mallalue. - W.A.Carson. -
Mrs. Carson. - Mrs. E.J.Beatty. - Two other signatories.
UNATTACHED:- Mme. de Steiger. - E. de M.Malan. - G.H.Popplestone. -
I.L.F.Paynter. - Mrs. M.C.Brown. - Mrs. E.Kilburn. - O.Firth. -
W.H.Bean. - Miss H.K.Burke. -Miss H.Bloxam. - I.H.Mitchell. - Mrs.
Mitchell. - E.Melland. - Miss G.H.Minet. - Miss H.G.Micklethwait. - Miss
A.M.Bostock. - W.Kingsland. - J.Dowall. - Mrs. J.Dowall. - Mrs.
E.Schaub. - G.Graham. - Miss M.Scott-Kerr. - Eighteen other
BRUSSELS:- Seventeen signatories.
OTHER BRITISH LODGES:- Ten signatories.
At the Caxton Hall Meeting above referred to, the Protest Committee were
empowered to "receive, consider and report on any suggestion that may be
made as to the best manner of keeping together those who feel compelled
to withdraw from the Society."
No suggestions, however, have been received by the Committee; but the
formation of a Society on the lines outlined by Mr. Mead at the above
meeting is now an accomplished fact.
The name which was then proposed for this Society was, "The Mystical
Research Society." This, however, has since been changed to "THE QUEST
SOCIETY." Full particulars of this Organisation can be obtained from the
Hon. Secretary, THE QUEST SOCIETY, 16, Selwood Place, Onslow Gardens,
A Conference of members and ex-members of the Theosophical Society,
living in the North of England, was held at Manchester on January 19,
1909; at which Mr. G.R.S.Mead was also present. The Conference resolved
to form Local Societies on lines more or less similar to those of the
Quest Society; and also to federate such Societies when constituted.
Mr. W.H.Thomas, The Ness, Linthorpe, Middlesbrough, consented to act as
Hon. Secretary, pro tem., and will be pleased to supply all particulars
to intending members.
It may also be mentioned that in most cases where Lodges have resigned
their Charters they are continuing their work under some different name.
The work of the Protest Committee is now practically finished. The
subscriptions which they received have been most generous and ample, and
a small balance is still in hand. It is proposed to retain this for a
short time, in view of any eventuality arising which might necessitate
its being called upon; but in due course a balance sheet will be sent to
each subscriber, and suggestions will be asked for as to how the balance
should he disposed of.
THE PROTEST COMMITTEE.
16, SELWOOD PLACE, ONSLOW GARDENS,
May 1, 1909.
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