The Astonishing Materialisation of Agnes Guppy- London 1871
One of the most bizarre supernatural occurrences of Victorian London was the reported reluctant teleportation of Mrs. Agnes Guppy from her home in London to a séance taking place 3 miles away. This was not simply the appearance and disappearance of a likeness but the actual manifestation in the flesh of a celebrated corpulent clairvoyant, witnessed by a room full of distinguished and flabbergasted onlookers.
At 8.10pm Saturday 3rd June 1871 Mrs. Agnes Guppy, a 32 year old medium of great renown, was sitting at her elegant home at 1 Morland Villas, Highbury Hill Park with her friend and companion Miss Neyland. Mrs. Guppy was sitting writing at her bureau in the breakfast parlour doing her household accounts whilst her friend, reading a newspaper in the same room, was casually reminding her of what to put on her list. Miss Neyland had just called out ‘Onions’, when she became aware that her friend had fallen silent. She looked up from her newspaper to find that Mrs. Guppy had vanished, although there was no way in which she could have left the room without being seen.
Witnesses at the Seance
Charles E. Williams, 61 Lamb’s Conduit Street; Holborn
Frank Herne, 61 Lamb’s Conduit Street; Holborn
William Henry Harrison, Wilmin Villa, Chaucer Road, S.E.;
Henry Morris, Mount Trafford, Eccles, Manchester;
N. Hagger, 46 Moorgate Street;
Caroline Edmiston, Beckenham;
Mrs. C.E.Edwards, Kilburn Square;
Ernest Edwards, Kilburn Square;
Henry Clifford Smith, 38 Ennis Road, Stroud Green;
H.B. Husk, 26 Sandwich Street W.C.;
Elizabeth (Agnes) Guppy, 1 Morland Villas, Highbury Hill Park;
Meanwhile 3 miles across London a sensation was unfolding at a séance being held at 61 Lamb’s Conduit Street, Holborn. In a sparsely furnished first floor parlourmeasuring 12 feet by 10 feet 4 inches, psychic mediums Frank Herne and Charles Williams were holding one of their weekly spiritualist meetings in their lodgings above a clothing shop.
At 8pm a total of ten distinguished men and women linked hands around the oval oak table measuring 5 feet by 4 feet, including academics, industrialists and the editor of The Spiritualist magazine, William Henry Harrison. The cramped room was locked and plunged into darkness as the candles were extinguished. Frank Herne and Charles Williams began to channel the spirits of John King and his daughter Katie who spoke to assembled group, through the mediums.
In a conversation with the spirit of Katie King, William Harrison in jest suggested “Why don’t you bring Mrs. Guppy to us?” Henry Morris in his bluff Northern manner added wryly;
“Good gracious! I hope not; she is one of the biggest women in London"
This prompted stifled titters and nervous laughter from the group... but the hilarity quickly subsided when Katie called out plaintively “I will, I will, I will” The voice of her father called out “You can't do it, Katie!"...then all went deathly quiet.
After a silence of about three minutes one of the men suddenly cried out “ I felt something brush my head!”, one of the women screamed and then with a loud thump, something heavy landed on the table.
The circle was broken and a wax match was hurriedly struck to reveal the dazed and bewildered 17 stone Mrs. Guppy standing in the middle of the table, barefoot and dressed only in her dressing gown. She was clutching her pen in one hand and her ledger in the other. She had just written the word ‘Onio..’ - the ink was still wet on the page and her last word unfinished.
Witnesses reported that she appeared 'standing like a dark statue' in the centre of the table and was in trance-like state and trembling. As she came to, she burst into tears and gave an emotional account to the stunned audience that the last thing she could remember was sitting at home in Highbury Hill making up her accounts of household expenditure. She said that whilst writing a word she became insensible and awoke in a dark place and heard voices all around her and she thought she was dead. She then recognised the voices of those present at the seance and was greatly relieved.
A Wardrobe 'Apported'
She complained that she had no shoes or bonnet to go home in and was not dressed for an evening visit.
No sooner had she complained that a pair of slippers belonging to Frank Herne dropped on the head of a gentleman to whom she was talking, followed by a bunch of keys which fell into Mrs. Guppy's lap. This occurred in the light and prompted the mediums to continue the seance in the dark during which a bonnet materialised which Mrs. Guppy recognised as one she had given to Miss Neyland a long time ago, Mrs Guppy's boots and some of her clothing. Also brought 'by the spirits' were Mr. Guppy's overcoat, waistcoat and boots, followed by four geraniums in pots eight inches high standing in their saucers. There were also articles of clothing from Messrs. Herne and Williams transported through the ceiling from a bedroom upstairs. Contemporary accounts report that "the articles of dress brought would have filled a clothes-basket of moderate size".
At one point during the seance a light was struck and Frank Herne was seen by four persons levitating in the air with his feet above the level of the table with his arms extended towards the ceiling, and then his whole body fell into his chair. He said that he had spoke to Miss Neyland and seen her in the billiard room at Mrs. Guppy's house but the billiard table had been replaced by another object of furniture. Mrs. Guppy confirmed that her husband had removed the billiard table to another part of the house that very morning.
Ernest Edwards suggested that they should escort Mrs Guppy home and check the veracity of the account, to which she freely agreed. Mr. and Mrs. Edwards, Frank Herne and Mr. William Harrison travelled to in two cabs back to Highbury Hill Park where they were met by an anxious Miss Neyland who was spoken to privately to prevent any collusion with her friend.
She told them she had been with Mrs. Guppy sitting opposite sides of the fireplace when she disappeared whilst doing her accounts but she had seen nothing. The only unusual thing she had noticed was a haze on the ceiling and she had heard a rapping noise on the desk shortly before her friend disappeared which she associated with spirit activity.
She told them that having discovered Mrs. Guppy missing, she searched the house from top to bottom but there was no trace of her anywhere. Fearing something untoward had happened, she had reported the matter to her friend’s husband Mr. Samuel Guppy who was playing billiards elsewhere in the house with a friend Mr. Hudson. When told of her disappearance the wealthy octogenarian nonchalantly said “No doubt the spirits have carried her off - but they will take care of her” and continued on with his game.
When supper time arrived at which Miss Neyland and Mr. Hudson were present, and his wife was still not back, Mr. Guppy, an ardent spiritualist, had apparently asked the spirits if she was safe. When they rapped back ‘Yes’ to his question, he continued supper and later went to bed.
It was reported that Mrs. Guppy was greatly fatigued after her teleportation ordeal and for several days afterwards was weak and unwell.
All the guests present at the seance signed an undertaking to the effect that they had witnessed this remarkable event in a locked room and that no fraud whatsoever had been involved.
The amazing transit of Mrs. Guppy across London was reported across the world as a miracle of the age, although even at the time, public opinion was divided. The spiritualist lobby were convinced that this was an example of the power of the spirits to teleport matter across time and space. Others felt this was a elaborate publicity stunt to raise the profile of the three mediums involved. No-one however could suggest how it was done. Although she had previously materialised 'apports' in the shape of flowers, live eels and even puppies during her seances, her own teleportation was indeed a tour de force. If trickery was involved then it would have required a conspiracy between all the parties concerned. In the event, so preposterous was the episode considered to be, that the reputations of Agnes Guppy, Frank Herne and Charles Williams were tarnished by the occurrence and all of their future claims were treated with scepticism. To their critics, those that attested to the truth of the event were at best considered gullible and at worst complicit in the fraud.
In typical form the satirical magazine ‘Punch’ published a poem which immortalised and lampooned the remarkable Mrs. Guppy,
"There is a lady, Mrs. Guppy—
Mark, shallow scientific puppy !
The heaviest she in London, marry,
Her, spirits three long miles did carry.
Upon a table down they set her.
Within closed doors. What! you know better,
And we're all dupes and self-deceivers?
Yah ! Sadducees and unbelievers ! "
Irish poet W.B. Yeats was convinced of the truth of the incident and referred to it in his collected works although as a child of 6 years old at the time it took place, he would have had no personal knowledge of it.
Samuel Guppy was in no doubt as to his wife's supernatural ability and in 1872 wagered his wife's diamonds against the Crown Jewels that even if locked in the strongest vault of the Bank of England or the deepest dungeon of the Tower of London, that she would be able materialise objects from thin air. Queen Victoria did not rise to the challenge!
Whatever the truth, the remarkable experience of Mrs. Guppy was considered to be the high point for the spiritualist community for decades and regardless of the controversy which surrounds it, remains one of the most cited instances of human teleportation.
Do you believe that human teleportation exists?
Faker or Fakir?
Do you believe the teleportation of Mrs Guppy was a genuine paranormal phenomenon?
The recently rediscovered account of the teleportation of Jacob Mutton across 30 miles of Cornish countryside in 1687, provides another early account of this misunderstood phenomenon. http://brianlangston.hubpages.com/hub/Jacob_Mutton_teleportation_1687