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Manitoba History: Arthur Conan Doyle’s Adventures in Winnipeg

by Michael W. Homer
Salt Lake City, Utah

Number 25, Spring 1993

This article was published originally in Manitoba History by the Manitoba Historical Society on the above date. We make it available here as a free, public service.

Please direct all inquiries to

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
Source: University of Manitoba, Archives & Special Collections

When Arthur Conan Doyle visited Winnipeg in 1923, it was his fourth trip to North America. [1] On each of the three previous occasions he had travelled to Canada and on one trip he passed through Winnipeg. In 1894, while touring the eastern United States to showcase his literary achievements, he spent most of his time in the large cities of the eastern United States but made one foray to Toronto. [2] Twenty years later, in 1914, he was invited by the Canadian government to inspect the National Reserve at Jasper Park in the northern Rockies. [3] He stayed one week in New York before proceeding on the Grand Trunk Pacific Railway across the breadth of Canada. During this trip he passed through Winnipeg on his way to Edmonton but he did not describe his visit in any detail. [4] In 1922, when he made his first trip to the United States to proselyte Spiritualism, he spent most of his time in the eastern United States but again visited Toronto briefly. [5] It was not until a year later, during his fourth American tour, that he crossed Canada again, this time from west to east, visiting Vancouver, Edmonton and Calgary. During this trip he spent several days in Winnipeg earnestly attempting to convert its inhabitants to the cause of Spiritualism. [6]

By this time Conan Doyle was a seasoned proselytizer for the cause of Spiritualism and had grown weary of questions regarding his famous literary character, Sherlock Holmes. [7] He continued to be confronted with many questions regarding Holmes not only because his detective stories continued to enjoy great popularity but also because of the “dismay and bewilderment” felt by those who viewed Holmes as the “supreme literary spokesman for rationalism” once they learned that Conan Doyle was a leading champion of Spiritualism. [8] Conan Doyle saw no inconsistency between his acceptance of Spiritualism and the invention of the rational Sherlock Holmes and, in fact, believed that his ability to reason had led him to the true religion. After rejecting the Roman Catholicism of his youth, he adhered to a steadfast resolve to reject any religion which required “blind faith.” Instead, Conan Doyle insisted:

I must have a definite demonstration, for if it were to be a matter of faith then I might as well go back to the faith of my fathers. Never will I accept anything which cannot be proved to me. The evils of religion have all come from accepting things which cannot be proved. [9]

Although Conan Doyle claimed in his autobiography that he remained an agnostic from the time he received his medical degree in 1881 until his conversion to Spiritualism in 1916, he studied and was attracted to the teachings and practices of Spiritualism from as early as 1880. In fact, in 1887, shortly after writing A Study in Scarlet, he wrote two letters to the weekly Spiritualist periodical, Light, in which he recounted his conversion to Spiritualism. [10] As a result of his experiences, he was convinced that “it was absolutely certain that intelligence could exist apart from the body.” “After weighing the evidence,” Conan Doyle wrote, “I could no more doubt the existence of the phenomena than I could doubt the existence of lions in Africa, though I have been to that continent and have never chanced to see one.” He also exhorted “any other searcher never to despair of receiving personal testimony but to persevere through any number of failures until at last conviction comes to him, as, it will.” [11]

Even though Conan Doyle did not actively proselyte Spiritualism until 1916, it is apparent that by 1887 he had received the “definite demonstration” which provided him with evidence that life continues after death and that a form of religion exists which is consistent with primitive Christianity with all of its attendant miracles.

While there are those who continue to marvel that the creator of Sherlock Holmes could have embraced a religion like Spiritualism, it is no accident that shortly after Conan Doyle’s “definite demonstration” he wrote “The Adventure of the Naval Treaty;” in which Sherlock Holmes concluded that “there is nothing in which deduction is so necessary as in religion ... it can be brought up as an exact science by the reasoner.” [12] Thus, even the super rational Holmes was not totally without spiritual dimension as this and other stories clearly demonstrate. [13]

When Conan Doyle arrived in Winnipeg on July 1, 1923, he was greeted by a front-page newspaper story hailing him as the “creator of Sherlock Holmes, one of the most notable characters in modern fiction.” [14] Despite this association, Conan Doyle was totally dedicated to the cause of Spiritualism and only referred to Holmes when he thought it would aid him in spreading his message. He began his fourth trip to North America by observing in New York City that “Sherlock Holmes’ real mission was to acquaint the people of the world with Sir Arthur” in order that he “might deliver his message ... as one old friend talking to others.” He was also convinced that:

It was foreordained that I should create Sherlock Holmes as one of the media to get recognition, perhaps friendship, at the firesides throughout the world. I sincerely appreciate the fine way in which the American people have received me. [15]

Later, while in Denver, he confessed: “I guess it must have been the Sherlock Holmes vein in me that caused me to become interested in Spiritualism.” [16] Another way that Sherlock Holmes helped Spiritualism was through book royalties. In Los Angeles, Conan Doyle admitted that he did “not go looking for stories but Sherlock Holmes is still attached to my bank account, so if an idea comes to me, I write it.” [17] A month later in Edmonton he told the press that he was “never really proud of the wonderful Sherlock;” but added “Well, I may have to drag him out of his resting place again.” [18] Although his latest Sherlock Holmes book, His Last Bow, [19] was published six years before visiting Winnipeg, Conan Doyle had written three additional stories, even while disclaiming any further interest in his world famous literary creation, in 1921, 1922 and 1923. “The Adventure of the Mazarin Stone” was published in the Strand Magazine in October, 1921; “The Problem of Thor Bridge” appeared in February/March, 1922; and “The Adventure of the Creeping Man” was published even while Conan Doyle was embarking on his fourth trip to North America in March, 1923. The money earned from writing these and other stories enabled the British author to continue to spend most of his time proselyting throughout the world and, in July, 1923 in Winnipeg.

Winnipeg was near the end of Conan Doyle’s 1923 tour which started in New York City in April, ended in Montreal in July, and included more than thirty cities (including Rochester, Cleveland, Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, Indianapolis, Columbus, Chicago, St. Louis, Kansas City, Denver, Salt Lake City, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Portland, Seattle, Vancouver, Victoria, Edmonton, Calgary, Winnipeg, Port Arthur and Montreal). The British author, accompanied by his wife, Lady Jean, and their three children, Denis, Adrian, and Jean, reached most of their venues by train. They arrived at Union Station in Winnipeg on Dominion Day, Sunday, July 1st, and after travelling the short distance to the Fort Garry Hotel, where he may have stayed nine years earlier, [20] he prepared himself for press interviews, luncheons, psychic services and, of course, his lecture.

Conan Doyle playing baseball on a visit to Jasper National Park, June 1914.
Source: Western Canada Pictorial Index

In most of the cities they visited Sir Arthur and Lady Conan Doyle attempted to meet other believers in psychic phenomena. On the day they arrived in Winnipeg they attended “a circle for psychical research;” held at the home of a prominent Winnipeg resident, Thomas Glendenning Hamilton. The circle was made up of approximately ten doctors and lawyers and their wives, who shared Conan Doyle’s enthusiasm for Spiritualism’s “proofs” that life continues after death. Like Conan Doyle, Hamilton was a medical doctor, and at the time of Conan Doyle’s visit, he was immediate past President of the Manitoba Medical Association and a member of the Dominion Council of the Canadian Medical Association. He had been a member of the Manitoba Legislative Assembly from 1915 to 1920, and was an elder in the King Memorial Church. He first became interested in psychic phenomena in 1918 when he studied and performed rudimentary experiments on thought transference. His interest was rearoused in 1921 when a neighbor, Mrs. Elizabeth Poole, a Scottish immigrant, moved tables (“telekinesis”) and communicated with spirits. In 1923, Hamilton formed a small circle which met secretly each week to perform experiments concerning the “Poole telekinetic and phenomena.” [21] The circle’s experiments initially concentrated on Mrs. Poole’s “physical mediumship”; she was able to tilt, levitate and invert a small table merely by touching it with her hands. During his visit to the Hamilton home, Conan Doyle described Poole as a “small, pleasant-faced woman from the Western Highlands of Scotland,” whose “psychic gifts” were “both mental and physical.”

The circle, which contained ten persons, including my wife and myself, placed their hands, or one hand each, upon a small table, part of which was illuminated by phosphorous so as to give some light. It was violently agitated, and this process was described as ‘charging it’. It was then pushed back into a small cabinet made of four hung curtains with an opening in front. Out of this the table came clattering again and again entirely on its own, with no sitter touching it. [22]

From his position, Conan Doyle observed the table

like a restless dog in a kennel, springing, tossing, beating up against the supports, and finally bounding out with a velocity which caused me to get quickly out of the way. [23]

Dr. Thomas Glendenning Hamilton - president of the Manitoba Medical Association, MLA, and noted spiritualist.
Source: Western Canada Pictorial Index

Beginning on April 8, 1923, a little less than three months before Conan Doyle’s visit, Mrs. Poole manifested a talent for “mental mediumship.” On that day she entered, for the first time, into a trance and saw a vision. Her hand and arm were activated, and, as the alphabet was called out by Dr. Hamilton, she slapped her hand on the table to indicate the desired letter, until a message was completely spelled out. Following the trance, Mrs. Poole awoke, and described her vision, but had no recollection of slapping her hand. [24]

On April 22, 1923, Robert Louis Stevenson began sending messages to the circle through this “slapping” method. By the time Conan Doyle visited the circle on July 1, it had received fourteen messages from the Scottish author. On the day of Conan Doyle’s visit, Mrs. Poole received a vision of “R. S. wearing velvet jacket—writing—a lady” As Hamilton called out the alphabet, Poole rapped out the following cryptic message: “I—was best—work I ever did—was married.” [25] Members of the circle attempted to “verify” these messages by examining books by Stevenson. Mrs. Hamilton verified the message received during Conan Doyle’s visit by locating an excerpt from a letter written by Stevenson to his brother contained in a biography written by Balfour. In the letter Stevenson wrote: “As I look back, I think my marriage was the best move I ever made in my life.” [26]

Conan Doyle was impressed by the mental psychic gifts of the medium and wrote that she successfully “rapped out” quotations from Robert Louis Stevenson even though “the little Scotch woman knows nothing normally of R.L.S., because she is not of a literary turn.” [27] Although Mrs. Poole apparently rapped out Stevenson quotations on a fairly regular basis from 1923 to 1927, the choice of Stevenson was particularly appropriate for Conan Doyle’s visit. Although Conan Doyle and Stevenson had never met, they were both born in Edinburgh and it has been observed that

Stevenson deeply admired his work, while having himself more influence on Conan Doyle’s literary formative years than any other contemporary writer. [28]

In 1883, when one of Conan Doyle’s anonymous contributions to The Cornhill was published as “Habakuk Jephson’s Statement,” one critic speculated that it was perhaps written by Stevenson. [29] Four years later when Conan Doyle’s first Sherlock Holmes story, A Study in Scarlet, was published, reviewers noted that he had borrowed much of it from Stevenson’s short story “Story of the Destroying Angel” [30] which appeared two years earlier. Several years later, Conan Doyle acknowledged, in print, Stevenson’s influence on his writing. [31] After Conan Doyle returned to Great Britain in his memoirs that with his death “something seemed to have passed out of my world.” [32] In Winnipeg, Stevenson made an unexpected reappearance and Conan Doyle seemed pleased that “quotation after quotation” which had been rapped out by Mrs. Poole since April had been verified, with the exception of one line which he admitted “sounds like Stevenson” but which he could not place. [33]

Conan Doyle did not limit his activities in Winnipeg to speaking with the dead. He was not an impersonal visionary. On the day following his arrival he took his family to a baseball game which was played at Wesley Park between the Winnipeg Arenas and the Minneapolis All-Stars. Although he was a sports enthusiast and had excelled in cricket as a young man, he was frankly admitted that “I have all the prejudices of an old cricketeer, and yet I cannot get away from the fact that baseball is the better game.” [34] He did not, however, mention that the home team lost by a score of 13 to 6. [35]

Following the baseball game, the family returned to the Fort Garry Hotel where Sir Arthur was scheduled to be interviewed by the press prior to his lecture the next day. The press found him to be “a good natured man” who “with his outstretched hand and genial smile ... puts a stranger at ease at once.” In fact one interviewer wrote that it was hard to believe he was not talking with Dr. Watson himself, since it was easier to talk with the creator of Sherlock Holmes “than to your next-door neighbor.” [36] But Conan Doyle talked about subjects one would not expect of a neighbor. During the interview he confidently predicted that: “Spiritualism will have swept the globe before the younger generation of today passes.” [37] He believed that “(t)he public have no idea of the strength of it,” and assured everyone who would listen that Spiritualism had a long, rich history, and that “(m)ost of the primitive races were Spiritualists ...” “We do not abandon Christianity,” he said, “we think we have gone back to the primitive Christianity. No doubt in the early days they understood these things, but their place was taken by other mediums and they were forgotten.” [38]

The ever diplomatic British Knight also added, perhaps thinking of his experiences with the Hamilton circle, that “[he] has found the people of Canada very pen-minded on the subject of Spiritualism. They are intellectual ... and keen to find out about it.” [39] According to him,

Spiritualism takes faster and more firmly in districts where there is a large residential population. In other places he believed, people are too much taken up with the material affairs of life to find time to consider it. [40]

Of course, one of Doyle’s objectives was to convince the world that it “consider it” since mainstream Christianity would not survive his adopted religion:

Modern theologists have been petrified in a rut so long that they can’t realize the opportunity that confronts them. They must realize it or their institutions will become extinct. Our teachings have thus far been greeted by the Church with horror and amazement ... I feel now that I have arrived at the truth ... the day when it was held to ridicule with the talk of spooks is passed. It is the great religion of the western world and the people are accepting it. [41]

Conan Doyle’s undoubted sincerity did not prevent the Winnipeg Press from engaging in some good natured lampooning. One writer suggested that even though the headline of the day may be “Throngs enter into Spirit of Dominion Day;’ that

The converse might apply next year ‘Spirits enter into Throng on Dominion Day’ And this even if Conan Doyle’s experiment should fai1. [42]

Another writer, under the headline “History Deleting Itself,” wondered whether Conan Doyle’s “spirit-calling experiments” could be utilized by the history department at the University of Manitoba:

It is clear that the modern student, properly instructed in Spiritualism and wishing to know when Christopher Columbus discovered America, has only to ring the explorer on the ectoplasmic wave length, and inquire: ‘When did you discover America, old bean?’ In the same way any historical question propounded by an examiner may be answered by getting first-hand information from the actual participants. H. G. Wells should tremble. [43]

Perhaps because of comments such as these and certainly because of his recent battles with the press in California, [44] Conan Doyle was ready to challenge anyone who attempted to trivialize his cause. The next day, after being entertained by Isaac Pitblado, a Winnipeg lawyer, who would occasionally participate in the Hamilton circle, [45] Sir Arthur had, at last, come to the main event of his visit, his lecture on “Proofs of Immortality,” before an audience of approximately 1,800 people packed into the “Walker Theatre, pit, balcony, and gallery.” [46] Before beginning the main portion of his lecture, Conan Doyle advised his audience that those who write and lecture about Spiritualism

had taken great trouble in study and experimentation, while those opposed were nearly always swayed by prejudice, and even admitted in their books that they have never gone into the matter ... The only man whose opinion was worth anything ... was the one who had ‘been there,’ who had experimented. [47]

Because of such experimentation, the existence of life after death was no longer “a matter of faith but a matter of knowledge.” [48] Although he didn’t specifically refer to his experiences with the Hamilton circle (which was still operating in secret) he admitted that he had, at one time, thought that chair rapping was foolish until he realized that “such manifestations were signals; they were knockings on the door; those in the other world were saying, ‘we want to come in!’” Of course,

when men were dense enough to disregard these attempts to attract their attention ... more striking phenomena came. No matter what the means were, the message was the same. The dead were striving to bring into the world a message of immortality. [49]

Conan Doyle’s main lecture was essentially the same one he had given in most other cities during his various tours on behalf of Spiritualism. He presented his own psychic experiences of communication with the dead, and other “tangible proofs” of Spiritualism recorded on “spirit photographs.” In Winnipeg, he told his audience that he had heard a spiritual singer, had met his dead son, through the medium Evan Powell, and in what was described as “one of the most convincing incidents recounted by the lecturer” [50] he recounted how he had seen the face of his dead mother during a séance. “I recognized her face as clearly as ever I had when she was alive;” he assured his audience. [51] With respect to other “tangible proofs” he talked at length about ectoplasm which he said emanated from mediums, and which spirits used for materialization. It was the forms so materialized which had been photographed. The Winnipeg press also reported that the “spirit photographs shown by Sir Arthur were most remarkable and made a deep impression on the audience. He declared each and every picture he showed was genuine, and there is not the least doubt in the world that such is his belief. But, the most impressive picture of the collection was reported to be the famous cenotaph photograph, which was taken by the medium, Mrs. Deane. The photograph showed a crowd assembled on Armistice Day in 1922 with spirits looking on. Sir Arthur said the world was hopeless if the cenotaph picture was not proof enough to convert the world to a definite and proved belief, in the life beyond the grave. [52] Sir Arthur chose not to display or comment on the “Cottingley Fairies” photographs which were the subject of a book he had published in March, 1922, [53] even though he had reaffirmed his belief in them in an article published just prior to his trip in February, 1923, [54] and his book, The Coming of the Fairies, was on sale at a Winnipeg book store during his visit. [55] It was his view that even though the fairy photographs were “psychic photographs” they did not have anything to do with the issue of life after death. [56]

During his lecture, Conan Doyle also repeated many of the ideas he had discussed during his press interview on Sunday. He stressed the antiquity of Spiritualism, admitted “that orthodoxy and Spiritualism do not go hand in hand,” [57] and that

The most important thing in Spiritualism was not the return of the dead, although that was an enormous consolation, but was the message they gave as to the life after this. The unspoken prayer of mankind for ages was answered. It was a second revelation from God, and the coming of Spiritualism was the greatest event in the world’s history since Christ. [58]

But if the “return of the dead” was not the “most important thing” it did attract Conan Doyle and his family. On the morning following his lecture they attended another seance of “a strange circle” presided over by “a woman of the Blavatsky type of rounded face, but less heavy.” [59] By his own account Conan Doyle had a “deep distrust of ritual and form and sacraments.” [60] Yet, the service he attended in Winnipeg consisted of exactly that. According to his account, a hymn was sung, the medium “sank into a trance”, greeted her congregation and then “proceeded to baptize a child nine weeks old belonging to one of the circle.” Following the baptism:

She then handed around a bread and wine, as in the sacrament. The wine, as I was assured by all, was simply water drawn from the domestic supply. It had now become faintly red with an aromatic odour and taste. At every meeting this miracle of changing the water into wine was performed, according to the unanimous testimony of these very same work a day men of the world, who declare that they themselves have drawn the water. [61]

Following the sacrament, the medium addressed her congregation for nearly an hour and then a “second control took possession” and proceeded to bless a little boy who was present in the audience. After this blessing, the medium repeated “messages relating to worldly things to several of the circle,” [62] and also spoke of the conditions of death:

The dark valley on the other side waits for all. I am in the glorious city at the end. Those who are prepared by knowledge, as you are, soon pass the Valley. But some linger very long. [63]

Following the completion of the ritual, which Conan Doyle said he could not describe, the medium “came back into her own body.” Although Conan Doyle did not specifically indicate in his memoirs whether he believed everything he saw and heard during this second séance, he wrote that it was

Solemn and moving, and nothing can exceed the absolute faith of these men and women. Their faith is founded, as they assure me, upon long experience in which they have seen miracle after miracle, including materializations of these high personages. [64]

Yet, for himself, Conan Doyle admitted:

I cannot claim that I saw anything evidential with my own eyes, and yet I am convinced that my informant was speaking truth so far as he saw it, when he claimed that he poured water into the chalice and that it had been transformed. It all left me with mixed feelings, but the conviction that I had been on the fringe of something very sacred and solemn was predominant. [65]

After this “sacred and solemn” experience Conan Doyle and his family attended one final function sponsored by the Canadian Authors Association, whose members, one might assume, were more interested in Conan Doyle’s literary talents than his missionary message. But, since the luncheon was presided over by W. T. Allison, an English Professor at the University of Manitoba, and one of T. G. Hamilton’s best friends and an early participant in his experiments, there were a number of persons present who were interested in both facets of Conan Doyle’s interesting personality. [66] Like most stops on his tour, the British author found himself speaking to both a literary and religious audience. Following three days in the city, he left Winnipeg impressed by what he had seen and experienced.

When I considered the wonderful psychical phenomena of the one circle seen with my own eyes and the religious atmosphere of the other, I came away with the conclusion that Winnipeg stands very high among the places we have visited for its psychic possibilities. There are several Spiritualist churches and a number of local mediums of good repute. [67]

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and to his right Lady Conan Doyle at the Great Divide, Jasper National Park, June 1914.
Source: Western Canada Pictorial Index

In the seven years between his visit to Winnipeg and his death in 1930, Conan Doyle continued to actively proselyte Spiritualism. He lectured in Africa and Europe and wrote additional pamphlets and books about Spiritualism, including one entitled Pheneas Speaks which recounted the visits of an Arabian spirit guide to his family circle. [68] He also wrote an additional article about the Cottingley Fairies [69] and published a “second enlarged edition” of The Coming of the Fairies in 1928. [70] He also continued to defend Spiritualism, sometimes against overwhelming odds, such as when it was demonstrated that the faces in the cenotaph photograph were taken from photographs of famous British athletes, [71] and when it was suggested that the Cottingley Fairies were actually cardboard cutouts created by human hands. [72]

Despite his disdain for Sherlock Holmes, Conan Doyle did not totally ignore his most famous fictional character. In addition to the three Sherlock Holmes stories he published in the Strand Magazine in 1921, 1922 and 1923, he wrote and published nine additional stories between 1924 to 1927 which were eventually republished in the 1927 collection, The Case-Book of Sherlock Holmes. A few of these stories contain additional examples of Conan Doyle’s attempt to proselyte through his fictional characters. For example, in “The Adventure of the Creeping Man”, Holmes tells Watson that “the material, the sensual, the worldly, would all prolong their worthless lives. The spiritual would not avoid the call of something higher. It would be the survival of the least fit.” [73] Similarly, in “The Adventure of the Retired Colourman”, Holmes observes: “But is not all life pathetic and futile? Is not history a microcosm of the whole? We search. We grasp. And what is left in our hollows at the end? A shadow. Or worse than a shadow—misery.” [74] Finally, in “The Adventure of the Veiled Lodger”, Holmes observes that “the ways of fate are indeed hard to understand. If there is not some compensation hereafter, then the world is a cruel jest. [75] Thus even Holmes did not retire from public life without once again revealing his spiritual dimension. But if Sherlock Holmes had a “spiritual dimension” another Conan Doyle creation, Professor Challenger, actually converted to Spiritualism in 1925. [76] It was much easier to explain the Professor’s conversion than it would have been Holmes’ who was created to solve mysteries by material proofs.

T. G. Hamilton was also busy in the years following Conan Doyle’s visit. Shortly after the visit, Hamilton joined the American Society of Psychic Research, and his experiments became more sophisticated. Mrs. Poole’s rapping was replaced by a form of automatic writing, which no longer required Hamilton to call out the alphabet. The circle also began to photograph its experiments. [77] In 1926, Hamilton decided to go public by lecturing [78] and writing [79] about his experiment. In 1928, a new medium was added to his circle who was capable of producing ectoplasmic apparitions. Following the death of Conan Doyle in 1930, Dr. and Mrs. Hamilton visited Lady Conan Doyle in England [80] and Hamilton wrote a series of articles in Light in which he briefly mentioned Conan Doyle’s attendance at the Hamilton circle. [81] Shortly thereafter, photographs were taken of the new medium producing two bizarre ectoplasmic apparitions of Conan Doyle which were published seven years after Hamilton’s death. [82] Like Conan Doyle, Hamilton did not like to be referred to as a Spiritualist and sought only “to build one more buttress for faith in God and immortality!” [83]

Whereas some of the psychic phenomena recorded by the Hamilton circle baffled even some of the experts, [84] the ectoplasmic photographs depict ectoplasm that bears little or no resemblance to the type described in literature with which Hamilton must have been acquainted. [85] The apparitions of Conan Doyle are so obviously fraudulent—they look remarkably like photographs placed on cotton and gauze—that one must question either the judgment or sincerity of Hamilton and his circle. [86] Even believers in the supernatural recognize that “when genuine psychic phenomena do not come along when expected, (mediums) will slip into prevarication or lies” and that the “whole area of mediumship is shot through with fraud and truth alike—sometimes the fraud is unconscious ...” [87] Yet, some also “Favor that which pleases” and “ignore evidence or points of view which upset.” [88] When “proofs” are advanced and found wanting, it is sometimes too late to retreat or it is too difficult to admit that one has been duped.

1931 photograph of a Winnipeg medium with an obviously fraudulent ectoplasmic “apparition” of Conan Doyle one year after the author’s death.
Source: University of Manitoba, Archives and Special Collections, T. G. Hamilton Collection

There is no evidence that either Conan Doyle or Hamilton knowingly perpetrated fraud. In fact, it is difficult to imagine that Conan Doyle would have associated himself with anything unless he believed it was absolutely trustworthy. Yet, it is ironic that Conan Doyle and Hamilton, both doctors, who were dedicated to finding the truth through objective and verifiable means, failed to scientifically evaluate all of their evidence in a manner which would have permitted them to admit that others had attempted to advance fraudulent evidence for what they knew to be a certain life after death. The “proof” they had substituted for “faith” became as much an impediment to conversion as the “dogmas” of mainstream religion which they had attempted to supplant. The next generation, which Conan Doyle had hoped would embrace Spiritualism, rejected it, not because of Spiritualism’s teachings concerning the afterlife, but because the “proofs” were not convincing.


The author wishes to thank the University of Manitoba for a research grant to complete this paper. He also wishes to thank Dr. Richard Bennett of the University of Manitoba and Dr. Olivier Dessemontet of the Foundation Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and the Bibliothhque Cantonale et universitaire, Lausanne, Switzerland, for permission to do research in their collection.

1. A short account of Conan Doyle’s four trips to North America is contained in Howard Lachtman, Sherlock Slept Here (Santa Barbara: Capra Press, 1985).

2. An interesting description of Conan Doyle’s 1894 trip to North America is contained in Christopher Redmond, Welcome to America, Mr. Sherlock Holmes, Victorian America Meets Arthur Conan Doyle (Toronto: Simon & Pierre, 1987). Conan Doyle’s agent for this speaking tour was J. B. Pond, a former reporter for the Salt Lake Tribune, whose first client was Ann Eliza Young, a former plural wife of Brigham Young who divorced the Mormon patriarch, published a book and began a speaking tour. Major Pond’s records from Conan Doyle’s 1894 speaking tour and others is kept in the Berg Collection of the New York Public Library. See, J. B. Pond, Eccentricities of Genius (New York: G.W. Dillingham Co., 1900), pp. xvii-xxvi, 503-09.

3. Conan Doyle relates his experiences during his 1914 tour in A. Conan Doyle, Memories and Adventures (London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1924), pp. 294-310. The chapter, “To the Rocky Mountains in 1914,” was eliminated in the second edition published in 1930. See also, Arthur Conan Doyle, “Western Wanderings II,” Cornhill Magazine (February 1915), p. 145.

4. Conan Doyle wrote in Memories and Adventures that “I do not suppose the average Briton has the least conception of the amenities of Winnipeg. He would probably be surprised to hear that the Fort Garry Hotel there is nearly as modern and luxurious as any hotel in Northumberland Avenue” Memories and Adventures, pp. 304-05. Since the book was written in 1924, the year after his second trip to North America and his second trip to Winnipeg, it is unclear if Conan Doyle had previously stayed at the Fort Garry Hotel in 1914 before staying there in 1924. He certainly could have since the hotel was finished in 1913 and was built by the same railway company that transported he and his wife across Canada.

5. An account of Conan Doyle’s trip in 1922 is contained in Arthur Conan Doyle, Our American Adventure (London: Hodder & Stoughton, Ltd., 1922).

6. Conan Doyle’s 1923 adventures are contained in Arthur Conan Doyle, Our Second American Adventure (Boston: Little, Brown & Co., 1924). During the last decade of his life, Conan Doyle spent vast sums of money and travelled many thousands of miles to proselyte the Spiritualist cause in Australia and New Zealand (1920-21); United States and Canada (1922-23); France (1925); South Africa, Rhodesia, Uganda, Tanganyika and Kenya (1928-29); Scandinavia and Holland (1929); and, of course, England (1916-30).

7. In a 1927 filmed interview, Conan Doyle said that the two subjects he was most frequently asked about were Sherlock Holmes and Spiritualism. (Transcript in possession of author.)

8. Jon L. Lellenberg, “Introduction: The Quest for Sir Arthur Conan Doyle” in The Quest for Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, edited by Jon L. Lellenberg (Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1987): p. 11. See also Kelvin I. Jones, Conan Doyle and the Spirits, The Spiritualist Career of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (Wellingborough: Aquarian Press, 1989), p. 191.

9. Memories and Adventures, p. 27.

10. Arthur Conan Doyle, Letters to the Press, edited by John M. Gibson and Richard L. Green (Iowa City: University of Iowa Press, 1986), pp. 25-27 (2 July 1887); Kelvin I. Jones, Conan Doyle and the Spirits The Spiritualist Career of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (Wellingborough: The Aquarian Press, 1989), pp. 64-65, 238.

11. Letters to the Press, 25-27.

12. Arthur Conan Doyle, “The Adventure of the Naval Treaty”, Strand Magazine 6 (December 1893): 392-403.

13. Even after Conan Doyle took up the torch for Spiritualism, he continued to write Sherlock Holmes stories, to earn money for his proselyting activities. As already noted, he wrote two Sherlock Holmes books after 1916, His Last Bow in 1917 and The Case-Book of Sherlock Holmes in 1927. Both collections contain stories with Spiritualist and religious overtones.

14. Winnipeg Evening Tribune, July 2, 1923. Several days later in an advertisement by Russell-Lang’s Books it was noted that “Winnipeg has a distinguished guest today in the person of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, creator of the famous Sherlock Holmes. Sir Arthur is now the High Priest of Spiritualism and his lectures are attended by great crowds” Three of Conan Doyle’s books were offered for sale: The Vital Message, The New Revelation, and The Coming of the Fairies. Manitoba Free Press, July 4, 1923, p. 13.

15. New York Herald, April 10, 1923.

16. The Rocky Mountain News, May 9, 1923. Throughout the last decade of his life, Conan Doyle asserted that the rational Holmes would not have been opposed to Spiritualism:

I presume that since I am the only begetter of that aver-rated character, I must have some strain of my nature which corresponds with him. Let me assume this. In that case, I would say (and you may file the same for reference) that of all the facts of clear thinking which Holmes ever performed, by far the greatest was when he saw that a despised and ridiculed subject was in very truth a great new revelation and an epic-making event in the world’s history. Letters to the Press, pp. 312-14.

17. Los Angeles Times, May 15, 1923 (quoted in Lachtman, p. 84).

18. Edmonton Journal, June 16, 1923.

19. Arthur Conan Doyle, His Last Bow (London: John Murray, 1917).

20. See footnote 4.

21. For a short summary of Hamilton’s life see, Margaret Lillian Hamilton, Is Survival a Fact? (London: Psychic Press, Ltd., 1969), pp. 14-50; T. Glen Hamilton, 2nd ed. Intention and Survival (Winnipeg: M. L. Hamilton, 1977), pp. xiii-xxxiii. See also, A. E. Rodin, Audrey Kerr, and J. D. Key, “Thomas Glen Hamilton M.D. EA.C.S., Winnipeg Physician, Politician and Spiritualist,” Manitoba Medicine 60:3 (Fall 1990): 121-24; Alvin E. Rodin, Audrey M. Kerr, and Jack D. Key, “Kindred Souls: The Meeting of Drs. Arthur Conan Doyle and Thomas Hamilton” CMAJ 135 (Sept. 15, 1986), pp. 1216-1217.

22. Our Second American Adventure, pp. 226-27.

23. Our Second American Adventure, p. 227.

24. Seance Registers and Notes, T. G. Hamilton Collection, Elizabeth Dafoe Library, University of Manitoba. But, see, T. Glen Hamilton, “The C. H. Spurgeon Case;” Light (October 6, 1933), p. 628.

25. Seance Registers and Notes, T. G. Hamilton Collection, Elizabeth Dafoe Library, University of Manitoba.

26. Ibid.

27. Our Second American Adventure, p. 227.

28. Owen Dudley Edwards, The Quest for Sherlock Holmes (Edinbourgh: Mainstream Publishing Company, 1983), p. 14.

29. Hesketh Pearson, Conan Doyle, His Life and Art (London: Methuen & Company, Ltd., 1943), p. 74. A copy of this review was kept by Conan Doyle and pasted in a scrapbook he kept in Southsea. The scrapbook is presently located at the Bibliothhque Cantonale et universitaire, in Lausanne, Switzerland.

30. Robert Louis Stevenson, “Story of the Destroying Angel,” in The Dynamiter (London: H. Holt & Company, 1885).

31. A. Conan Doyle, “Mr. Stevenson’s Methods in Fiction;” National Review XIV (January 1890): 648.

32. Memories and Adventures, p. 254.

33. Our Second American Adventure, pp. 227-28.

34. Our Second American Adventure, p. 224.

35. Winnipeg Evening Tribune, July 3, 1923.

36. “Conan Doyle in Winnipeg,” Winnipeg Evening Tribune, July 3, 1923, p. 4.

37. Winnipeg Evening Tribune, July 3, 1923.

38. Winnipeg Evening Bulletin, July 3, 1923.

39. Winnipeg Evening Tribune, July 3, 1923, p. 9.

40. Winnipeg Evening News, July 3, 1923.

41. Winnipeg Evening Tribune, July 3, 1923.

42. Ibid.

43. Ibid.

44. San Francisco Journal, June 7, 1923.

45. Winnipeg Evening Tribune, July 4, 1923.

46. Manitoba Free Press, July 4, 1923. See also William Paul Thompson, Winnipeg Architecture (Winnipeg: Queenston House, 1982). Contemporary newspaper accounts indicated that the Walker Theater had space for approximately 1,800 people. Thompson lists its capacity at 2,000.

47. Manitoba Free Press, July 4, 1923.

48. Winnipeg Evening Tribune, July 4, 1923.

49. Manitoba Free Press, July 4, 1923.

50. Winnipeg Evening Tribune, July 4, 1923.

51. Manitoba Free Press, July 4, 1923.

52. Winnipeg Evening Tribune, July 4, 1923.

53. Arthur Conan Doyle, The Coming of the Fairies (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1922).

54. Arthur Conan Doyle, “The Cottingley Fairies. An Epilogue,” Strand Magazine 65 (February 1923): 105.

55. Manitoba Free Press, July 4, 1923. The book was on sale at Russell-Lang’s Books. See, footnote 14.

56. Letters to the Press, p. 310.

57. Winnipeg Evening Tribune, July 4, 1923.

58. Manitoba Free Press, July 4, 1923.

59. Our Second American Adventure, p. 228. It is unclear who participated in this “strange circle” Hamilton’s daughter did not know when asked in 1985. See correspondence from Alvin R. Rodin to M. H. Bach, October 16, 1985 and response from Margaret H. Bach to A. E. Rodin, November 3, 1983, located in T. G. Hamilton Collection, Elizabeth Dafoe Library, University of Manitoba.

60. Ibid., p. 230.

61. Ibid., p. 229.

62. Ibid., p. 229.

63. Ibid., p. 230.

64. Ibid.

65. Ibid.

66. Winnipeg Evening Tribune, July 4, 1923.

67. Our Second American Adventure, p. 231.

68. Arthur Conan Doyle, Pheneas Speaks (London: The Psychic Press and Bookshop, 1927).

69. Jones, pp. 189-91, 206-07.

70. Arthur Conan Doyle, The Coming of the Fairies (London: The Psychic Press, 1928).

71. Kelvin I. Jones, pp. 189-91, 206-07.

72. See Arthur Conan Doyle, Our African Winter (London: John Murray, 1929), p. 119. See also, Joe Cooper, The Case of the Cottingley Fairies (London: Robert Hale, 1990), pp. 80-81, 103; James Randi, Flim-Flam. Psychics, ESP, Unicorns and Other Delusions (Buffalo: Prometheus Books, 1982), pp. 12-41.

73. Arthur Conan Doyle, “The Adventure of the Creeping Man,” Strand Magazine 65 (March 1923): 211-24.

74. Arthur Conan Doyle, “The Adventure of the Retired Colourman,” Strand Magazine 73 (January 1927): 3-12.

75. Arthur Conan Doyle, “The Adventure of the Veiled Lodger,” Strand Magazine 73 (February 1927): 109-16.

76. Arthur Conan Doyle, The Land of Mist (London: Hutchinson & Co., 1926).

77. A whole battery of cameras were placed on one wall of the room used for seances. See, T. Glen Hamilton, Intention and Survival, 2nd ed. (Winnipeg: M. L. Hamilton, 1977), pp. 22-23. The Hamilton home where the experiments took place is now owned by a religious group, the Mennonites, which operate it as a gift shop.

78. Intention and Survival, pp. xx.-xxvii.

79. See, Register of the Thomas Glendenning Hamilton Collection, Elizabeth Dafoe Library, University of Manitoba, pp. 34-35.

80. See correspondence from Jean Conan Doyle to Dr. Glen Hamilton, July 28, 1932; correspondence from Jean Conan Doyle to Mrs. Glen Hamilton, August 10, 1932, November 21, 1932. These three letters are located in the T. G. Hamilton Collection, Elizabeth Dafoe Library, University of Manitoba.

81. T. G. Hamilton, “Reality of Psychic Force,” Light IV: 2818 (Jan. 10, 1935), pp. 17-18.

82. T. Glen Hamilton, Intention and Survival (Toronto: The MacMillan Company of Canada Limited, 1942). Lady Conan Doyle sent a letter of condolences to Mrs. Glen Hamilton on May 27, 1935. It is located in the T. G. Hamilton Collection, Elizabeth Dafoe Library, University of Manitoba.

83. Intention and Survival, p. xxix.

84. In 1926, J. Malcolm Bird, a one-time assistant editor of The Scientific American and, at the time, official investigator for the American Society for Psychical Research, visited Hamilton’s circle in Winnipeg and was apparently impressed by Mrs. Poole’s telekinetic powers. See, Intention and Survival, p. xx.

85. Conan Doyle’s Book, The History of Spiritualism (London: Cassell & Co., Ltd., 1926) contains a chapter on ectoplasm. Ectoplasm is described as an extraordinary gelatinous material which oozes from a medium’s mouth, ears, nose, eyes, and skin.

When touched, or when undue light came upon it, it writhed back into the body as swiftly and steadily as the tentacles of a hidden octopus. (The History of Spiritualism, II: 102-103). Conan Doyle also quotes the works of W. J. Crawford who would have been of interest to the Hamiltons in as much as they were trying to replicate his experiments. (The History of Spiritualism, II: 110-113.)

Crawford describes ectoplasm as a “whitish, translucent, nebulous matter.” Nonetheless, Conan Doyle also quotes Dr. Geley, whose ectoplasm is more similar to the Hamilton’s since it may occur “in various forms”:

The most usual origin, which most easily observed, is that from the mouth .... The substance occurs in various forms, sometimes as docile dough, sometimes as a true protoplastic mass, sometimes in the form of numerous thin threads, sometimes as cords of various thicknesses, or in the form of narrow ridged rays, or as a broad band, as a membrane, as a fabric, or as a woven material, with indefinite and irregular outlines. The most curious appearance is presented by a widely expanded membrane, provide with fringes and rucks, and resembling in appearance a net. A History of Spiritualism, II: 113.

86. The second teleplasm of Arthur Conan Doyle appears extraordinarily similar to a photograph of Conan Doyle which appears in one of his own books published the same year he visited Winnipeg. The Case for Spirit Photography (New York: George H. Doran, 1923). In Figure 5 there is a photograph of members of the SSSP, including Conan Doyle. Of course, Conan Doyle’s book would have been of interest to the Hamiltons since it contained a chapter about William J. Crawford who they were interested in and whose experiments they were attempting to replicate.

87. Cooper, p. 66.

88. Cooper, p. 75.

Page revised: 29 August 2014

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