Richard Hodgson (parapsychologist)

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Richard Hodgson
Richard Hodgson psychical researcher.png
Born(1855-09-24)24 September 1855
Died21 December 1905(1905-12-21) (aged 50)[1][2]
Boston, Massachusetts, United States
OccupationPsychical researcher

Richard Hodgson (24 September 1855 – 21 December 1905) was an Australian-born psychical researcher who investigated spiritualist mediums such as Eusapia Palladino and Leonora Piper. During his later life, Hodgson became a spiritualist medium himself and believed to be in communication with spirits.


Hodgson was born in Melbourne, Australia on 24 September 1855 to Mr. R. Hodgson, leather merchant of Melbourne. He received a doctor of law degree in 1878 from the University of Melbourne. In the 1880s he moved to England to study poetry at St John's College, Cambridge. Hodgson met Henry Sidgwick his professor at Cambridge and became a member of the Society for Psychical Research (SPR) in 1882.[3] Hodgson joined the American Society for Psychical Research in 1887 to serve as its secretary.[4]

Hodgson was sent by the SPR in 1884 to India to investigate Helena Blavatsky and concluded that her claims of psychic power were fraudulent.[5] Among the phenomena that Hodgson investigated was the supposed miraculous Theosophical letters from the Mahatmas which were said to magically appear over a four-year period in a cabinet in the Shrine Room at the Theosophical headquarters in Madras.[6] Hodgson in his report wrote that the letters were frauds and had been written by Blavatsky herself who had put them in the cabinet from an opening in her bedroom located behind the Shrine room.[6] Although a believer in mental mediumship, Hodgson was a critic of physical mediumship which he claimed was fraudulent. Some of the mediums that he exposed as frauds were William Eglinton, Eusapia Palladino, Henry Slade and Rosina Thompson.[7]

A. T. Baird author of the book Richard Hodgson published by Psychic Press Limited, London in 1949 is the only biography of Hodgson. Joseph McCabe praised the work of Hodgson in debunking fraudulent mediums but wrote he was credulous on his study of Leonora Piper.[8]

Eusapia Palladino[edit]

The psychical researcher Charles Richet with Oliver Lodge, Frederic W. H. Myers and Julian Ochorowicz investigated the medium Eusapia Palladino in the summer of 1894 at his house in the Ile Roubaud in the Mediterranean. Richet claimed furniture moved during the séance and that some of the phenomena was the result of a supernatural agency.[9] However, Hodgson claimed there was inadequate control during the séances and the precautions described did not rule out trickery. Hodgson wrote all the phenomena "described could be account for on the assumption that Eusapia could get a hand or foot free." Lodge, Myers and Richet disagreed, but Hodgson was later proven correct in the Cambridge sittings as Palladino was observed to have used tricks exactly the way he had described them.[9]

In July 1895, Hodgson was invited to England to Myers' house in Cambridge for a series of investigations into the mediumship of Palladino.[9] According to reports by Hodgson, Myers and Oliver Lodge, all the phenomena observed in the Cambridge sittings were the result of trickery. Her fraud was so clever, according to Myers, that it "must have needed long practice to bring it to its present level of skill."[10]

In the Cambridge sittings the results proved disastrous for her mediumship. During the séances Palladino was caught cheating in order to free herself from the physical controls of the experiments.[9] Palladino was found liberating her hands by placing the hand of the controller on her left on top of the hand of the controller on her right. Instead of maintaining any contact with her, the observers on either side were found to be holding each other's hands and this made it possible for her to perform tricks.[11] Hodgson had observed Palladino free a hand to move objects and use her feet to kick pieces of furniture in the room. Because of the discovery of fraud, the British SPR investigators such as Henry Sidgwick and Frank Podmore considered Palladino's mediumship to be permanently discredited and because of her fraud she was banned from any further experiments with the SPR in Britain.[11]

In 1898, Myers was invited to a series of séances in Paris with Charles Richet. In contrast to the previous séances in which he had observed fraud he claimed to have observed convincing phenomena.[12] Sidgwick reminded Myers of Palladino's trickery in the previous investigations as "overwhelming" but Myers did not change his position. This enraged Hodgson, then editor of SPR publications to ban Myers from publishing anything on his recent sittings with Palladino in the SPR journal. Hodgson was convinced Palladino was a fraud and supported Sidgwick in the "attempt to put that vulgar cheat Eusapia beyond the pale."[12] It wasn't until the 1908 sittings in Naples that the SPR reopened the Palladino file.[13]

Leonora Piper[edit]

Hodgson was one of the very few psychical researchers who believed Leonora Piper's controls were spirits.[14] In February, 1895 Dean Bridgman Connor a young electrician died of typhoid fever in an American Hospital in Mexico. His death was notified to his parents living in Burlington, Vermont. Connor's father claimed to have experienced a dream that his son was not dead, but alive and held captive in Mexico. There was publicity over the incident and Hodgson consulted Piper in which she gave several séances. It was alleged that Piper's spirit control claimed Conner was alive in a lunatic asylum kept by a "Dr. Cintz".[15]

Anthony Philpott a journalist for The Boston Globe travelled to Mexico to investigate the incident but could find no lunatic asylum or Dr. Cintz as described by Piper's control. Philpott visited the hospital where Connor was reported to have died and interviewed the nurse Helen Smith (Mrs. F. U. Winn) in Tuxpan, Veracruz who attended Connor and she confirmed he had died of typhoid fever in the hospital.[16] On his return to Boston, Hodgson would not believe Philpott and insisted that Connor was alive and that if he had the money he would go to Mexico and find him. Philpott offered to pay his expenses and advertised the offer, however Hodgson declined the offer and did not go to Mexico.[15] Due to the incorrect information the Dean Connor case has been described as an incident that has cast doubt on Piper's alleged ability to contact the dead.[17]

Deborah Blum has written that Hodgson was personally obsessed with Piper. Hodgson would stand outside her house, observing her for long periods of time even in the winter blizzards of 1888.[18] The American psychologist Morton Prince who knew Hodgson well commented that the mediumship of Piper had "wrecked" his mind.[19]

Hodgson, during the latter days of his life, would allow no one to enter the privacy of his room in 15 Charles Street. During these years Hodgson believed that he constantly received direct communication with the regular band of spirits in charge of Piper. He received these messages when alone in the evening. He allowed no one to enter his room. Hodgson was afraid they would disturb the "magnetic atmosphere".[20] He told very few people about this.[21] Hodgson's lover, Jessie D., died in 1879.[22]

In a séance Piper's control told Hodgson he would get married, have two children and have a long life but Hodgson died a few months later, unmarried and childless.[23] After the death of Hodgson between December 1905 and the beginning of 1908 Piper held about seventy séances during which the spirit of Hodgson was said to have communicated through her.[24] However the control of Piper sounded nothing like Hodgson. According to Joseph McCabe "when Hodgson died in 1905 and left a large amount of manuscript in cipher, she could not get the least clue to it. When friends put test questions to the spirit of Hodgson about his early life in Australia, the answers were all wrong."[8] The Hodgson control was asked the name of his schoolmaster in Melbourne but failed to give the correct answer, Hodgson's sister who was sent the messages was not convinced they were from Hodgson.[25] Before he died Hodgson had written a test letter, and claimed that if he was to communicate through Piper he would reveal the contents inside the letter. Piper's Hodgson control failed to reveal the test letter.[26]

Joseph McCabe stated Hodgson was an unreliable source on account of a letter he saw in the 2nd edition Spiritualism and Oliver Lodge by Dr. Charles Arthur Mercier, from a cousin of George Pellew to Edward Clodd, alleging that Hodgson claimed that Professor Fiske from his séance with Piper was "absolutely convinced" Piper's control was the real George Pellew, but that when Pellew's brother contacted Fiske about it, he replied it was "a lie" as Piper had been "silent or entirely wrong" on all his questions.[27] Alan Gauld, referring to this letter as published by Clodd, stated that it was "wholly unreliable", noted that Hodgson in his original report wrote that Fiske had a negative attitude, and noted that Hodgson himself considered the Fiske sittings to be of no evidential value.[28]

The psychologist and psychical researcher James Hyslop dedicated his 1905 book Science and a Future Life, a study of the mediumship of Piper, to Hodgson, writing that Hodgson's research led him to the conclusions defended in the book.[29]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "OBITUARY: MR. RICHARD HODGSON.: AN OLD MELBOURNIAN". The Advertiser. Vol. XLVIII, no. 14, 722. South Australia. 23 December 1905. p. 9. Retrieved 17 August 2017 – via National Library of Australia.
  2. ^ "THE LATE DR. HODGSON". The Express and Telegraph. Vol. XLIII, no. 12, 679. South Australia. 26 December 1905. p. 3. Retrieved 17 August 2017 – via National Library of Australia.
  3. ^ Raymond Buckland. (2006). The Spirit Book: The Encyclopedia of Clairvoyance, Channeling, and Spirit Communication. Visible Ink Press. p. 177. ISBN 978-0780809222
  4. ^ Rosemary Guiley. (1994). The Guinness Encyclopedia of Ghosts and Spirits. Guinness Publishing. p. 164. ISBN 978-0851127484
  5. ^ Nevill Drury. (2006). The Dictionary of the Esoteric: 3000 Entries on the Mystical and Occult. Watkins. p. 144. ISBN 978-1842931080
  6. ^ a b John Melton. (2007). The Encyclopedia of Religious Phenomena. Visible Ink Press. pp. 210-211. ISBN 978-1578592098
  7. ^ Joseph McCabe. (1920). Spiritualism: A Popular History from 1847. Dodd, Mead and Company. pp. 176-210
  8. ^ a b Joseph McCabe. (1920). Is Spiritualism Based On Fraud? The Evidence Given By Sir A. C. Doyle and Others Drastically Examined. London: Watts & Co. pp. 101-105
  9. ^ a b c d Walter Mann. (1919). The Follies and Frauds of Spiritualism. Rationalist Association. London: Watts & Co. pp. 115-130
  10. ^ Joseph McCabe. (1920). Is Spiritualism Based on Fraud?: The Evidence Given by Sir A.C. Doyle and Others. London, Watts & Co. p. 14
  11. ^ a b M. Brady Brower. (2010). Unruly Spirits: The Science of Psychic Phenomena in Modern France. University of Illinois Press. p. 62. ISBN 978-0252077517
  12. ^ a b Janet Oppenheim. (1985). The Other World: Spiritualism and Psychical Research in England, 1850-1914. Cambridge University Press. pp. 150-151. ISBN 978-0521265058
  13. ^ Massimo Polidoro. (2003). Secrets of the Psychics: Investigating Paranormal Claims. Prometheus Books. p. 61. ISBN 978-1591020868
  14. ^ Clark Bell, Thomson Jay Hudson. (1904). Spiritism, Hypnotism and Telepathy: As Involved in the Case of Mrs. Leonora E. Piper and the Society for Psychical Research. Medico-Legal Journal.
  15. ^ a b Edward Clodd. (1917). The Question: A Brief History and Examination of Modern Spiritualism. Grant Richards, London. pp. 208-209
  16. ^ Milbourne Christopher. (1979). Search for the Soul. Thomas Y. Crowell, Publishers. p. 167
  17. ^ Andrew Neher. (2011). Paranormal and Transcendental Experience: A Psychological Examination. Dover Publications. pp. 217-218. ISBN 978-0486261676
  18. ^ Deborah Blum. (2006). Ghost Hunters: William James and the Search for Scientific Proof of Life After Death. Penguin Books. p. 142. ISBN 978-0143038955
  19. ^ Janet Oppenheim. (1985). The Other World: Spiritualism and Psychical Research in England, 1850-1914. Cambridge University Press. p. 376. ISBN 978-0521265058
  20. ^ Hereward Carrington. (1930). Story of Psychic Science. London: Rider & Co. p. 266
  21. ^ Alex Baird. (1949). The Life of Richard Hodgson. Psychic Press Limited, London. pp. 301-302
  22. ^ Alex Baird. (1949). The Life of Richard Hodgson. Psychic Press Limited, London. p. 3
  23. ^ James Randi. (1997). Leonora Piper in An Encyclopedia of Claims, Frauds, and Hoaxes of the Occult and Supernatural. St. Martin's Griffin. ISBN 978-0312151195
  24. ^ Francesca Bordogna. (2008). William James at the Boundaries: Philosophy, Science, and the Geography of Knowledge. University Of Chicago Press. p. 126. ISBN 978-0226066523
  25. ^ Frank Podmore. (1911). The Newer Spiritualism. Henry Holt and Company. p. 224
  26. ^ Joseph Rinn. (1950). Sixty Years of Psychical Research: Houdini and I Among the Spiritualists. Truth Seeker Company. p. 246
  27. ^ Joseph McCabe. (1920). Is Spiritualism Based On Fraud? The Evidence Given By Sir A. C. Doyle and Others Drastically Examined. London: Watts & Co. pp. 101-105
  28. ^ Alan Gauld. (1968). Founders of Psychical Research. Schocken Books. pp. 361-363
  29. ^ Hyslop, James. (1905). Science and a Future Life. Boston : H.B. Turner & Co.

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