Bailey, Charles (1870–1947)
Famous apport medium of Melbourne, Australia, discussed
for years both in Australia and in Europe. Though repeatedly
caught in fraud, he was able to continue work with a small
group of believers until shortly before his death. Bailey was a
bootmaker by trade when he began his mediumship in 1889.
For many years he was the private medium of Thomas Welton
Stanford, a Melbourne millionaire, who made a collection of
Bailey’s apports, the first museum of its kind. It is preserved at
Stanford University, Palo Alto, California, to which he gave an
endowment of $50,000 for psychical research in 1911.
Public attention for Bailey’s phenomena was aroused in
1902 by accounts published in the Harbinger of Light. In 1904
the records of a long series of experiments appeared in Rigid
Tests of the Occult by Dr. C. W. McCarthy, one of the leading
medical men of Sydney. The conditions of these experiments
were severe. The medium was searched, stripped, sometimes
dressed in a new suit, tied up in a sealed sack, with openings
for the hands to hold the apported object; on special occasions
the sitters were also searched and the medium was enclosed in
a cage with close mosquito netting. The doors were locked or
sealed, no furniture was kept in the room except chairs and a
table, the fireplace was blocked, and the only second floor window
was papered.
Immediately after Bailey went into trance, the controls took
charge of the phenomena. The chief control was a ‘‘Dr. Whitcombe,’’
sometime physician in Melbourne. Another, ‘‘Dr.
Robinson,’’ claimed to have been professor of Syro-Chaldaic
literature in New York. The apport of old coins and Babylonian
clay tablets with cuneiform inscriptions were apparently due to
him. A third control was a Hindu named ‘‘Abdul.’’ It was he
who actually brought the apports. A few minutes were sufficient,
and when light was produced, the medium was found to
hold a live bird and a nest in each hand. Many of these birds
were kept for days in cages. Sometimes they disappeared as
mysteriously as they came, and sometimes they died in captivity.
Once a live, shovel-nosed shark, 18 inches long, was brought
in. A crab, with dripping seaweed, was similarly apported. Another
time a long snake was found coiling around the medium’s
neck. On being covered with a cloth it disappeared in full light.
Undercover apports sometimes appeared in good visibility, or
were seen to drop from a height away from the medium. In McCarthy’s
cap, after being covered by a handkerchief, a turtle
was discovered. Another time he found a jewel in his hand
under a palm leaf.
The clay tablets and the Egyptian and Indian coins that Bailey
apported in abundance were submitted by McCarthy to the
Department of Egyptian and Assyrian Antiquities of the British
Museum. The tablets were pronounced imitations and the
coins genuine but of no rarity or value.
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle related his personal experiences
with Bailey in the History of Spiritualism (1926), adding that on
further inquiry it was found that these forgeries were made by
certain Jews in a suburb of Baghdad. He voiced the opinion
that a forgery, steeped in recent human magnetism, may be
more capable of being handled by the invisible operators than
the originals, which have to be searched for in mounds. Bailey
produced at least 100 such tablets and told Doyle that they were
passed as genuine by the British Museum.
At the sitting in question, besides an Assyrian tablet, Bailey
apported a jungle sparrow’s nest with an egg in it. The nest was
two inches high and showed no sign of any flattening, which
ought to have been the case had it been concealed on the medium’s
person.
On Marco Falcomer’s intervention, the Milan Society for
Psychical Studies made arrangements with Bailey for a European
visit. From February to April 1904, 17 sittings were held in
Milan. Bailey was put in a sleeved-sack of thin black satin. The
sack was fastened at the neck and wrist with tapes. The tapes
were tied and the knots were sealed. His coat and boots were
taken off, and the investigators felt over his body, especially in
hollow parts where objects could be hidden. Bailey, however,
refused to allow himself to be entirely undressed, saying he was
afraid of catching cold.
The apports consisted mostly of small articles two or three
live birds; a fish with an acrid, penetrating, saline odor; and a
Babylonian tablet enveloped in a hard coating of sand. Some
of the birds, nests, and eggs disappeared before the end of the
séance. In the dark Bailey demonstrated the rapid growth of a
seed in a flower pot and the presence of phosphorescent lights
and luminous shapes. The committee’s desire to have a specially
designated object transported from one room to another was
not realized.
The report, signed by Mr. Baccigaluppi, A. Brioschi, Dr.
Clericetti, O. Cipriana, Dr. F. Ferrari, A. Marzorati, Odorico,
Redealli, and Dr. E. Griffini, stated
‘‘The Committee . . . whilst it deplores (a) the medium’s
strange obstinacy in refusing to consent to allow himself to be
thoroughly undressed; (b) having been obliged to submit to
conditions of total darkness at the critical moment of the apport;
(c) having been unable, because of the short time accorded
the research and in consequence of the very nature
even of the phenomena, to apply any method which might enable
the Committee to state, precisely and scientifically, the
process and origin of the phenomena in question, is on the
other hand obliged to state (i) that during the course of seventeen
seances, notwithstanding the search of the medium’s person
by different individuals and by various methods, nothing
has ever been found which might justify the hypothesis of
fraud; that even admitting that for some of the phenomena an
approximate explanation might be found, as far as others are
concerned—e.g., the apport of living birds, the instantaneous
disappearance of a small bird, etc.—it does not seem possible
to formulate a likely explanation; (ii) that, moreover, the hypothesis
of suggestion becomes inadmissible if we take into
consideration the number of experimenters, who were constantly
being changed and who were differently seated each
time, as well as the material traces which were left of the phenomena.
Given this, the Committee, whilst making reserves on
the archaeological value of certain apports, believes it is able,
in principle, to come to a conclusion in favor of the objectivity
of the facts, and calls the attention of science to these phenomena
which find no sufficient explanation in recognised laws.’’
From Milan Bailey went on to Rome. After giving two seances
to Lady Butt he returned to Australia. Because the Milan
findings were criticized in many quarters, plans were set afoot
to induce Bailey to make a second European visit. It took some
years until the plan materialized.
On the invitation of Col. Eugene A. D. Rochas and W. Reichel,
Bailey came to Grenoble, where disaster overtook him. In
a séance held on February 20, 1910, two small live birds were
produced. A local dealer recognized in Bailey the man who
bought three similar birds from him two days previously. The
investigators claimed that he concealed the birds in his intestinal
opening as Bailey did not allow them to make examination
there. Matters were made worse by the statement of the Hindu
control that the birds came directly from India.
In 1911, under the auspices of Mrs. Foster-Turner, Bailey
came to London. In a test séance on July 6 before a committee
selected by Dr. Abraham Wallace in which the Society for PsyEncyclopedia
of Occultism & Parapsychology • 5th Ed. Bailey, Charles
145
chical Research was represented by two well-known members,
Bailey was undressed, examined, and shut into a cage. Several
controls came, a Hindu took possession, but when addressed in
Hindustani by a professor of Oriental languages, he immediately
subsided into broken English. Later a bird nest appeared
in the medium’s hand. The control, however, tore it asunder.
Two small eggs were also produced but they were broken by the
control when passing them to a member of the committee.
After the séance, the committee desired to examine the medium’s
boots more thoroughly, but he left the house, and as a result
an unfavorable verdict was returned. On July 28, at another
test sitting, during a period of complete darkness, two small
birds appeared between the mosquito netting that enveloped
the medium and the cabinet. However, toward the end of the
sitting the medium toppled over, and in falling he tore the network,
so the verdict was again ‘‘not proven’’ (Light September
1911; Journal of the Society for Psychical Research Vols. 12 &
15).
Back in Sydney there was another exposure scandal on
March 5, 1914. One of the sitters made a grab at a materialized
form and caught hold of the drapery. It was wrenched from his
hand, and the medium, sick and dazed, was carried to Dr. MacCarthy
for medical aid. In the same year Bailey sat for six weeks
in Rothesay, Scotland, for a circle selected by James Coates.
Coates reported in Light (August 1, 1914) that Bailey was not
only a genuine but a unique medium. They obtained apports
ruby sand and an Indian sparrow’s nest containing two eggs.
The eggs were in Coates’s possession for two weeks, and after
being blown, the contents were found fresh. Bailey was also induced
to try a trumpet. ‘‘The personal indication of the voices
was most convincing.’’ Impressions of hands and feet were also
obtained on plasticine.
In Psychic Research (June 1931), Harry Price published extracts
from a letter written to him by H. L. Williams, a retired
magistrate from the Punjab. According to this, Bailey was still
active and produced such objects as ‘‘a Saracen helmet of scale
armour, each scale (3,000 of them) a silver coin with inscription;
30 to 40 Chinese carved figures in ivory of exquisite workmanship
and draped in silk arranged to represent a royal
court, a complete mandarin’s robe which a friend of Williams
saw fall from the ceiling, live birds . . . Babylonian cuneiform
tablets . . . punic tablets, faience figures from Egypt, cut and
polished stone and coins, coins in gold, silver, and copper with
inscriptions in Sanskrit, Persian, and Arabic; plaster casts of
hands and feet of adults and children obtained from materialisations,
etc. Williams says that half the homes of Sydney are
stocked with these apports.’’ Bailey held daily seances and
charged a small fee only. It could not possibly cover the cost of
fraudulently producing such a wide variety of apports.
Bailey’s phenomena confounded many psychic researchers
in his own day. Given the more skeptical perspective produced
by continuous observation of physical mediums, of which only
a few remain, and the revelations of mediums like M. Lamar
Keene, it is difficult to see in Bailey anything other than a clever
stage magician and in the favorable reports of some observers
as the observations of those less competent in detecting fraud.
The simple fact remains that no one has been able to produce
apports under anything resembling controlled conditions, and
their existence is highly doubtful.
However, it seems that Bailey continued to give seances in
the late 1930s. According to Two Worlds (July 9, 1937), the author
and playwright H. Dennis Bradley communicated in a circle
in Manly, Australia, March 25, 1937, at which Charles Bailey
was the medium, and a ‘‘fraud-proof’’ instrument, the
‘‘Shastaphone,’’ was used.
Sources
Berger, Arthur S., and Joyce Berger. Encyclopedia of Parapsychology
and Psychical Research. New York Paragon House, 1991.
Doyle, Arthur Conan. History of Spiritualism. 2 vols. London
Cassele, 1926.
Irwin, H. J. ‘‘Charles Bailey A Biographical Study of the
Australian Apport Medium.’’ Journal of the Society for Psychical
Research 54 (1987) 97.
Keene, M. Lamar. The Psychic Mafia. New York St. Martin’s
Press, 1976.
McCarthy, C. W. Rigid Tests of the Occult. Melbourne, Australia
Stephens, 1904.
‘‘Mediumship of Mr. C. Bailey.’’ Journal of the Society for
Psychical Research 12 (1905) 77, 109.

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