Maskelyne, John Nevil (1839–1917)
Famous British stage magician who was a strong opponent
of fraudulent Spiritualism. Born at Cheltenham, Gloucestershire,
December 22, 1839, he was the son of a saddlemaker. As
a boy he was fascinated by an entertainer who demonstrated
spinning plates and practiced this feat himself. He was apprenticed
to a clockmaker and at the age of 19 made his first piece
of conjuring apparatus, a box with a secret panel. By 1865 he
was giving demonstrations of amateur conjuring. After seeing
the performance of the famous Davenport brothers, he believed
that he had observed trickery, and to prove his case he
went into partnership with George Alfred Cooke to build a cabinet
similar to that of the Davenports and rival their phenomena.
Maskelyne and Cooke were launched on a career of stage
magic and leased the Egyptian Hall in London for their entertainments.
By 1905 Maskelyne was in partnership with fellow
illusionist David Devant (born David Wighton) at St. George’s
Hall, Langham Place, in West London, where they based many
of their presentations of the claimed phenomena of Spiritualism.
In 1906 he was involved in a controversy with Spiritualist
sympathizer Archdeacon Thomas Colley, who had challenged
him to reproduce the phenomena of medium F. W. Monck (incidentally
exposed in fraud). Maskelyne staged a remarkable
illusion, but Colley claimed it fell short of the requirements of
his challenge. After a court case, Colley’s claim was upheld, perhaps
surprisingly in view of opposition to Spiritualism at that
time.
He died on May 18, 1917, in London.
Encyclopedia of Occultism & Parapsychology • 5th Ed. Maskelyne, John Nevil
985
Sources
Maskelyne, John N. The Fraud of Modern ‘‘Theosophy’’ Exposed.
London G. Routledge, 1913.
———. Modern Spiritualism A Short Account of Its Rise and
Progress, with Some Exposures of So-Called Spirit Media. London
F. Warne, 1876.

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