Powell, Ellis T(homas) (1869–1922)
British barrister, journalist, and Spiritualist. Powell was born
in Ludlow, Shropshire, and educated at Ludlow Grammar
School. He served an apprenticeship to a draper in Ludlow,
then came to London, where he became a journalist on the Financial
News, eventually becoming editor. He mastered several
languages, including Hebrew, Greek, and Latin. In his spare
time, he studied law and became a barrister. Powell was a fellow
of the Royal Historical and Royal Economic Societies, the Institute
of Journalists, and the Royal Colonial Institute (member
of council). He lectured at the London School of Economics
and Political Science (University of London).
Powell became a supporter of the Spiritualist movement,
traveling throughout Britain and lecturing on psychic subjects.
He was a member of the British College of Psychic Science
and was a council member of the London Spiritualist Alliance.
He frequently contributed to the Spiritualist journal Light.
As a good friend of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Powell’s name
figured in the séance conducted by Doyle and his wife for
Harry Houdini. In 1922, when the Doyles were in Atlantic
City, they met Houdini on the sea front. Lady Jean Doyle offered
to give Houdini an automatic writing séance. This took
place at the Ambassador Hotel, where they were staying.
Lady Doyle produced automatic writing purporting to come
from Houdini’s dead mother. At the end of the message, Houdini
took up the pencil and wrote on the pad—the name ‘‘Powell.’’
This convinced Doyle that Houdini was a medium, since
his friend Ellis Powell had died a few days earlier. Houdini later
stated the message claimed to be from his mother was not evidential,
since she would have been unable to communicate in
fluent English, moreover he had been thinking of Frederick
Eugene Powell, a fellow stage magician.
As a barrister, Powell brought his legal training to the problem
of what he termed the ‘‘barbaric legislation’’ against mediums,
campaigning to amend the Witchcraft Act of George II,
still used against mediums during the twentieth century. He
died June 1, 1922.
Sources
Pleasants, Helene, ed. Biographical Dictionary of Parapsychology.
New York Helix Press, 1964.
Powell, Ellis T. The Essentials of Self-Government. N.p., 1909.
———. The Mechanism of the City. London P. S. King & Son,
1910.
———. The Practical Affairs of Life. N.p., 1918.
———. The Psychic Element of the New Testament. N.p, n.d