Stead, William T(homas) (1849–1912)
British editor, journalist, publicist, and champion of Spiritualism.
He was born July 5, 1849, at Embleton, Northumberland,
England, the son of a Congregationalist minister. He was
first educated by his father, then attended school in Wakefield.
In 1863, Stead left school to apprentice in a merchant’s
countinghouse in Newcastle-on-Tyne. At the age of eighteen,
he was impressed by the poems of James Russell Lowell and resolved
to dedicate his life to helping other people. Throughout
his subsequent career as an editor, he campaigned for truth
and justice. In 1880, while editing the Northern Echo at Darlington,
England, he protested against the Bulgarian atrocities.
The Pall Mall Gazette of London, a pro-Turk paper, unexpectedly
changed owners, and he was offered the post of assistant
editor. Three years later, he received full control of the paper.
Stead founded the Review of Reviews in 1890. His interest in
psychic subjects was first demonstrated in the publication (as
the Christmas issue of the Review of Reviews) of his book Real
Ghost Stories in 1891. Next year it was followed by More Ghost
Stories.
In 1892, Stead believed he discovered his ability to receive
communications in automatic writing. This was the beginning
of his psychic activities. Stead claimed proof of survival in the
form of a message received through his hands, from Julia
Ames. Ames was a journalist acquaintance and editor of The
Woman’s Union Signal of Chicago, who had died shortly before.
On March 14, 1893, in an address to members of the London
Spiritualist Alliance, Stead made his first public confession of
faith, narrating the details of his discoveries and early psychic
experiences.
Reportedly, a communication from ‘‘Julia’’ suggested he
could obtain automatic scripts from living friends as well. He
noted,
‘‘I put my hand at the disposal of friends at various degrees
of distance, and I found that, although the faculty varied, some
friends could write extremely well, imitating at first the style of
their own handwriting, sometimes for the first few words until
they had more or less established their identity, and then going
on to write exactly as they would write an ordinary letter. They
would write what they were thinking about—whether they
wanted to see me, or where they had been.’’
In 1893, Stead began publication of Borderland, a quarterly
psychic magazine that ran until 1897, in which the ‘‘Letters
from Julia’’ he had obtained automatically were published for
the first time. They were printed in a book in 1897 under the
title After Death.
Stead was assisted in the editorial work by Miss X. (Ada
Goodrich-Freer, later Mrs. Hans Spoer). In her notes on the
origin of Borderland she stated
‘‘Mr. Stead was as definitely spiritualist as I was definitely an
anti-spiritualist. He believed in everybody until they were
found out, and often afterwards, and he would seek to introduce
into Borderland the lucubrations of people at whom as a
disciple of Lavater I shuddered.’’
For the 1893 Christmas issue of Review of Reviews, Stead
wrote a story entitled ‘‘From the Old World to the New,’’ a fiction
concerning the dangers of icebergs in the Atlantic Ocean.
The story is set on a ship named the Majestic with Captain
Smith as commander. Reportedly, this is the same Captain
Smith who 21 years later goes down with the Titanic. The narrative
pictures the sinking of the liner and depicts the Atlantic
Ocean as a grave.
Stead’s eldest son, Willie, died in December 1907. It is believed
this incident demonstrated to him the need for consoling
the bereaved. Reportedly, ‘‘Julia’’ always urged Stead to establish
a ‘‘bureau’’ where free communication with the Beyond
should serve inquirers.
Julia’s Bureau was opened on April 24, 1909. A small circle
of sensitives supposedly chosen by ‘‘Julia’’ herself met every
morning at ten at Mowbray House, Norfolk St., London, W.C.
Strangers were not admitted to this circle. The sittings were invariably
held in broad daylight. Robert King was engaged as
a special clairaudient and clairvoyant. When he was unable to
attend, Alfred Vout Peters attended. Records were kept of private
sittings. Psychometry (divination through material objects)
was believed to be successful.
In the three years of its existence about 1,300 sittings were
given in the bureau. Its maintenance cost Stead 1,500 pounds
a year. Besides King and Peters, Mrs. Wesley Adams and J. J.
Vango were employed as psychics.
In addition to ‘‘Julia,’’ Stead claimed an influence, calling itself
‘‘Catherine II’’ of Russia, among his communicators. In the
Contemporary Review for January 1909, under the title ‘‘The Arrival
of the Slav,’’ an article was published under Stead’s name.
It contained Catherine’s ‘‘Manifesto to the Slavs,’’ a singularly
prophetic script made up of different Catherine messages obtained
through the hands of Stead and his secretary.
Stead’s review of Sir Oliver Lodge’s book The Survival of
Man (1909) disclosed an experiment. Supposedly, while writing
the review, it occurred to Stead to ask one of Sir Oliver’s spirit
friends on the other side to write the concluding passage of the
review through two automatists, one of whom had read the
book and one who had not. There was a distance of 70 miles
between the two automatists. The second automatists did not
know where the script of the first ended. In his review, Stead
concluded the two automatists had performed satisfactorily.
As a result of his article ‘‘When the Door Opened’’ in the
Fortnightly Review, the Daily Chronicle challenged Stead on the
eve of general elections to obtain Gladstone’s views on the political
crisis. He consulted ‘‘Julia.’’ Supposedly, she deprecated
the attempt but did not forbid it. Accordingly, King listened for
a clairaudient communication that seemed to come to Stead as
though from a long distance. It was published to ridicule and
public derision. Stead himself did not claim that it emanated
from the spirit of Gladstone, but thought that it resembled the
recorded utterances of Gladstone.
The sequel to this interview was obtained from scripts
through a nonprofessional automatist as letters of further explanation.
They were not published at the time. But in 1911,
Admiral Usborne Moore telephoned Stead and informed him
that during a séance in Detroit with the medium Etta Wriedt,
‘‘Gladstone’’ purported to speak and ask whether Moore remembered
the name of the lady in England through whose
hand he had given a message. The voice then gave the correct
name. As the story of the ‘‘Gladstone’’ interview sequel was only
known to a few, Stead considered this as a good test.
There was a constant dispute between Stead and the Society
for Psychical Research. ‘‘What are known as psychical research
methods,’’ wrote Edith K. Harper in her book Stead, the
Man (1918), ‘‘was abhorrent to him. He held them truly unscientific
in the most extended meaning of the word. He said he
would rather die in the workhouse than believe that anyone
Encyclopedia of Occultism & Parapsychology • 5th Ed. Stead, William T(homas)
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would tell him a deliberate falsehood for the mere purpose of
deceiving him.’’
Speaking against the society in admitting evidence of communications
from the dead, Stead drew, before the members
of the Cosmos Club in 1909, a graphic, imaginary picture of
himself, shipwrecked and drowning in the sea and calling frantically
for help. He imagined that instead of throwing him a
rope the rescuers would shout back ‘‘Who are you What is
your name ‘I am Stead! W. T. Stead! I am drowning here in
the sea. Throw me the rope. Be quick!’ But instead of throwing
me the rope they continue to shout back ‘How do we know you
are Stead Where were you born Tell us the name of your
grandmother.’ ’’
The picture of a sinking ocean liner with its attendant horrors
often recurred in Stead’s writings. His earliest prediction
took the form of a narrative by a survivor in the Pall Mall Gazette.
It was attended by the following editorial note ‘‘This is exactly
what might take place if liners are sent to sea short of
boats.’’ Twenty-six years afterwards 1,600 lives were lost on the
Titanic, due to a shortage of lifeboats, and Stead went down
among them.
He was invited to speak at Carnegie Hall, New York, on
April 21, 1912, on the subject of world peace. Before his departure
on the Titanic he wrote to his secretary ‘‘I feel as if something
was going to happen, somewhere, or somehow. And that
it will be for good . . .’’
George Henslow’s book The Proofs of the Truths of Spiritualism
(1919) stated that Archdeacon Thomas Colley (who later printed
a pamphlet The Foreordained Wreck of the Titanic) sent a forecast
of the disaster to Stead and received the answer ‘‘I sincerely
hope that none of the misfortunes which you seem to think
may happen, will happen; but I will keep your letter and will
write to you when I come back.’’
Reportedly, Stead intended to bring Etta Wriedt, the Detroit
direct voice medium, to England when he returned.
Wriedt was waiting for him in New York. The Titanic was struck
by an iceberg on the night of April 14, 1912. Supposedly, two
nights later, ‘‘Dr. Sharp,’’ Wriedt’s control, gave a detailed account
of the Titanic disaster, assured sitters of Stead’s death and
gave the names of some who went down with the ship. Reportedly,
the following night, three days after his death, Stead himself
communicated. Reportedly, his articulation was weak in the
beginning but he was understood.
The messages which purported to emanate from Stead
through automatic writing, direct voice, materialization, and
psychic photography were summed up by James Coates in his
book Has W. T. Stead Returned (1913). Coates concluded the
messages had established his identity. There was a W. T. Stead
Memorial Society in Britain co Victor Jones, ‘‘Rosamund,’’ 7A
Seagrave Ave. (Hants.), Hayling Island, PO11 9EU, England.
Sources
Coates, James. Has W. T. Stead Returned London L. N.
Fowler, 1913.
Harper, Edith K. Stead, the Man. London W. Rider & Son,
1914.
Stead, William T. After Death. New York John Lane, 1907.
Reprint, London Review of Reviews, 1914.