Varley, Cromwell Fleetwood (1828–1883)
Renowned Spiritualist and consulting electrician of the Atlantic
Telegraph Company and the Electric and International
Telegraph Company. He was born at Kentish Town, London,
April 6, 1828, and named after two of his ancestors, Oliver
Cromwell and General Fleetwood. He was educated in South
London, and went on to study telegraphy, joining the Electric
and International Telegraph Company in 1846.
He was first attracted to Spiritualism in 1850. He investigated
the hypothesis that table rapping was the result of an electric
force and demonstrated that this hypothesis was altogether unfounded.
In later years, he had many curious psychic experiences,
discovered that he possessed mesmeric healing power,
and effected cures on his wife. She in turn had clairvoyant visions
and spells of trance in which she foretold the exact course
of her illness. After the birth of a son, Varley was one night
Encyclopedia of Occultism & Parapsychology • 5th Ed. Varley, Cromwell Fleetwood
aroused by three tremendous raps. He felt impelled to go into
his wife’s room, where he found the nurse intoxicated and his
wife rigid and in a cataleptic state.
He later made the acquaintance of the famous medium
Daniel Dunglas Home. Narrating his experiences before the
committee of the London Dialectical Society in 1869, he concluded
‘‘Still, I was too astonished to be able to feel satisfied. Fortunately,
when I got home, a circumstance occurred which got rid
of the element of doubt. While alone in the drawing room,
thinking intently on what I had witnessed, there were raps. The
next morning I received a letter from Mr. Home, in which he
said ‘When alone in your room last night you heard sounds. I
am so pleased.’ He stated the spirits had told him they followed
me, and were enabled to produce sounds. I have the letter in
my possession now, to show that imagination had nothing to do
with the matter.’’
Varley gave account of other personal occurrences. In the
winter of 1864, at Beckenham Kent, he was awakened during
the night by raps. His wife was lying by his side in trance and
he saw the transparent phantom of a man in military dress in
the air. He asked him, through the voice of his wife, to deliver
a message to his brother in Birmingham.
Varley also had other curious experiences. In a dream state,
he saw and heard the double of his sister-in-law. Next morning
she confirmed everything by narrating her own dream experience.
At another time, having accidentally chloroformed himself,
he had vivid out-of-the-body experiences which were similarly
confirmed by his wife. In 1860, at Halifax, his double,
anxious to wake his physical self, made him dream of a bomb
explosion; when the shock woke him he found the scene outside
his window exactly corresponding to what his double saw.
In New York, he made the acquaintance of several mediums
and conducted experiments in the home of C. F. Livermore,
the banker, with the famous medium Kate Fox of the Fox Sisters.
His efforts to find the laws that govern the physical phenomena
of Spiritualism were fruitless. He began to suspect that
powers other than electricity and magnetism were at work. On
the basis of his varied experiences he was led to believe ‘‘that
we are not our bodies; that when we die we exist just as much
as before, and that under certain conditions we are able to hold
communications with those on earth; but I also believe that
many of the phenomena are often caused by the spirits of those
whose bodies are present.’’
When Sir William Crookes started his famous investigation
into the phenomena of Spiritualism, Varley assisted him in devising
means of electric control. For his outspoken stand he was
subject to abuse from the skeptical W. B. Carpenter who, in the
October 1871 Quarterly Review, assured readers that there were
grave doubts of his scientific ability and that these misgivings
of the learned world had kept Varley out of the Royal Society.
At the time of this attack, Varley had been a fellow of the Royal
Society for more than three months.
In addition to his researches in Spiritualism, Varley was renowned
for his important part in the successful laying of the
first Atlantic cable. He died at Bexley Heath, Kent, September
2, 1883.