Messages from the Dead – Séance in Brisbane, 1888

Photograph of spirit slate-writing which occurred during a séance in Brisbane on 24 October 1888. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland

Photograph of spirit slate-writing which occurred during a séance in Brisbane on 24 October 1888

Do you believe in the paranormal? Buried within the collections of the State Library of Queensland are two original photographs taken during a séance held in Brisbane on 24 October 1888. The photographs are an excellent example of independent slate-writing, where (purportedly) spirits of the dead communicate with the living by writing messages on a slate in the presence of a medium.  The old photographs are mounted on cardboard and have a handwritten caption at the bottom which reads – “Received through the mediumship of Fred Evans at a seance given before the members of the Psychological Society of Brisbane – Oct 24th 1888″.

Photograph of spirit slate-writing which occurred during a séance in Brisbane on 24 October 1888. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland

Photograph of spirit slate-writing which occurred during a séance in Brisbane on 24 October 1888

This special meeting of the Psychological Society of Brisbane and the origins of the slates (pictured) can be authenticated by an article published in the Brisbane Courier newspaper. The article states that a meeting of the members of the Psychological Society occurred on 24 October 1888 in the Courier Hall “for the purpose of holding a slate-writing séance with Fred Evans”. It was estimated that about 40 members were present. Four slates were cleaned and then fastened together in pairs with a slate pencil inside. The members were then requested to join hands for about 15 minutes. When the seals holding the slates together were broken, The Brisbane Courier reported that ”it was found that one of the slates contained thirty closely-written messages, and the other six messages done in colours round the edges of the slate, and a portrait drawn in the middle.” The members of the society “appeared highly satisfied with the results”

Fred Evans was a psychographic medium from San Francisco in the United States. His specialty was independent slate-writing and the production of written messages upon sealed slates. Evans travelled to Brisbane in September 1888 at the invitation of the Psychological Society of Brisbane. Evans took up residence in Warry Street, in a house described by one journalist as  ”one of those detestable, hot, ugly, unventilated 18 shillings-a-week abominations”.

Photograph of spirit slate-writing which occurred during a séance in Brisbane on 24 October 1888. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland

Photograph of spirit slate-writing which occurred during a séance in Brisbane on 24 October 1888

Local Brisbane newspaper journalists were quick to test to the supposed physic powers of the American visitor.  A reporter from the Queensland Figaro had a private séance with Fred Evans at his Warry Street address. In his article published on 6 October 1888, he left readers with no illusions about his purpose –   ”…I went with hostile intent…to prove him a fraud, and to expose any trickery or humbug…”, the reporter said. You can read the journalist’s full account of this séance published in the Queensland Figaro.

For further information on the visit of Fred Evans and other mysterious tales, listen to this ABC Local Radio Queensland podcast.

The photographs are part of the Margaret Watkin Thurlby collection.

Myles Sinnamon – Project Coordinator, State Library of Queensland