Dowden, Hester (Mrs. Travers-Smith) (1868-1949)

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Dowden, Hester (Mrs. Travers-Smith) (1868-1949)

Professional medium whose psychic development was marked by the successive appearance of five spirit personalities: "Peter," "Eyen," "Astor," "Shamar," and "Johannes." She was later known for her experiments in automatic writing. She was the daughter of Prof. Edward Dowden. Her first circle was formed during the winter of 1914. At the second or third sitting an entity calling himself "Peter Rooney" made his appearance. He claimed to be an Irish American who had spent most of his life in jail. Rooney committed suicide by throwning himself under a tramcar in Boston.

Reportedly Sir William Barrett made inquiries and found inconsistencies in the tale. Rooney was questioned at a subsequent séance and admitted that he had lied because he had no desire to communicate his real name. He claimed to have been interested in psychical research during his life and wished to assist investigations now. He introduced many features to the séance, initiated blindfold sittings on the Ouija board, and tried experiments in telepathy.

Eyen claimed to have been an Egyptian priest in the temple of Isis in the reign of Rameses II. He was attracted to the medium by a piece of cerecloth in which his mummy was wrapped. Astor, the third control, professed to be the guide of Geraldine Cummins, with whom Dowden often sat. She was chiefly interested in the activities of Cummins and clairvoyance and prophecies.

Shamar, the fourth control was a Hindu. She claimed to be the medium's spirit guide, Eyen being "the guide of her astral." She sent communications from living persons who were asleep or drowsy.

Johannes was the latest development as a spirit guide. He claimed to have lived 200 years before Christ and studied in the Alexandrian Library. He gave philosophical teachings that were similar to the Neoplatonic philosophy of Plotinus (205-270 C.E.). H. Dennis Bradley became convinced of the reality of Johannes as an independent personality as a result of a direct voice sitting with the medium George Valiantine in February 1924.

Reportedly Bradley had many sittings with Dowden and later developed automatic writing himself. He could not keep pace with the terrific speed of the communications from Johannes, although he wrote in shorthand. Leaving his hand limp, he discovered that he could write at an infinitely quicker pace and without exhaustion.

Of the existence of the first four controls, Barrett, in his introduction to Mrs. H. Travers-Smith's book Voices from the Void (1919), states, "I am strongly disposed to consider many of them as distant psychic entities and not in all cases mere phases of the personality of the automatist."

The author Lennox Robinson and Rev. Savell Hicks were sitting with Dowden when this message came through: "Pray for Hugh Lane." Then, on being asked who was speaking: "I am Hugh Lane; all is dark" came through. Shortly after, it continued: "It is Sir Hugh Lane, drowned. Was on board the Lusitania." At that moment boys were selling the evening newspapers in the street. Robinson ran out. When he came back he pointed to the name of Sir Hugh Lane in the story of the disaster, reported for the first time. The communications from Sir Hugh Lane described the scene on the Lusitania: "Panic. Boats lowered. Women went first. Lost in an overcrowded boat, fell over. Lost all memory until I saw a light at the sitting."

The medium knew Sir Hugh Lane personally but had heard that he had gone to America before the sinking of the Lusitania. On her way home that day Dowden saw posters: "Lusitania reported sinking" but had no personal interest in the news as she knew no one on board. Lane continued to come through in séances afterward and wanted several of his wishes communicated to his executors.

In a similar instance, the following message was spelled out rapidly: "Ship sinking; all hands lost. William East overboard. Women and children weeping and wailingsorrow, sorrow, sorrow." The newspaper stop press was heard being called out in the street. The medium bought a paper. It contained the news that the Titanic had gone down. She believed that the name William East was incorrect and that it must have beenWilliam Stead. Dowden later served as the amanuensis for The Life Eternal, supposedly written by Stead from the spirit world in 1933.

Reportedly Dowden channeled several romantic scripts: descriptions of King Arthur's Round Table and of the missionary journeys of St. Philip the Evangelist. When she sat with Frederick Bligh Bond, a group of Glastonbury monks came through and recited details of the burial of abbey relics in 1080. Cummins's writing mediumship developed in her sittings. The communications often referred to the future. Events in her life were sometimes foretold years ahead. Her first book, Voices from the Void (1919), contains an account of her own experiences. Her second volume, Psychic Messages from Oscar Wilde (1923), was featured in the Daily News, on July 27, 1923. The article claimed he gave criticisms of many writers. Of George Bernard Shaw, he writes:

"I had a kindly feeling for poor Shaw. He had such a keen desire to be original that it moved my pity. He was without any sense of beauty or even a sense of the dramatic side of life. And yet there was the passionate yearning to be a personage, to force his person on the world, to press in, in spite of the better taste of those who went before him. I have a very great respect for his work. After all, he is my fellow-countryman. We share the same misfortune in that matter. I think Shaw may be called the true type of pleb. He is so anxious to prove himself honest and outspoken that he utters a great deal more than he is able to think. He is ever ready to call upon his audience to admire his work, and his audience admires it from sheer sympathy with his delight."

The Oscar Wilde script was produced in cooperation with psychical researcher S. G. Soal (also an automatist), who held the pencil. He later wrote a critical reflection upon his experience.


Bentley, Edmund. Far Horizon: A Biography of Hester Dowden, Medium and Psychic Investigator. London: Rider & Co., 1951.

Dowden, Hester. Psychic Messages from Oscar Wilde. London: T. Werner Laurie, 1923.

. Voices from the Void. London: Rider & Co., 1919.

Soal, S. G. "Note on the 'Oscar Wilde' Script." Journal of the Society for Psychical Research (July 1926).