Guppy-Volckman, Agnes (1838-1917)

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Guppy-Volckman, Agnes (1838-1917)

Formerly Miss Agnes Nichol and the second wife of Spiritualist Samuel Guppy. She was originally discovered to be a powerful medium by naturalist Alfred Russel Wallace in the house of his sister, a Mrs. Sim, about a year after he started his investigation into Spiritualism in 1865. The young girl, a professional mesmerist, produced movements without contact. The power was strongest if she and Sim were alone. Remarkable phenomena were observed after a séance in an empty room. The famous naturalist learned that Nichol saw phantoms as a child and, in carefully watching her mediumistic development, had strange experiences. Raps and table movement were followed by levitations.

Nichol was a heavily built woman. In the darkness, while holding the sitters' hands, she was several times lifted on top of the table in her chair. Independent music and apport phenomena came next. On many occasions flowers and fruits, sometimes in large quantities, fell onto the séance table from an unknown source.

The requests of the sitters were often honored. When a friend of Wallace asked for a sunflower, one six feet high with a mass of earth around the roots fell upon the table. In the house of E. W. Cox a mass of snow and hothouse flowers was precipitated. It was sufficient to make a mental request. Princess Marguerite of Naples desired specimens of a prickly cactus. More than 20 dropped on the table and had to be removed with tongs. Stinging nettles and ill-smelling white flowers that had to be burned arrived on other occasions. The duchess d'Arpino wished for sea sand. It soon splashed down with sea-water and live starfishes. The sea was about a hundred yards from the house. Not infrequently live eels and lobsters appeared.

Nichol married Samuel Guppy in 1867. For some time afterward they resided on the Continent. More marvels were witnessed on their return. The first spirit photograph of Frederick A. Hudson was obtained in March 1872, through Agnes's mediumship (see also spirit photography ). In the same year she produced materializations.

Catherine Berry, in Experiences in Spiritualism (1876), writes of many strange happenings. A white cat and a Maltese dog belonging to Guppy appeared in a séance in Berry's house where Guppy sat. Three ducks prepared for cooking were brought into the circle in Guppy's home. Showers of butterflies descended from the ceiling. On another occasion a shower of feathers fell to the depth of several inches. In a mischievous spirit Guppy asked for tar, whereupon Berry, looking like a magpie in her black dress, rushed out. She became estranged for years from Guppy.

The most incredible incident in Guppy-Volckman's career was her claimed transportation from her house at Highbury, London, to 61 Lamb's Conduit St., a distance of three miles. The most humorous occurred when Frank Herne and Charles Williams, with eight sitters, were holding a séance. On the half-humorous request of a Mr. Harrison to transport Guppy to the room, she was precipitated to the room. Unfortunately, she was half dressed, with her shoes off, and in a state of deep trance.

Samuel Guppy was a very rich man. The complete absence of financial motives in Agnes Guppy's case greatly puzzled Frank Podmore, the skeptical author of Modern Spiritualism (2 vols., 1902), who considered most mediums frauds out for financial gain. Not understanding the equal appeal of power and fame, he ponders, "But Mrs. Guppy, even during the few months in which, as Miss Nichol, she practised as a professional Mesmerist, can scarcely have found her main incentive in the hope of gain. On the assumption of fraud, the mere cost of the flowers lavished on her sitters must have swallowed up any probable profit from her increased mesmeric clientele. And even such a motive would have ceased with her marriage."

After Samuel Guppy's death, his widow married again and was afterward known as Mrs. Guppy-Volckman. She died in December 1917.