Maskelyne, John Nevil (1839-1917)

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Maskelyne, John Nevil (1839-1917)

Famous British stage magician who was a strong opponent of fraudulent Spiritualism. Born at Cheltenham, Gloucester-shire, December 22, 1839, he was the son of a saddlemaker. As a boy he was fascinated by an entertainer who demonstrated spinning plates and practiced this feat himself. He was apprenticed to a clockmaker and at the age of 19 made his first piece of conjuring apparatus, a box with a secret panel. By 1865 he was giving demonstrations of amateur conjuring. After seeing the performance of the famous Davenport brothers, he believed that he had observed trickery, and to prove his case he went into partnership with George Alfred Cooke to build a cabinet similar to that of the Davenports and rival their phenomena.

Maskelyne and Cooke were launched on a career of stage magic and leased the Egyptian Hall in London for their entertainments. By 1905 Maskelyne was in partnership with fellow illusionist David Devant (born David Wighton) at St. George's Hall, Langham Place, in West London, where they based many of their presentations of the claimed phenomena of Spiritualism.

In 1906 he was involved in a controversy with Spiritualist sympathizer Archdeacon Thomas Colley, who had challenged him to reproduce the phenomena of medium F. W. Monck (incidentally exposed in fraud ). Maskelyne staged a remarkable illusion, but Colley claimed it fell short of the requirements of his challenge. After a court case, Colley's claim was upheld, perhaps surprisingly in view of opposition to Spiritualism at that time.

He died on May 18, 1917, in London.


Maskelyne, John N. The Fraud of Modern "Theosophy" Exposed. London: G. Routledge, 1913.

. Modern Spiritualism: A Short Account of Its Rise and Progress, with Some Exposures of So-Called Spirit Media. London: F. Warne, 1876.