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Varley, Cromwell Fleetwood (1828-1883)

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 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.

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