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Theosophy in Australia - T.H. Martyn

Jan 26, 2007 12:49 PM
by Mark Jaqua

Theosophy in Australia - T.H. Martyn
      'Thought this was a pretty good 
overview of an important figure in 
Theosophical History.  Martyn split 
from Adyar TS because of depraved 
Leadbeater, and his TS had an 8 story 
(circa 1920)"skyscraper" for their Lodge 
Building in Sydney (There's pictures of 
it in my Edmonton reprint of 
"Dawn" magazine.)
          - jake j.
                   - By J.M Prentice
   "Amid the ruins of this thing undone 
   I sit and say `Cui bono?' till the sun 
   Sets, and a bat flits past the sun."
   In the issue of a magazine dated 
November 1st, 1924, and called Dawn, 
which was the organ of "The T.S. 
Loyalty League", I wrote an "In 
Memorial" notice of Thomas Hammond 
Martyn, which ended with these words:
     ". . . I desire to place on record that it 
is my considered opinion that of all those 
who worked for Theosophy, the place 
which T.H. Martyn will ultimately occupy 
is next in order to, and but very little 
below, that of William Quan Judge."
     So far nothing has been done to place 
on permanent record the magnificent 
contribution of "T.H.M.", as we called 
him, linking him with "H.P.B." and 
"W.Q.J.", in which company he 
belonged.  On the other hand, because he 
spearheaded so much of the attack on 
certain influences in the Theosophical 
Society (Adyar), which were sponsored 
by Dr. Annie Besant and Bishop C.W. 
Leadbeater, because he indicated that 
there was something rotten in the State of 
the T.S., if not in Denmark, he has been 
maligned and belittled, so that today he is 
only heard of when someone wants to act 
as Devil's Advocate to the T.S. and 
consign him to Avichi, or the Dead 
     I was reminded of all this when I was 
loaned a copy of a recent book by Mr. F. 
Pierce Spinks, entitled _Theosophists: 
Reunite!_  Speaking of Martyn, Mr. 
Spinks used a quotation, which I 
immediately recognized as an extract 
from A Short History of the 
Theosophical Society, compiled by 
Josephine Ransom, but without quotation 
marks.  I understand he has since 
indicated the source of this quotation, 
which is to the effect that Martyn, 
together with eleven other members, (of 
whom I happened to be one, although 
treated a little less harshly), was removed 
from the Society's rolls as being `a 
continued focus of disturbance.'  This is, 
of course, an over-simplification, and 
does far less than justice to the situation 
which brought it about.
     First of all a biographical note:
     Thomas Hammond Martyn was born in 
Finchley (London) in 1860.  He was the 
second son of W.H. Martyn, head of an 
old respected Cornish family.  He came 
to Australia in 1884, established himself 
in business in a country town and 
pioneered the way for the establishment 
of the weekly half-holiday, now 
universally recognized throughout 
Australia.  In 1887 he came to Sydney, in 
order to read for the Bar.  There was 
about this time a great mining boom in 
silver, and because of it Martyn gave 
away all thoughts of the law, to become 
an investor.  In 1889 he became a 
member of the Sydney Stock Exchange.  
Ten years later the boom burst, but 
Martyn had established such a reputation 
for stability and sheer honesty, as well as 
pioneering the dredging process in tin and 
gold mining, that he weathered the storm.
     About the time he joined the Stock 
Exchange he became interested in 
Theosophy and he met Colonel Olcott 
when the P.T.S. came to Sydney in 1891.  
A meeting had been called for May 9th, 
1891, to develop a Sydney Theosophical 
Society, as the branches were then called.  
Just as the meeting was about to 
convene, a cablegram arrived, was 
received by Mr. T.W. Willans (for many 
years a devoted supporter of Mme. 
Katherine Tingley and President of the 
Australian Section of the Theosophical 
Society, Piont Loma, until his death), and 
was handed by him to Mr. Martyn, who 
opened it and passed it to Colonel 
Olcott.  It announced the passing of 
Mme. Blavatsky, which had taken place 
the day previously.  After consultation it 
was decided to carry on, and so the 
Sydney Theosophical Society came into 
being.  It was destined to become the 
largest Lodge of the T.S. in the world 
under Martyn's inspiring leadership and 
had about eight hundred members when 
the disastrous split came in 1923.
     Martyn acted as Mrs. Besant's Chief of 
Staff when she paid her first visit to 
Australia in 1894.  Her main concern was 
to found a new Section, hostile to W.Q. 
Judge, then under hot attack.  At a 
conference with Mrs. Besant, Mr. Willans 
announced his adherence to W.Q.J. and 
left the meeting.  Mr. Martyn accepted 
her guidance and used his influence a 
couple of years later to prevent the T.S. 
in Sydney (and in Australia) from 
following Judge in the secession, which 
was led by that great Theosophist.
     Through many busy years, up till the 
turn of the century, Martyn was busy 
laying the foundation of an immense 
fortune, but always working for 
Theosophy.  When, years later, I came to 
know him well, I realized that there were 
two sides to his character - his business 
affairs and his devotion to Theosophy.  
They were in watertight compartments, 
so to say.  During business hours he 
refused to see anyone on Theosophical 
matters in his office, but very often 
dropped in for a modest lunch with 
members in the Lodge Rooms.  In this 
regard he reminds me of another devoted 
friend of mine, the late Daniel N. Dunlop, 
O.B.E., who refused to see me in his 
office on a brief leave from France during 
World War I, but made an appointment 
for me to see him at his home that same 
     Mr. Martyn was splendidly aided by his 
second wife, whom he married in 1901, 
his first wife having died in 1899, after 
fifteen years of unalloyed happiness.  The 
new Mrs. Martyn was a brilliant and very 
beautiful woman, of Irish descent, with jet 
black hair and violet blue eyes, which 
made her conspicuous in any company.  
There was one daughter by the first 
marriage, and a daughter and two sons by 
the second.  Mrs. Martyn died about a 
year ago;  I was proud to merit her 
friendship for many years.  She did much 
to preserve harmony in the Lodge until 
the split eventuated;  the lovely Martyn 
home, "St. Michael's" in Raymond Road, 
Neutral Bay, with its incomparable views 
of Sydney Harbor, was "open house" to 
all the distinguished Theosophists who 
came to Sydney.  Their names are legion.  
They include Mrs. Cooper-Oakley, 
Countess Wachtmeister, C.W. 
Leadbeater in 1905 and again in 1914, 
when he found it desirable to leave India.  
He remained a guest in the Martyn home 
for several years, until Mrs. Martyn took 
advantage of his temporary absence on 
an interstate trip, to inform her husband 
that she was no longer prepared to have 
him as an inmate of her house, following 
on incidents she had observed.  On his 
return Mr. Leadbeater (as he was then) 
took refuge with another wealthy family, 
the Kollerstroms, who also lived in 
Raymond Road, almost opposite to "St. 
Michael's".  Prior to this Bishop 
Wedgwood had arrived in 1917, and 
installed himself in the Martyn 
Household.  He, also, strained her 
endurance to the limit!
     It is well over fifty years since I first 
heard Martyn's name, and I met him first 
in 1909.  I recall his quiet charm of 
manner, deliberately used to set at ease a 
shy country lad, and also his quizzical but 
appraising glance when I rose to speak 
for the first time as a Theosophist 
amongst Theosophists, in Convention 
assembled.  T.H.M. was possessed of 
that perfect courtesy which I have always 
regarded as the outward and visible 
evidence of that inward and invisible state 
of mind known as Occultism.
     Martyn was always an important 
person.  His wealth, his fertile mind and 
his amazing powers of organization, 
together with the deference paid to him as 
the confidant and representative of Mrs. 
Besant, being the Corresponding 
Secretary of the E.S. in Australia and 
New Zealand, always commanded a 
respectful hearing.  In the period 1910-
1915 I attended as a delegate 
Conventions in Adelaide, Melbourne 
(twice), Sidney and Hobart.  He attended 
all of them except Hobart, as he was then 
in Siberia on important mining business. 
   It was not until 1919 that I was 
privileged to enjoy the Martyn hospitality.  
I was in Sydney en route to the United 
Kingdom and the United States of 
America.  As I sit and dream, it all comes 
back to me:  we walked the verandah with 
the matchless view, fairy-like with harbor 
lights, ferry boats, the perfume of exotic 
plants in the splendid garden, the smell of 
a cigar, to the smoking of which I was 
very greatly addicted.  For the first time 
we opened our hearts to each other.  In 
1914 I had published a critical article in 
the Section magazine, Theosophy in 
Australia.  Two years before this I had 
lost all confidence in Mr. Leadbeater's 
clairvoyance and morals.  In that year he 
visited Melbourne and we clashed 
bitterly.  I challenged him to justify his 
deviationism from the Theosophy of 
H.P.B.  For me it was the beginning of 
the end.  But this is Martyn's story, not 
mine.  He appended a reply to my article, 
which crushed me personally, but did not 
in reality touch the points I had ranged 
over.  The relentless logic of events had 
brought him round to my viewpoint in 
1919;  but he was not ready to act.  I was 
his guest again in 1921, after my return 
from a world-tour.  We shared our 
information.  I made available documents 
which he had not seen.  We pooled our 
information and discussed the situation.  
We were both anxious to rid the Society, 
which we both loved, from the enormous 
and growing incubus of pseudo-
psychism, spurious occultism and even 
more spurious churchianity as well as 
questionable morals.  The materials which 
I had been collecting for years completed 
the case and paved the way for the 
famous Martyn Letter to Mrs. Besant.
     I sat through the stormy Convention of 
1922 by his side.  I was his guest at "St. 
Michael's".  Mr. Leadbeater was the bone 
of contention;  he was residing then in a 
flat above the King's Hall, the property of 
the T.S.;  but he did not attend the 
ordinary sessions.  After the Easter 
Sunday Convention Lecture, which was 
delivered by Mr. Jinarajadasa, I was told 
by a Liberal Catholic priest, Spurgeon 
Medhurst (an ex-Baptist missionary from 
China) that when the Convention 
reconvened on the Easter Monday it was 
proposed to force through a resolution of 
confidence in Mr. Leadbeater.  I may say 
that the main business of the Convention 
had been dealt with on Good Friday and 
Easter Saturday.  Odds and ends only 
remained to be dealt with and most of the 
delegates had already left for their homes 
in other States on the Sunday afternoon 
and evening.  So I crossed the harbor to 
"St. Michael's" to break the news to 
Martyn.  He was playing billiards with 
Mr. Samuel Studd, the outstanding 
delegate from Melbourne, as well as 
President of the Melbourne Lodge, and 
with Mr. Loris Ingamells, another 
outstanding Australian Theosophist.  A 
hasty conference was called and Mr. 
Martyn was accompanied by another 
stalwart, who was subsequently 
summoned by Mr. Leadbeater to wait 
upon him at the Kollerstrom home, where
 he was offered the 33o in Co-Masonry, 
with jurisdiction of that degree throughout 
the world, if he would give his unstinted 
support to Mr. Leadbeater.  He declined.  
We three then invited Mr. Studd, who 
had accepted Leadbeater on the say-so 
of Mrs. Besant, to join us.  He was 
shown the evidence, which he saw for the 
first time, and was visibly affected.  He 
volunteered to go and see Mr. 
Jinarajadasa the next morning and appeal 
to him to call off the proposed resolution.  
If necessary, he said, he would appeal to 
C.W.L. himself, to save the situation.  
"Raja" refused to call off the resolution 
and denied Studd access to C.W.L. 
     The resolution was moved and 
seconded.  I rose to lead the opposition, 
at Martyn's request, while he waited to 
close the debate.  I was immediately 
confronted by the statement that I could 
not refer to anything prior to 1908, as Mr. 
Leadbeater had been completely 
exonerated in regard to the accusations of 
1906 by a special committee of inquiry.  
At that time I did not know of this 
circumstance or I would have challenged 
it.  (I will return to this later and show 
what a travesty of justice it was.)  I was 
limited to fifteen minutes and was 
muzzled by repeated interjections and 
calls to order from the Chair, occupied 
by Jinarajadasa.  I had demanded that Mr. 
Leadbeater should be brought on to the 
platform, as I was unwilling to be 
accused later of saying things about him 
which I would not dare to utter in his 
presence.  He came in wearing clerical 
dress and an enormous gold pectoral 
cross.  My most outstanding memory is 
Martyn closing the debate, standing on a 
chair and denouncing Leadbeater for his 
association with Bishop Wedgwood, 
while Jinarajadasa used his gavel and 
screamed for silence.  The motion was 
carried by a heavy majority, from 
memory 87 to 15, but then all our 
supporters had already departed, as they 
were located in other Australian States.
     It was on May 20th, 1921, that T.H.M. 
addressed his famous letter to Mrs. 
Besant, which made Theosophical 
history.  I know much of the agony of 
heart and mind that he passed through 
prior to and during its composition.  This 
letter, marked "Private and Confidential", 
was published in America, in The O. E. 
Library Critic, and so became public 
property.  In Dawn Mr. Martyrn 
published an article entitled "An Answer 
to Mrs. Besant", referring to a circular 
letter which Mrs. Besant issued on March 
4th, in which he details the causes leading 
up to the writing of his letter.  He says 
that as soon as he heard that Dr. Stokes 
(Editor of The Critic) proposed to 
publish it he wrote and cabled him not to 
do so.  He was too late.  The letter was 
already printed and published.  It 
precipitated much of the silt which 
formed such a hideous deposit and which 
has disfigured the T.S. ever since.  I do 
not know under what circumstances Dr. 
Stokes received the copy he published;  
this is still a mystery to me.  But it is 
obvious that there was treachery 
somewhere.  In any case, important as it 
was, it should not have been published 
without reference to the writer.
     Martyn stresses the fact that his letter 
was a genuine attempt on his part to solve 
matters which were worrying him.  He 
sought guidance and the solution of a 
personal problem - the reconciliation of 
contradictory statements regarding the 
occult status of Mr. J.I. Wedgwood.  
Mrs. Besant had stated on October 20th, 
1919, that Wedgwood was NOT an 
initiate, whereas "Bishop" Leadbeater had 
stated in 1917 that he WAS.  There was 
the added fact that Mrs. Besant had 
stated that Wedgwood had been guilty of 
the grossest immorality, expelled from 
Adyar and disgraced.
     To this letter Martyn says he received 
an acknowledgment but no reply.  After 
Martyn's death I was invited to examine 
his private E.S. papers, which Mrs. 
Martyn placed before me at "St. 
Michael's".  There was the terrible letter 
to which he had so generously referred.  
It was brief and bitter;  Mrs. Besant told 
him that for the first time in its history one 
Initiate and Member of the Great White 
Lodge had attempted to assassinate a 
Fellow-Initiate in an act of the blackest 
treachery.  I was refused permission to 
copy this letter, but I can still visualize it.  
Yet never once did I hear Martyn say one 
word regarding the unspeakable agony 
this letter must have caused him.
     He refers also to the letter written by 
the Rev. Rupert Gauntlett, in which he 
confirmed everything within his 
knowledge which Martyn had written.  
This letter, as will be well remembered, 
led to the resignation, pro tempore, of 
Wedgwood from the T.S., the L.C.C. 
and Co-Masonry.  But of course he came 
back!  However, reverting to Mrs. 
Besant, I would quote from her letter, 
referred to above, and published in The 
Theosophist of March, 1922, in which 
she wrote an impassioned defence of 
     "To those who know anything of 
Occultism, I say I stand as servant of the 
Hierarchy, obeying Their Will and doing 
Their work as H.P.B. made me declare.  
Either I am Their Agent, or I am a liar and 
a blasphemer.  Take me as you will."
     Today, those of us who remember the 
heat and the bitterness, would prefer to 
say that she was the Trilby of a notorious 
Svengali, that she was wax in the hands 
of Leadbeater after being told by him in 
Taormina in 1908 that they were both 
Arhats, of which she had no knowledge 
at the time.  Not a liar, deliberately at any 
rate, nor a blasphemer, but a foolish, 
egotistical and misguided woman, who, 
even if she had realized her mistake, was 
unwilling to retrace her steps.  Her 
reference to H.P.B., dragged in by the 
ears, as it were, is perhaps the worst 
feature of this quotation:  it is an attempt 
to make use of the authority of H.P.B. 
and the name of Mme. Blavatsky, whose 
teachings had by then been utterly and 
completely superseded.
     Besides the "Answer to Mrs. Besant", 
referred to above as appearing in Dawn 
of May, 1922, there was a SECOND 
letter written by Martyn to Mrs. Besant, 
dated March 7th, 1923, and published in 
Dawn of July, 1923.  It is a courteously 
written letter, second only in importance 
to the first letter, and equally scarifying.  
Towards the end he wrote:
     "The root of the trouble is, that if Mr. 
Leadbeater and Mr. Wedgwood are 
immoral, they cannot be what you have 
represented them to be, i.e., on the 
threshold of Divinity and inspired 
prophets whose words and acts are 
worthy of reverence and esteem and to 
be blindly accepted.  That is the real 
issue, and, we take it, always has been."
     To me this was not entirely so.  From 
the very outset of my own divergence I 
was much more concerned with the 
deviation from the Theosophy which 
Blavatsky taught than with the moral 
aspect.  My attitude, as far as the moral 
issue was concerned, was to leave that to 
the individual Karma of the people 
themselves, until the full significance 
swept over me and I realized all that was 
     Now I want to revert to the so-called 
exoneration of Leadbeater in 1908.  This 
was unbelievably naive.  Remember that 
of the twelve reputable people who 
assisted Colonel Olcott in the "trial" of 
1906, and who heard Mr. Leadbeater in 
his own defence, all were convinced of 
his guilt, so that six voted for his 
expulsion from the T.S. and six for the 
acceptance of his resignation, in the vain 
hope of saving the T.S. from the results 
of his conduct.  In 1908 a Committee of 
nine individuals, at least seven of whom 
were pledged E.S. members and utterly 
obedient to Mrs. Besant, met, examined 
some of the evidence and then stated that 
Leadbeater had been actuated by the 
highest motives and that there was 
nothing to warrant insinuations of 
personal misconduct.  And this, mark 
you, after Leadbeater's own admission of 
guilt!  Among the names is that of James 
I. Wedgwood!  These people had no 
legal training or other qualifications to 
decide such an issue.  In the Court 
proceedings in India in 1914 this was 
rejected by the presiding Judge, but it had 
served to silence me in 1922.
     Twice more was I a guest in Martyn's 
home.  In 1923 we discussed for hours 
the policy of the Independent 
Theosophical Society, of which we were 
foundation members, and again in 1924, 
shortly before his departure on a big 
financial mission.  He left Sydney on 
August 22nd, 1924, and died at Ipoh, in 
the Federated Malay States on 9th 
October, 1924.  Hard work and the strain 
of his terrible split with Mrs. Besant had 
proved too much and death came slowly 
and in great agony.  Yet in a more 
inspired moment she had exalted him by 
saying that he was the embodiment of 
"skill in action"!
     Owing to his hatred of personal 
publicity we shall never know how much 
he contributed in actual cash, but many 
an empty exchequer was refilled.  In the 
period 1891 to 1921 a rough estimate 
which I made after his death suggested 
that his benefactions were not less than 
Thirty Thousand Pounds, at a time when 
the American Dollar was five to the 
Pound.  In addition, his gifts to Mrs. 
Besant personally, and to her E.S., 
represented another Fifteen Thousand 
Pounds.  She never hesitated to ask him 
for money when she needed it.  There 
were several letters in his files showing 
that almost casually she would ask for a 
thousand pounds.  His method was to 
"raid the Stock Exchange" and withdraw 
when the amount required was raised.  By 
this means he protected his private 
fortune, and he left his family richly 
provided for.  His unexpected death and 
the loss of his guidance left the 
Independent Theosophical Society 
without real leadership, so that it pursued 
an erratic course.  It still survives today, 
but under the shadow of Adyar's wing - a 
tiny segment of its former greatness.
     Across the years I salute the greatest 
Theosophist I ever met personally with 
the exception of Annie Besant - the 
"A.B." of 1908.  As I sit here, weaving 
this small wreath to the memory of 
Thomas Hammond Martyn, I see the 
moldering grave in far-away Ipoh, where 
the soft flash of fireflies illuminates the 
scented darkness, and the exotic 
perfumes of tropical plants make a kindly 
incense, while the wind on the palm-trees 
sings a perpetual requiem.  It has never 
been revealed to us if he belonged to that 
heroic band of Exiles, of whom the most 
illustrious was William Quan Judge.  But I 
think not.  He left Judge in the hour of his 
trial, only to experience the blackness of 
the same ingratitude, the same crucifixion.  
For his epitaph I suggest these lines from 
Hermes Trismegistus:
     _Hitherto I have been an exile from 
my true country;  now I return thither.  
Do not weep for me;  I return to that 
celestial land where each goes in his 
        - Canadian Theosophist, Sept.-Oct., 1959

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