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
- jake j.
T. H. MARTYN : FRAGMENTS OF
- 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
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
_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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