Sir Arthur Conan Doyle in Adelaide

In 1920 Conan Doyle had been invited to come to Australia to give a series of lectures on spiritualism. This article talks of his time in Adelaide.

In 1920 Conan Doyle had been invited to come to Australia to give a series of lectures on spiritualism.
This was a subject that intrigued people from all walks of life especially after the horrors of the first World War when so many grieving relatives longed to communicate with their departed loved ones. In fact at a luncheon Conan Doyle attended in Sydney 90% of those present admitted to communicating with the dead.
In 1917 he had publically declared himself a spiritualist while giving a lecture to the London Spiritualist Alliance.  From that moment on he took up the spiritualist cause with the passion and enthusiasm that he put into most areas of his life. In fact he became known as the St Paul of the Spiritualist movement.
His campaigning for the spiritualist movement brought Conan Doyle, along with his wife, 3 children, Denis Adrian and Jean and his secretary Major Wood to Australia when he was invited to give a series of lectures by the Australian Spiritualists.

He sailed from England and arrived in Adelaide in September 1920.  Although it was recovering from a two year drought he described Adelaide as a charming city and had kind words for its amenities, parks and museums as well as its press… back then it was the Register and the Advertiser.

However he was no stranger to Adelaide. Two stories from the canon mention Adelaide. In The Disappearance of Lady Frances Carfax, written in 1911. Holmes speaks of “…an exceptionally astute and dangerous man. The Rev. Dr. Shlessinger, missionary from South America, is none other than Holy Peters, one of the most unscrupulous rascals that Australia has ever evolved….he was badly bitten in a saloon-fight at Adelaide in ’89…”The other story that mentioned Adelaide was The Adventure of the Abbey Grange (1904) in which Miss Mary Fraser (Lady Brackenstall, the victim’s wife) was from Adelaide.  Miss Fraser travelled to England in 1895 aboard the Rock of Gibraltar the largest and best boat of the Adelaide-Southampton shipping company. Australia gets a mention in several other stories.

First Australian lecture took place on Saturday, 25 September 1920 to a full house (2000) at Adelaide Town Hall.
Whilst in Adelaide he, like all tourists, visited the vineyards and plant of a local wine maker. Recently this was identified as Penfolds Winery at Magill. He was most impressed by our wine and predicted that one day the world would know the quality of our wines.

He also spent some time in the company of Mr Thomas P Bellchambers who lived amongst the “wild creatures in the back country” an area around 50 kilometres out of the city.  This is what is today known as Humbug Scrub Wildlife Sanctuary and is still run by the Bellchambers family.

Being a devout spiritualist, he had meetings with mediums at the hotel where he was staying, the Grand Central Hotel on the corner of Pulteney and Rundle Street. There is a plaque there commemorating the fact Conan Doyle stayed there.  And he also dined with some of Adelaide’s prominent doctors.

Conan Doyle was a popular subject for journalists and inevitably they would ask him about Sherlock Holmes. But Conan Doyle didn’t have time to talk of Holmes he was here for a higher purpose and that was to convert Australians to Spiritualism.  

Now when he was in Australia he found he found a lot of support but a lot of abuse as well.  ‘Pure evil’ he was called by one newspaper and he was sent many abusive messages “May you be struck dead before you leave the Commonwealth” read one.  Even before he landed on our shores the Presbyterians of Australia had been praying that his ship be wrecked on the voyage here. Not very Christian and it must be pointed out that Conan Doyle saw Spiritualism as an extension of Christianity not a replacement.

After Adelaide he travelled to other Australian cities and to New Zealand. At this time he learnt his mother had died at the age of 83. Though saddened, Conan Doyle felt that they would continue their relationship through his psychic contacts.

He left Australia on February 11, 1921 after almost 5 months. He had mixed thoughts on Australia (too much empty space, threatened strikes wherever he went, ignorance and bias of press, drunkenness everywhere). He did however like the Australian people whom he found to be “more English than the English”.

Conan Doyle devoted the rest of his life to the spiritualist cause.
Although he wrote Sherlock Holmes stories till 1927 he kept them free of any spiritualist propaganda perhaps knowing that Holmes kept the money coming in and didn’t want his to get off-side with the paying public.

Conan Doyle was a tireless worker. In Nov 1928 he left for a 5 month lecture tour of South Africa. Here he began to have dizzy spells and chest pains. He rested at home but the next year he was off on another tour of Holland, Denmark , Stockholm and Oslo. Here his health took a turn for the worst. He still lectured but was in constant pain. He returned to England where he found himself having no choice but to have complete bed rest. But he was never out of the public eye. He still replied to correspondence and even appeared in a movietone newsreel shot in his rose garden.

Early in 1930 he showed signs of improving health. One last mission was to lobby against an ancient piece of legislation concerning the prosecution of mediums. He gave his prepared statement at the Home Office on July 1st 1930. But the experience left him exhausted. A week later on July 7, 1930 he died at his home in Crowsborough, looking out at the Sussex countryside surrounded by his family. He was 71 years old.

A Brief History of the Sherlock Holmes Society of Australia and the Sherlock Holmes Society of South Australia

How did our society begin?
Read on for a brief history of the Sherlock Holmes Society of South Australia

Based on an article by past President, John Bushell

The Sherlock Holmes Society of Australia was founded by Alan Olding (BSI).
As with many Holmes enthusiasts, Alan’s interest in Holmes began in UK as a boy, when he read his father’s Sherlock Holmes books. These books were destroyed during the London Blitz but his interest in Holmes continued.
Alan applied for an ex-serviceman’s passage to Australia and moved to Brisbane with his wife Olive in 1951.
Alan’s interest in Holmes was rekindled in 1960’s, when he learned of the Sherlock Holmes Society in London, as well as the Baker Street Irregulars of New York. Alan became a member of both.
Alan and Olive finally settled in Adelaide where was keen to start a Holmes group, so in 1977 he wrote to the Adelaide Advertiser, asking for anyone interested in forming a local Sherlock Holmes Society, to contact him.
As a result, 12 enthusiasts met at the Hotel Adelaide in January 1978, and agreed to form an Australian Society, which became Sherlock Holmes Society of Australia. Thus, the beginning of Sherlock Holmes groups in Australia.
Alan was President, Secretary, Newsletter editor & Treasurer.
Alan became a member of several other Sherlock Holmes groups in Australia, including SHSSA & overseas.
It was with regret that Alan, by 2002, having run SHSA single-handedly for approximately 25 years, and not being able to continue, suggested that he would need to dissolve the society unless a small committee could be formed, to assist in the running of the society.
A group of 4 members was formed in March 2003 and operated for approximately one year, but did not continue and early in 2003 Alan actually did dissolve Sherlock Holmes Society of Australia.

In an all out effort to try to rekindle the Society, after the original SHSA was dissolved; Ray Parkin, Liz van Zanten, Viv Bushell and John Bushell became the new committee. They met, in January 2004 and agreed that the Society must continue.
Ray became President; Liz was newsletter editor; Viv was Secretary; and John was Treasurer.
And so began the Sherlock Holmes Society of SA. It was as a result of a typist error, that our Society was called the SHSSA, which in fact is more correct. It was discussed at length by members, but was decided it should remain as SHSSA, as it was essentially a new Society, because Alan had given the name SHSA to Sydney Passengers, so it could not be used by an new interstate group.
Captain Bill Barnes from Sydney Passengers, was most helpful to me during our early days of SHSSA.
SHSSA had a very rough beginning. For personal reasons, Ray resigned as President after our first lunch meeting in March 2004, but remained a member. Liz then became President. Ray left the committee, but Mark Chellew took his place on the committee and volunteered to be newsletter editor.
Then Liz resigned in January 2005 and John Bushell became President/Treasurer in June 2006.
Alan Olding was made a life member of SHSSA as a tribute to his outstanding Sherlockian knowledge.
John Bushell was President of the Society from 2006 to 2017. Mark Chellew then took over as President and carries on that position to this day.
In a world where many social and special interest groups struggle, our society remains strong and vibrant.
We will continue to make sure that the name of Sherlock Holmes and the artistry of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle will continue to be relevant and respected for generations to come.