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Pre-1848. The Movement known as Modern Spiritualism somewhat implies that there must be an ancient Spiritualism. Unsurprisingly is that in all ages, arising from the perennial psychic nature of man, psychic phenomena in varying forms have always been known. However, before 1848 then psychic happenings were usually regarded as ghostly and mysterious; indeed people had a real dread of them.

Accordingly, up to the 19th. Century, priest-hoods, often collectively and generally politically aligned to suit their own purposes, pronounced, what were after all quite natural occurrences, to be of the 'devil'. With most people uneducated in those times such pronouncements easily instilled fear into virtually everybody's minds. Then in 1848 [the actual date being March 31st.] Modern Spiritualism came into being. That day, truly an historic event, is when a two-way intelligently established communication between a 'dead' spirit person and an ordinary working family in Hydesville, New York, USA, was made. [Go to Spiritualism World-Wide]

Up to 1870, immigrants from Europe, principally the British Isles, were regularly arriving to settle in NZ and in those early days, with the discovery of gold in 1861 the South Island became particularly attractive. First settled in 1848 Dunedin, a city in the southern province of Otago became, for a time, the capital of NZ. Naturally, some new settlers brought with them Spiritualistic thoughts which, by then, had spread like wildfire throughout the western world. As such, Spiritualist literature began to circulate among the public; newspapers too were not backward in providing coverage of the emerging religion either. Some prominent citizens here were actively involved in its promulgation. Early on, various séance groups and circles were formed and continued their activities from then onwards. Spiritualism having had such a buoyant start in public exposure continued to enjoy a high profile during the last quarter of the 19th century.

1870-1890. Unsurprising perhaps, Dunedin also became the home of the Free-Thought Movement, which was founded on the 30th. March 1876 as 'The Dunedin Eclectic Society'. In 1878, the title was changed to 'The Dunedin Free-Thought Association' with, according to the Rationalist Association's centenary notes, 'an approximate membership of some 2,000 comprising Theists, Atheists, Agnostics, Pantheists, Unitarians and Spiritualists'. Among the mainstays of the Movement were Robert Stout and John Balance, who both became Prime Ministers of NZ [Robert in 1884 and John in 1891]. It was under the auspices of the 'Free-Thought Association' that, in 1879, the great pioneering medium and orator, Emma Hardinge Britten, visited New Zealand. An equally widely travelled American pastor and Spiritualist lecturer, Dr. James Peebles, later followed her. The Hon. Robert Stout was the then Attorney General and Member of Parliament for Dunedin. Interestingly, he chaired Emma Hardinge Britten's famous public meeting at the Garrison Hall in Dunedin, which was attended by no less than 1,800 people. [Go to Biographies.]

Adherents to the aforementioned Free-Thought Movement gradually divided into two factions, the Spiritualist and the Agnostic & Atheist. In 1907, The Spiritualist one culminated in the National Association of Spiritualists and in 1924 it was renamed The Spiritualist Church of New Zealand. The Free Thought Movement culminated in the Rationalist and Sunday Freedom League.

Meanwhile, an increasing number of independent Spiritualist churches, societies and informal groups became established mostly - but by no means solely - in the main towns of NZ. Many were formed around and through the activities of the various Speakers and Mediums of the time. Then, in 1867 another gold-field was discovered in the North Island town of Thames. Incidentally, it was here in 1873 that one of New Zealand's most prominent Spiritualist pioneers, Jane Harris-Roberts married her first husband, Thomas Harris - a medium - whom in fact, introduced her to Spiritualism.

1891-1900
. From Rationalist records we learn that the 'Free-Thought Association' - apparently due largely to the influence of Spiritualism' - eventually collapsed in 1893. Then, as was already being done overseas in countries such as England, Canada, USA and Australia, here too the foundations were laid for the unifying of sundry small Spiritualist Churches and Societies, etc. into a New Zealand-wide organisation. Accordingly, the Spiritualists became The National Association of Spiritualists in 1907 [and in 1924, The Spiritualist Church of New Zealand]. Meanwhile, the FTA culminated in a Rationalist Association as The Rationalist and Sunday Freedom League.

1905-1911. The move towards a unifying body intensified and on 8th. February 1907, The National Association of Spiritualists of New Zealand Incorporated [the NAS] was formed to further the interests of Spiritualism as a 'movement'. Its first President was Mr. William McLean, with Vice-President Mr. W. C. Nation and the Secretary a Mr. Miles.

5th National

This picture is of the delegates at the Fifth 'National Association of Spiritualists of New Zealand (Incorporated)', held at the Club House, Moray Place, Dunedin in April 1911. Front row, looking L-R, second from left Jane Harris-Roberts [known as 'The 'Mater'], William McLean of Wellington, and W. C. Nation of Levin [also National President]. Picture taken from 'Harbinger of Light' - issue June 1, 1911

1914. The NAS, re-vitalised, has become The National Association of Spiritualist Churches of New Zealand Incorporated [NASCNZ] with the idea of uniting groups rather than individuals. The organisation was known colloquially as 'The National Church'.

1923. This is reformed yet again into the 'Spiritualist Church of New Zealand' (SCNZ) and it is [now] actively engaged in seeking recognition as a Corporate Body - as the Baptists and others had done - from the New Zealand Parliament. The purpose was to give Spiritualism equal standing with other Orthodox Churches.

6th National

This picture is of the Sixth Annual Convention of the National Association of Spiritualists held at Christchurch during Easter 1912. Present were delegates from Auckland, Levin, Waihi, Wellington, New Plymouth. Wellington and Christchurch Lyceums also attended. Also attending were representatives from Victoria and Queensland, Australia.

1924. Under the guidance of Thomas G. Poytnon, a Stipendiary Magistrate, the Incorporation Bill [1924 No.2] for The Spiritualist Church of New Zealand was introduced into the New Zealand Parliament. Noted here too is that Mr. G. L. Anderson and Mr. Sam Williams were very much to the fore in this endeavour. On 22nd. September 1924 'The Spiritualist Church of New Zealand' [SCNZ] bill passed through parliament and became law [Act 1924, No.2].

1925 onwards. Notwithstanding the above, up until the present year [2006] the SCNZ has never been able to bring all Spiritualist churches under its umbrella. The probable cause, as with all Spiritualist ventures is the lack of funds both nationally and individually, which mostly prove to be the biggest obstacle. Many have also not been able to maintain a continuity of existence through both fluctuating availability of mediums and the equally fluctuating standards of mediumship being demonstrated. Nonetheless, the majority of Spiritualist Churches and societies in New Zealand, which are not affiliated with - and in fact are independent of the SCNZ, still function successfully. The Spiritualist Alliance [Auckland] Incorporated was an original member of the SCNZ in 1924, but withdrew in 1982. Interestingly, we celebrate our 95th anniversary of continuous existence in 2006!

Non-church Organisations. These too have come and gone but some have made notable contributions to Spiritualism, a few examples of which are as follows: In 1939, Wellington Psychic Research Society and a sister society in Christchurch were formed and 'The Founder' and first president of both was Mrs. Sinclair Burns. For several years Auckland had the 'Quest Club and Psychic Institute'. This was founded and fostered by Mr. and Mrs. S. Oldfield with great zeal and loyalty. The Bycroft Psychic Library in Christchurch, founded by Mr. G. Lovell-Smith, had about 1500 volumes and did untold educational work all over the country for many years as well.

Some Outstanding NZ Mediums and Psychics [up to 1948]. Miss Pearl Judd, of Dunedin, was one extremely outstanding direct voice medium. In her presence, with the assistance of sound vibrations from a piano for instance, recognisable spirit voices were heard with force, clarity and most importantly, identification. Even more interesting is that the medium remained perfectly normal [not in trance and often knitting too] working in both daylight and or artificial light.

Mr. Lancelot Brice of Christchurch at his weekly 'trumpet' séances demonstrated direct voice for over 20 years. There were other voice mediums that worked privately and as well, trance mediumship was fairly common.

There were quite a few psychic artists who drew and others who did sculptures. A psychic artist of note was Mrs. Berta Sinclair Burns, whose work was exhibited in the New Zealand Academy of Fine Arts on three occasions. She worked in fine pencil, charcoal, or oils, at great speed. Significantly, in all of her years as a psychic artist, no matter what medium she used, no eraser was ever employed and not a single wrong line was ever made. Another gifted artist was Mrs. Kathleen Philpott of Auckland. Outstanding also was the psychic sculpture of Mrs. Buick of Christchurch. And Donald McLean - of Christchurch also - was a psychic carver.

Some of the outstanding Spiritualists who visited New Zealand.

Among those who did visit during the early part of the 20th century were Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, 1920; Mr. Horace Leaf, 1922 and the celebrated American medium, Arthur Ford in 1937. As far as we are aware, Arthur Ford was also the first Spiritualist and medium to be allowed broadcast his messages over the radio waves in NZ. However, it was not until the late 1960's that Spiritualism was again accorded that privilege. On that occasion, as the invited guest of Radio New Zealand's Religious Department, the late Mr. Harold Sell, our then Church President, gave a pre-recorded address. Even so, worth noting is that his address was only approved after the third draft. Thus, after stiff vetting, all references to Sir Robert Stout's involvement with Spiritualism had been deleted and were not permitted inclusion.

Publications. For many years Mr. W. C. Nation of Levin edited his 'Message of Life' newspaper. After his death, Mrs. Sinclair Burns published 'Aquarius'. In the 1980's Mr. Ron Gibbs, of Auckland, published the 'NZ Psychic Gazette', and also, for approximately 15 years up until 2005, Mrs. Helen Collins published 'Expressions'. Some churches issue their own in-house newsletter. The most informative and educational one produced in the latter half of the 20th. Century has been 'The Communicator'. First issued quarterly by The Spiritualist Alliance in 1978, it was re-named 'The Spiritualist Communicator' in 2005 and is now issued bi-monthly.

Legal Issues. Up to the 1960's, there were occasional legal prosecutions of Spiritualists. This was because certain clauses in the then Crimes and Polices Offences Act made it possible for Spiritualism's opponents to bring Spiritualist Mediums into court in New Zealand on charges of 'witchcraft', 'fortune telling' and or 'fraudulence'. Such concepts dated back to the 1880's in English law and these clauses were 'copied' and passed into the New Zealand statutes. During the 1950's efforts were being made in England to have these clauses removed and too, somewhat similar efforts were being made in respect New Zealand laws. A special committee of the SCNZ was formed do this in New Zealand. At that time, as a member of an associated church, Mr. J. W. Graham, and other members were appointed to this special committee. [As aforementioned, The Spiritualist Alliance was associated to the NAS and the NASC up until 1982, when it resolved to become independent.] It should also be noted that the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was passed and proclaimed by the General Assembly of the United Nations on the 10th. December 1948 and that meant that it was being promulgated throughout the world. This resulted in Spiritualists around the world propounding that they too should be given the rights, protection and benefits of clause 18 of the Declaration. Another aspect in this 'interest' theme is that Maori Priests or Tohungas were practicing, according to the customs among the Maori people since, before [and after] the arrival of Europeans. These Tohungas have a distinct resemblance to Spiritualist mediums in many of their acts and practices. In 1907 and 1908 the New Zealand Parliament enacted the Tohunga Suppression Act [1907 No.13 and 1908 No.193] making certain of their practices criminal offences. Naturally, much opposition was forthcoming to the suppression of some Maori religious practices but this act was not repealed until 1962.

1965. On October 13th. Mr. J. A. Lawson, the then President of the SCNZ, petitioned Parliament pleading for the revision of these offensive laws, but without much effect at the time.

1973. From the 22nd. May and onwards other submissions and pleas were made to the Statutes Revision Committee of the New Zealand Parliament. Two members of the SCNZ committee, Mr. Ron Gibbs and Mr. Joe Graham went to Wellington to plead the cause of Spiritualism, asking that the revision of the statutes be altered to our advantage. However, delays occurred, so it was not until eight years later, after some further entreaties by the then SCNZ Secretary that the specific acts were re-drafted and the clauses offensive to Spiritualists were omitted. [Similar changes to the appropriate laws in the UK had also helped the New Zealand cause.]

Today, Spiritualists can and do, safely practice their religion without any fear of persecution or prosecution at the Law Courts by the opponents of Spiritualism. However, a negative aspect of this freedom has arisen in today's climate with the proliferation of psychic fortune-tellers' adverts, 'phone-in 'psychic' lines in the media. It must be properly and clearly understood that these have nothing to do with the Spiritualist Movement. Equally, such proponents of the fortune-telling brigade are only psychics and are neither Spiritualists as such, non mediums! [see POST BAG]

[References as follows: Harold Sell [late Spiritualist Alliance President], J. W. Graham [late Spiritualist Alliance Life Member and Historian] Spiritualist Pioneer Emma Hardinge Britten; the Rationalist Association; the Australian publication 'The Harbinger of Light' and the Encyclopædia of New Zealand.]