A late visit from Conan Doyle

Conan Doyle pretending to be Sherlock Holmes

Conan Doyle pretending to be Sherlock Holmes

Following on from our recent story about Sherlock Holmes’ creator visiting Perth, we should mention that Arthur Conan Doyle came back to WA in August 1930. That might not seem unusual, until you realise that he had been dead for more than a month.

A Sydney psychic (Psydney psychic?) claimed to be the first to have had a vision of the great man, but this was instantly rubbished by west coast mediums. If Conan Doyle was going to appear anywhere in Australia, it would definitely be in Perth. After all, hadn’t he visited here in 1921, and didn’t he donate £85 to the Spiritualist Church? And wasn’t WA the only place in Australia to actually have a spiritualist church at all?

So, a local apparition of the famous author was needed quickly, and fortunately one came to herbalist and clairvoyant, Maud McDonough. He had no particular message for her on this occasion, but she did see him quite plainly.

However when Conan Doyle returned three years later he had a very clear message for Maud. She was to take charge of all the various smaller spiritualist groups in Perth and Fremantle and unite them under own command. This was to be the grand Spiritualist Church of Western Australia (Inc).

Unsurprisingly, this did not go down well with the other leaders in the movement, who rejected Maud’s unambiguous mission from Conan Doyle. A series of bitter meetings took place, where Maud was roundly condemned and attempts made to expel her from the club.

The church administration fragmented, while numerous lawyers’ letters failed to resolve the situation. In the end, the secretary and treasurer resigned, taking the association’s cash with them.

Apparently the spirit of Arthur Conan Doyle didn’t see that coming.

Drop-in prophets

I foresee you liking the following snapshot of Perth history

I foresee you liking the following snapshot of Perth history

Madams Zona, Mora and Carlotta were fortune-tellers working in the CBD in 1907. Unfortunately for them, back then being a psychic was illegal. So when a young undercover policeman, Constable Smith, was sent to visit, it was never going to end well.

Constable Smith first entered Madam Mora’s premises in Wellington Street. The plain-clothed bachelor pretended to have a wife who had abandoned him at Coolgardie. He asked the psychic if she could locate this imaginary woman. Mora picked up her cards and told Smith to divide it into three piles.

Using her ‘psychic’ abilities, she read the cards, announcing “You will find your wife shortly.” The cards also revealed a dark man who was connected with Smith’s troubles, and this stranger would try to kill the copper.

Smith paid Zora half-a-crown, and she warned him to say nothing about his visit. Strangely, her clairvoyance did not extend to noticing he was an undercover law enforcement official.

Madam Carlotta was a palmist. In exchange for Smith’s money she also revealed the non-existent wife would soon show up. Not only that, but he would have four children. Even more excitingly, Smith was soon to become an engineer, who would gain fame through an amazing invention.

The final visit to Madam Zona also promised a happy reunion for the policeman. And still the psychics didn’t discover their immediate destiny was to be a trip to court. There, they were spared jail on condition they agreed to cease telling fortunes.

Dodgy Perth does not know what happened to Zona, but Madam Carlotta—known to her friends as Ethel Daley—was unable to give up her trade, and was prosecuted again a few years after.

Mora’s future, though, turned her card skills in a surprising direction. She became an illusionist, regularly appearing at the Melrose Theatre in Murray Street. She also became renowned as a debunker, exposing spiritualist scams and teaching people about gambling tricks.

Now who would have seen that coming?