Robert Hanham Collyer


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Slides from Bankes Descendants' reunion 18 June 2011

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Robert Hanham Collyer

  1. 1. Robert HanhamCollyerBankes’ most colourful descendant?<br />Helen Mitchell<br />
  2. 2. Early life & education<br />Born 1814 St Helier, Jersey<br />Son of Robert Mitchell Collyer, grocer & Ann Elizabeth Dujardin<br />Eldest of 13 children<br />Around 1831 studied in Paris under "the famous prophet of phrenology Johann Gaspar Spurzheim."<br />1833-1835 Studied medicine at London University<br />March 1836 Arrives in Philadelphia with his parents and siblings<br />1839 Registered as senior student at Berkshire Medical Institution, Massachusetts, graduating a few months later – afterwards styled himself ‘MD’ – though some doubt over the validity of the qualification<br />©2011 Google Map data ©2011 Tele Atlas<br />
  3. 3. Phrenology<br /><ul><li>While at London University, studiedunder Elliotson, a pioneer of mesmerism and phrenology
  4. 4. On arrival in America in 1836, RHC almost immediately set up in business delivering public lectures & private consultations on phrenology, using his younger brother Frederick to demonstrate</li></li></ul><li>Phrenology<br />Lecture tour 1836-7<br />Then spent the winter of 1837 “examining the heads of more than 300 negroes”<br />His research resulted in“Manual of Phrenology” published 1838. Sold copies at talks, with personalised readings pasted inside. <br />©2011 Google Map data ©2011 Tele Atlas<br />
  5. 5. Phrenology<br /><ul><li>Continued touring and speaking1838-9 on phrenology.
  6. 6. While on tour had an interesting encounter with Captain Marryat which we will return to later...</li></li></ul><li>Mesmerism<br /><ul><li>In Autumn 1839, he spent timein Providence, RI where friends ‘converted’ himto mesmerism
  7. 7. Within a few weeks he was ‘magnetising’ young ladies at parties
  8. 8. From Spring 1841 he began lecturing publicly on mesmerism
  9. 9. He travelled with a young Irish boy known as ‘Frederick’ who was a particularly good mesmeric subject – there seem to have been several Fredericks
  10. 10. He still lectured on phrenology – he’d simply expanded his range of talks!</li></li></ul><li>Mesmerism<br /><ul><li>Soon realised he could combine phrenology & mesmerism – using mesmerism to ‘act on the phrenological organs’ – inventing ‘phreno-magnetism’
  11. 11. He had ceased to believe in this by Autumn 1842
  12. 12. By 1843 he has come up with – and written a book about – ‘Psychography, or the embodiment of thought’</li></li></ul><li>Mesmerism<br /><ul><li>Psychography contains the much-ridiculed ‘Bowl of molasses experiment’
  13. 13. July 1843 while lecturing in Canada – Charles Snyder claims he was being paid by Collyer to perform staged demonstrations – ‘Great anti-mesmeric meeting’
  14. 14. A number of controversies including this may have led to him returning to England Oct 1843</li></li></ul><li>Lights and Shadows<br />Circa 1838 – ‘Lights & Shadows of American Life’ published in Boston; a second edition in 1843<br />The book gives Collyer’s early impressions of America and is less than complimentary about many aspects of the country – more shadows than lights<br />It does not make him popular!<br />1843 – Arrives back in England and claims he is not the author of the book<br />1844 – Oddly, a couple of months later in an advert for one of his shows in Cheltenham it sells him as being "author of the celebrated 'Lights and Shadows…'"<br />
  15. 15. England 1843-1845<br />Toured England during this period, including Cheltenham and Liverpool<br />In addition to lectures on mesmerism he had a new string to his bow:<br />Accompanied by a American Indian, Joc-O-Sot, he lectured on ‘Wild men of the far West’ – claiming to have spent time with 8 Indian tribes while in America<br />Apr 1845 Married Susannah Hawley Macdonald, 30 yr old widow, in Devon<br />In June a report of the marriage appears in US newspapers; says Susannah is the granddaughter of Flora Macdonald who helped Bonnie Prince Charlie escape (self-evidently this was not true)<br />In July RHC sailed back to New York, after which he appears to have spent some time in charge of a cholera hospital in Mexico<br />
  16. 16. Jersey<br />Between summer 1846 and summer 1847 he returned to Jersey<br />Practised as a physician and gave the odd public lecture<br />Appears to have experienced some ill health during this time<br />©2011 Google Map data ©2011 Tele Atlas<br />
  17. 17. The Model Artistes<br />In September 1847 he arrived back in New York, accompanied by his father and a cousin, with a bang!<br />He launched a ‘Model Artistes’ show – where models – supposed to have been brought over from Rome and London - posed on stage dressed only in a body stocking, impersonating poses from classic sculptures and paintings<br />Collyer’s wife was said to have obtained some notoriety in her pose as ‘The Greek Slave’ by Hiram Powers<br />Some said it was tasteful, and brought art to the masses<br />Others had a different opinion!<br />
  18. 18. The Model Artistes<br />The Model Artistes stayed in New York around 3 months, playing to packed houses<br />Then toured New Orleans, Cincinnati, Alabama, and other locations, before returning to New York.<br />During one show Mars trod on the toes of Venus and a fracas ensued - the rest of the cast and the audience joined in<br />
  19. 19. Collyer goes West<br />At the end of 1848 Collyer started advertising talks in New York giving people practical advice on identifying and washing gold – apparently he was an expert on this thanks to being a Professor of Chemistry!<br />The following April he departed for California as part of the ‘Fremont Association’ party, accompanied by Mrs Collyer and Frederick, his ‘brother’<br />The first part of the journey is by ship to Galveston<br />
  20. 20. Collyer goes West<br />Before the ship gets even half way to Galveston Collyer has fallen out with the other members of the Association and been expelled<br />He was accused of not helping with cooking, of trying to swindle the group over a case of medical instruments, and it is said there is an ‘unenviable notoriety’ surrounding him. Members of the group suspect his wife may not be his wife and his brother may not be his brother – or even male!<br />
  21. 21. Collyer goes West<br />On arriving at Galveston Collyerparts company with the group<br />Journeys via Saltillo, Mexico & through the Sierra Madre where he is ‘attacked by banditti’<br />©2011 Google Map data ©2011 Tele Atlas<br />
  22. 22. California adventures<br />On arrival in California we first find him upin the hills near Sacramento looking for gold<br />Another traveller describes him in his diaries as “particularly sour and morose”; continually complaining that California is a poor country and that one would be hard pressed to stay the winter there<br />Sure enough, by next Spring he has given up on finding gold in the hills and has returned to town to find gold, opening the ‘Athaeneum’ in San Francisco, and putting on a Model Artistes show<br />Also takes the Model Artistes to other theatres in the area<br />
  23. 23. California adventures<br />Just over a year later the Athaeneumburns down in the Great Fire of San Francisco<br />While in California he invents and patents a number of gold-related machines – a new method of crushing quartz, a new amalgamating apparatus and a gold-crushing machine, for example<br />He also later patents an improved breech loading cannon said to be inspired by his Californian adventures<br />He also has a son, Robert A Collyer, born in California in 1852<br />
  24. 24. Back to Europe<br />In August 1852 a report appears in the newspapers that Collyer has inherited a fortune from a relative who died intestate<br />By 1853 he is back in New York (where he attends a seance with a celebrated medium) before departing for Europe<br />Back in England in 1854 Collyer is exhibiting his gold machines at the Crystal Palace; they are being built by a firm in Ipswich<br />Later he also exhibits at other exhibitions around Europe, including Paris and Moscow<br />
  25. 25. Back to Europe<br />At the International Exhibition inLondon in 1862 Collyer is Chairman of Class 4 (animal and vegetable substances used in manufactures) <br />But - he was ousted as chairman by a Mr Smith, who took Collyer’s place in the procession for the distribution of prizes. Collyer tried to take back his place in the procession and a scuffle ensued, ending with him being held back by a policeman!<br />
  26. 26. Inventions<br />Over the next few years he focuses mainly on his inventions:<br />New paper material<br />Machine for cleaning & purifying grain<br />A new coating for the bottom of ships<br />A chemical ink pencil<br />Telegraph cable improvements<br />New chemical tubing<br />New flax treatment machinery<br />
  27. 27. Anthropology<br />Collyer also regarded himself as an anthropologist<br />In 1855, while in Suffolk (presumably while visiting the manufacturers of his gold crushing machine) he became interested in a coprolite pit where an interesting jawbone had been found. He obtained the ‘Foxhall Jaw’ 2 years later from Sir Thomas Beaver<br />During the 1860s he was a member of the Anthropological Society of London, to whom he donated a skull from Oregon<br />He was appointed Special Commissioner for Anthropology at the Paris Exhibition in 1867<br />The same year he published a paper about the Foxhall Jaw <br />
  28. 28. Evolution<br />Collyer appears to have been a firm and early believer in evolution:<br />1839 His thesis at Berkshire Medical College was on ‘the progression of animal life’<br />1841 Shocks his audience by saying Jesus’ miracles were the result of animal magnetism (ie mesmerism)<br />1849 En route to Galveston - Started to give a lecture on the first chapter of Genesis but stopped by the ship’s captain. Methodist minister criticised ‘those preaching false doctrines’<br />
  29. 29. Anaesthesia<br />Collyer was one of many to claim to be the true discoverer of anaesthesia<br />He said he had been experimenting with using drugs (as well as mesmerism) throughout his career to render subjects unconscious or insensible; for example:<br />In December 1839 his father was running a distillery in New Orleans; a slave was sniffing the alcohol fumes coming from a vat and passed out as a result; he fell, dislocating a hip. Collyer was able to fix his hip without him feeling pain<br />During 1840 he says he carried out a series of experiments & demonstrations with nitrous oxide<br />In 1841 he is said to have rendered a child unconscious using a combination of mesmerism and morphine to facilitate an eye operation<br />During 1842 he "nearly sacrificed the life of his brother when submitting him to experiments with Indian hemp and alcoholic vapours“<br />Extracting teeth from his mesmerised subjects on stage was a key part of his act!<br />
  30. 30. Anaesthesia<br />During the 1840s there was much controversy about who was the true discoverer of anaesthesia<br />The debate ran and ran – and was still being discussed in the 1870s<br />1870 ‘The Lancet’ says "Dr Collyer, to our minds, is the true modern pioneer, after all - the man who ran first."<br />1877 Collyer published a pamphlet ‘Early history of the anaesthetic discovery’, styling himself ‘original discoverer of the nitrous oxide, ether and chloroform process’<br />
  31. 31. Spiritualism<br />Collyer had first seen a medium, Mrs Astor, in New York in 1853<br />His second experience with a medium was in 1859 but this turned out to be a fraud<br />In 1856 his brother Joseph had been killed in an accident on a steamship near New Orleans; at the moment of his death, their mother, hundreds of miles away saw Joseph appear in her bedroom doorway, bloody and dressed in a nightgown – which is what he was wearing at the time of his death <br />In late 1860 / early 1861 he attended several seances and became convinced that what he was seeing was not trickery or optical illusion<br />In 1862 he contributed an article to Spiritualist Magazine<br />
  32. 32. Spiritualism<br />In 1876 an American medium, Henry Slade, best known for his slate-writing phenomena, visited London<br />He was accused of being a fraud, tried and convicted<br />Between accusation and trial many ‘scientific men’ tried to test him out – including Collyer, who visited him three times and was convinced there was no fraud involved<br />
  33. 33. France & Belgium<br />Apparently within weeks of registering his daughter Emily Pauline’s birth in 1865, Collyer and family had decamped to mainland Europe<br />Over the next 5 years they lived in or passed through Pont Audemer, Boulogne (where a son was born) & Paris in France, and Bruges and Courtrai in Belgium<br />By 1871 the family were back in London, though in 1872 Collyer visited Moscow for an exhibition.<br />Stayed in London until around 1878/9.<br />©2011 Google Map data ©2011 Tele Atlas<br />
  34. 34. 1870s<br />During the 1870s he began to write more again - <br />1871: Mysteries of the vital element : in connexion with dreams, somnambulism, trance, vital photography, faith and will, anaesthesia, nervous congestion and creative function: modern spiritualism explained <br />1873: Exalted States of the nervous system<br />1876: Automatic writing; The Slade prosecution; Vindication of the truth <br />1877: Early history of the anaesthetic discovery; or painless surgical operations<br />
  35. 35. Private Life<br />What of Robert HanhamCollyer’s wife and children?<br />
  36. 36. Collyer’s women & children<br />Earliest mention of a ‘Mrs Collyer’ is in 1838 at Louisville, where he caught her in bed with Captain Marryat (of Children of the New Forest fame), causing a scandal; a duel was averted. <br />April 1845 Married Susannah Hawley Macdonald; she is said to have left him 9 months later in January 1846<br />In 1849 Collyer is accompanied by ‘a lady’ suspected not to be his wife en route to California; “Another encounter took place between Dr Collyer and his lady which resulted in the latter obtaining a sable-coloured eye and cut lip.”<br />1852 A son, Robert A Collyer born in California – mother unknown<br />
  37. 37. Collyer’s women & children<br />1858 – Ship passenger list shows him arriving in New York with a Mrs Collyer<br />1861 – Census records show him in London, living with ‘wife’ Eliza, age 30 and son Robert A Collyer<br />1863 – A daughter, Dulcybella, baptised in London – mother’s name Mary Ann<br />1864 – Marries Emily Jeans Clements, aged 16 (he is aged 50) in London<br />1865 – Daughter Emily Pauline Leitrim Collyer born in London<br />1866 – Son Robert (‘France’) Collyer born in Boulogne<br />
  38. 38. Collyer’s women and children<br />1873 – Marriage to Emily Jeans Clements annulled when she found out his first wife was still alive! The children stayed with their mother and some members of the family later emigrated to Canada.<br />1876 – Has been living with a Mrs Sigismund for some time, and she has taken his name. Her husband files for divorce.<br />How many more? Who knows!<br />
  39. 39. The last 10 years<br />For the last 10 years of his life Collyer appears to have lived primarily in America, though in 1881 he is known to have spent time in India and possibly also in Egypt<br />He continued to patent inventions into his mid-70s<br />He may have been the Dr Collyer that was Chemist of the Agricultural Department in Washington<br />He died – according to a statement by his sisters – around the year 1890 in the New Orleans area. The exact date and location is unknown.<br />
  40. 40. What Was Collyer Like?<br />1843 - 'The Rover Omnibus', Boston:<br /> “…a small cadaverous looking individual, with immensely black whiskers, contracted eyebrows, and a very liberal quantity of under lip, in a large arm-chair, now changing his legs from the left arm of he chair to the right, now crossing them on the table, or slipping as far down in his seat as possible, and with an herculean effort, hang them by the heels on the mantel-piece; all this time spluttering vehemently, talking around some point in mesmerism, but never at it.”<br />
  41. 41. What Was Collyer Like?<br />1849 – “He made a somewhat eloquent speech which amounted to nothing”<br />1849 – “Frightened while bathing by a fish coming near him”<br />1849 – “A middle-aged man; of a peculiarly sour and morose temper, seemed to find no employment so congenial as grumbling”<br />
  42. 42. What Was Collyer Like?<br />1839 - "as to the merits of Dr. Collyer as a Lecturer, as an intelligent man, and as an independent friend of truth, we hereby tender him our best wishes for his future success in life; and our thanks for his laudable efforts to rescue an important branch of science“<br />1870 - The Lancet says "Dr Collyer, to our minds, is the true modern pioneer, after all - the man who ran first.”<br />