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Charles Bailey - Australian Apport Medium


Charles Bailey (1870 - 1946) 

Famous apport medium of Melbourne, Australia, discussed for years both in Australia and in Europe. Though repeatedly caught in fraud, he was able to continue work with a small group of believers until shortly before his death. Bailey was a bootmaker by trade when he began his mediumship in 1889. For many years he was the private medium of Thomas Welton Stanford, a Melbourne millionaire, who made a collection of Bailey's apports, the first museum of its kind. It is preserved at Stanford University, Palo Alto, California, to which he gave an endowment of $50,000 for psychical research in 1911.

Public attention for Bailey's phenomena was aroused in 1902 by accounts published in the Harbinger of Light. In 1904 the records of a long series of experiments appeared in Rigid Tests of the Occult by Dr. C. W. McCarthy, one of the leading medical men of Sydney. The conditions of these experiments were severe. The medium was searched, stripped, sometimes dressed in a new suit, tied up in a sealed sack, with openings for the hands to hold the apported object; on special occasions the sitters were also searched and the medium was enclosed in a cage with close mosquito netting. The doors were locked or sealed, no furniture was kept in the room except chairs and a table, the fireplace was blocked, and the only second floor window was papered.

Immediately after Bailey went into trance, the controls took charge of the phenomena. The chief control was a "Dr. Whitcombe," sometime physician in Melbourne. Another, "Dr. Robinson," claimed to have been professor of Syro-Chaldaic literature in New York. The apport of old coins and Babylonian clay tablets with cuneiform inscriptions were apparently due to him. A third control was a Hindu named "Abdul." It was he who actually brought the apports. A few minutes were sufficient, and when light was produced, the medium was found to hold a live bird and a nest in each hand. Many of these birds were kept for days in cages. Sometimes they disappeared as mysteriously as they came, and sometimes they died in captivity.

Once a live, shovel-nosed shark, 18 inches long, was brought in. A crab, with dripping seaweed, was similarly apported. Another time a long snake was found coiling around the medium's neck. On being covered with a cloth it disappeared in full light. Undercover apports sometimes appeared in good visibility, or were seen to drop from a height away from the medium. In McCarthy's cap, after being covered by a handkerchief, a turtle was discovered. Another time he found a jewel in his hand under a palm leaf.

The clay tablets and the Egyptian and Indian coins that Bailey apported in abundance were submitted by McCarthy to the Department of Egyptian and Assyrian Antiquities of the British Museum. The tablets were pronounced imitations and the coins genuine but of no rarity or value.

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle related his personal experiences with Bailey in the History of Spiritualism (1926), adding that on further inquiry it was found that these forgeries were made by certain Jews in a suburb of Baghdad. He voiced the opinion that a forgery, steeped in recent human magnetism, may be more capable of being handled by the invisible operators than the originals, which have to be searched for in mounds. Bailey produced at least 100 such tablets and told Doyle that they were passed as genuine by the British Museum.

At the sitting in question, besides an Assyrian tablet, Bailey apported a jungle sparrow's nest with an egg in it. The nest was two inches high and showed no sign of any flattening, which ought to have been the case had it been concealed on the medium's person.

On Marco Falcomer 's intervention, the Milan Society for Psychical Studies made arrangements with Bailey for a European visit. From February to April 1904, 17 sittings were held in Milan. Bailey was put in a sleeved-sack of thin black satin. The sack was fastened at the neck and wrist with tapes. The tapes were tied and the knots were sealed. His coat and boots were taken off, and the investigators felt over his body, especially in hollow parts where objects could be hidden. Bailey, however, refused to allow himself to be entirely undressed, saying he was afraid of catching cold.

The apports consisted mostly of small articles: two or three live birds; a fish with an acrid, penetrating, saline odor; and a Babylonian tablet enveloped in a hard coating of sand. Some of the birds, nests, and eggs disappeared before the end of the séance. In the dark Bailey demonstrated the rapid growth of a seed in a flower pot and the presence of phosphorescent lights and luminous shapes. The committee's desire to have a specially designated object transported from one room to another was not realized.

The report, signed by Mr. Baccigaluppi, A. Brioschi, Dr. Clericetti, O. Cipriana, Dr. F. Ferrari, A. Marzorati, Odorico, Redealli, and Dr. E. Griffini, stated: "The Committee … whilst it deplores (a) the medium's strange obstinacy in refusing to consent to allow himself to be thoroughly undressed; (b) having been obliged to submit to conditions of total darkness at the critical moment of the apport; (c) having been unable, because of the short time accorded the research and in consequence of the very nature even of the phenomena, to apply any method which might enable the Committee to state, precisely and scientifically, the process and origin of the phenomena in question, is on the other hand obliged to state (i) that during the course of seventeen séances, notwithstanding the search of the medium's person by different individuals and by various methods, nothing has ever been found which might justify the hypothesis of fraud; that even admitting that for some of the phenomena an approximate explanation might be found, as far as others are concerned—e.g., the apport of living birds, the  disappearance of a small bird, etc.—it does not seem possible to formulate a likely explanation; (ii) that, moreover, the hypothesis of suggestion becomes inadmissible if we take into consideration the number of experimenters, who were constantly being changed and who were differently seated each time, as well as the material traces which were left of the phenomena. Given this, the Committee, whilst making reserves on the archaeological value of certain apports, believes it is able, in principle, to come to a conclusion in favor of the objectivity of the facts, and calls the attention of science to these phenomena which find no sufficient explanation in recognised laws."

From Milan Bailey went on to Rome. After giving two seances to Lady Butt he returned to Australia. Because the Milan findings were criticized in many quarters, plans were set afoot to induce Bailey to make a second European visit. It took some years until the plan materialized.

On the invitation of Col. Eugene A. D. Rochas and W. Reichel, Bailey came to Grenoble, where disaster overtook him. In a séance held on February 20, 1910, two small live birds were produced. A local dealer recognized in Bailey the man who bought three similar birds from him two days previously. The investigators claimed that he concealed the birds in his intestinal opening as Bailey did not allow them to make examination there. Matters were made worse by the statement of the Hindu control that the birds came directly from India.

In 1911, under the auspices of Mrs. Foster-Turner, Bailey came to London. In a test séance on July 6 before a committee selected by Dr. Abraham Wallace in which the Society for PsychicalResearch was represented by two well-known members, Bailey was undressed, examined, and shut into a cage. Several controls came, a Hindu took possession, but when addressed in Hindustani by a professor of Oriental languages, he immediately subsided into broken English. Later a bird nest appeared in the medium's hand. The control, however, tore it asunder. Two small eggs were also produced but they were broken by the control when passing them to a member of the committee. After the séance, the committee desired to examine the medium's boots more thoroughly, but he left the house, and as a result an unfavourable verdict was returned. On July 28, at another test sitting, during a period of complete darkness, two small birds appeared between the mosquito netting that enveloped the medium and the cabinet. However, toward the end of the sitting the medium toppled over, and in falling he tore the network, so the verdict was again "not proven" (Light September 1911; Journal of the Society for Psychical Research Vols. 12 & 15).

Back in Sydney there was another exposure scandal on March 5, 1914. One of the sitters made a grab at a materialized form and caught hold of the drapery. It was wrenched from his hand, and the medium, sick and dazed, was carried to Dr. MacCarthy for medical aid. In the same year Bailey sat for six weeks in Rothesay, Scotland, for a circle selected by James Coates. Coates reported in Light (August 1, 1914) that Bailey was not only a genuine but a unique medium. They obtained apports: ruby sand and an Indian sparrow's nest containing two eggs. The eggs were in Coates's possession for two weeks, and after being blown, the contents were found fresh. Bailey was also induced to try a trumpet. "The personal indication of the voices was most convincing." Impressions of hands and feet were also obtained on plasticine.

In Psychic Research (June 1931), Harry Price published extracts from a letter written to him by H. L. Williams, a retired magistrate from the Punjab. According to this, Bailey was still active and produced such objects as "a Saracen helmet of scale armour, each scale (3,000 of them) a silver coin with inscription; 30 to 40 Chinese carved figures in ivory of exquisite workmanship and draped in silk arranged to represent a royal court, a complete mandarin's robe which a friend of Williams saw fall from the ceiling, live birds … Babylonian cuneiform tablets … punic tablets, faience figures from Egypt, cut and polished stone and coins, coins in gold, silver, and copper with inscriptions in Sanskrit, Persian, and Arabic; plaster casts of hands and feet of adults and children obtained from materialisations, etc. Williams says that half the homes of Sydney are stocked with these apports." Bailey held daily seances and charged a small fee only. It could not possibly cover the cost of fraudulently producing such a wide variety of apports.

Bailey's phenomena confounded many psychic researchers in his own day. Given the more skeptical perspective produced by continuous observation of physical mediums, of which only a few remain, and the revelations of mediums like M. Lamar Keene, it is difficult to see in Bailey anything other than a clever stage magician and in the favorable reports of some observers as the observations of those less competent in detecting fraud. The simple fact remains that no one has been able to produce apports under anything resembling controlled conditions, and their existence is highly doubtful.

However, it seems that Bailey continued to give seances in the late 1930s. According to Two Worlds (July 9, 1937), the author and playwright H. Dennis Bradley communicated in a circle in Manly, Australia, March 25, 1937, at which Charles Bailey was the medium, and a "fraud-proof" instrument, the "Shastaphone," was used.


Berger, Arthur S., and Joyce Berger. Encyclopedia of Parapsychology and Psychical Research. New York: Paragon House, 1991.

Doyle, Arthur Conan. History of Spiritualism. 2 vols. London: Cassele, 1926.

Irwin, H. J. "Charles Bailey: A Biographical Study of the Australian Apport Medium." Journal of the Society for Psychical Research 54 (1987): 97.

Keene, M. Lamar. The Psychic Mafia. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1976.

McCarthy, C. W. Rigid Tests of the Occult. Melbourne, Australia: Stephens, 1904.

"Mediumship of Mr. C. Bailey." Journal of the Society for Psychical Research 12 (1905): 77, 109.