The Volckman 'Exposure'
With the Katie King manifestations Florence Cook had become the first British medium to allegedly materialise a spirit form in good light. However, on the night of 9 December, 1873, her reputation as a physical medium received a blow from which it never fully recovered. One of the sitters at this particular Hackney session was a Spiritualist and investigator named William Volckman.
According to Volckman, after he had carefully observed the spirit of Katie King, dressed completely in ghostly white as she paraded around the room, he noted the startling resemblance between the medium and the so-called spirit. Hoping to prove his theory correct in dramatic fashion Volckman sprang up from his chair and 'grasped the spirit'. In the confusion which followed three of the other sitters took hold of Volckman, who received a scratched nose and lost part of his beard in the struggle, while the 'spirit' escaped back into the cabinet. When everything had calmed down, apparently after a period of about five minutes, the curtain was pulled back. There the sitters found Florence in a considerably agitated condition, but still clad in the black dress and boots which she had been wearing at the beginning of the séance, and bound to the chair with the same tape which had been used to confine her. The knot in the tape, which had been sealed with the signet ring of the Earl of Caithness, one of the sitters, was still intact. A subsequent search of Florence Cook revealed no trace of the white robes Katie King had been seen wearing.
Despite the fact that Florence was discovered still bound to her chair, Volckman's evidence for imposture still seems rather suggestive, and to Trevor Hall and many subsequent researchers it is conclusive proof that her claims to psychic and mediumistic abilities were based on fraud. However, there is much more to this incident than Hall et al ever realised or bothered to research. The Volckman exposure needs to be seen against the background of the violent jealousy of another medium called Mrs. Guppy, a woman with an unnatural hatred of young mediums in general, but of Florence Cook in particular.
Working from unpublished contemporary documents R.G. Medhurst and K.M. Goldney (see sources below) have found evidence of what may be termed a 'Guppy Plot'. In essence this consisted of a startling plan which involved a group of sitters, including William Volckman, who were to be hired to attend one of Florence Cook's séances. When a favourable moment arose during the psychic manifestations, one of the group was to throw vitriol (acid) into the face of the supposed spirit, and thus, they assumed, destroy forever the pretty features of Mrs. Guppy's bitterest rival Florence Cook.
Another interesting fact relating to the exposure, and supporting the idea of some kind of plot, is that after Mr. Guppy passed away, William Volckman then married Mrs. Guppy. However, despite the motives of Volckman, it is still a fact that he grabbed hold of Florence posing as the spirit Katie King. Or is it? We only have Volckman's word that what he grasped was indeed the flesh and blood Florence Cook rather than the ethereal Katie King. After the exposure Volckman stated that 'no third parties had any knowledge of my invitation to, or presence at, the séance in question.' As we have already seen this was an outright lie. In contrast to Volckman's statement that Katie had to be forcibly removed from his grasp, other sitters attested that Katie glided out of Mr. Volckman's grip, and subsequently seemed to dematerialize. One witness described her movement as being akin to that of 'a seal in water'.
So, although the so-called Volckman exposure does cast a huge shadow over the mediumship of Florence Cook, (if you choose to believe it), it is clear that Volckman was far from the disinterested witness he claimed to be. If the motive for his actions was to show Florence to be a fraud by whatever means necessary, which seems to have been the case, this should cast at least some doubt on his testimony, though of course it still remains a telling indictment of Cook and her 'psychic abilities'.