Queen Victoria’s Clairvoyant?

Philip Jeffs delves into the mysterious world of dubious clairvoyance in his latest blog…

I have to admit that today’s blog entry wanders a bit from pure Rylandsiana (a term invented by J.P. Rylands, not me), and into wider Victorian society, but it still has its origins firmly in the Rylands records.

The latest items I have catalogued are the diaries of Thomas Glazebrook Rylands. You have seen glimpses of T.G. Rylands’ hobbies and expertise in previous entries on the blog. His great interests in life were always scientific, and in particular he had an almost obsessive fascination with astronomy and microscopy.

Throughout the diaries we read of T.G. Rylands’ leisure time, and most of it has a scientific slant. He attends a lot of lectures and is a member of many associations and clubs such as the Microscopical Society and the paleontological Society.

Occasionally he does get dragged to the theatre to see the latest play, and invariably he doesn’t enjoy his evening.

In his diary for 1852, on 1st June, T.G.R. states that “Eagle’s Clairvoyant Exhibited at Robson’s in the afternoon & again at the theatre in the evening. It is a case of deception, they communicate by a system”.

The supernatural does not seem like a field of scientific study or entertainment likely to be of interest to T.G.R., but we know he did attend the show. This got me thinking about where the boundaries of science were in the 1850s. Whilst T.G.R. states that the psychic display is obviously a fake, many at the time saw it as a field of valid scientific study.

T.G.R. himself, amongst his many fields of scientific study, was deeply interested in phrenology (reading the bumps on people’s heads), which today, to most people, would seem a laughable idea, but in the 1860s was a widely accepted form of science, almost a parallel to anatomy. In basic terms phrenology involved feeling a person’s skull and by its shape determining their psychological attributes.

The picture below shows T.G.R.’s Study, circa 1870. Two phrenological heads can be seen on top of the bookcases.

But I am wandering off my point here. T.G.R. went to the show, perhaps he was curious as to whether there was any truth in clairvoyance, or perhaps he just went for amusement’s sake. What interested me really was the information that turned up when I looked into just who the “Eagles” were.

George Barnado Eagle, 1806 – 1858 was a popular magician, often known as “The Royal Wizard of the South”. He performed on stage with his daughter, Georgiana Elizabeth Eagle, known as “The Mysterious Lady”.

Of George Eagle, little could be found, but Georgina on the other hand turned out to be more intriguing. Whilst her father had been a standard magician, Georgiana presented her act as real psychic ability. References found to Georgiana referred to her as “Queen Victoria’s Medium”, intriguing!

With further research, what I found was a complicated and confused story of a child clairvoyant, who may have performed before Queen Victoria at Osborne house in 1846. Where the matter gets really confusing is that researchers argue over everything from what the nature of Georgiana’s performance was, to whether she even existed.

Some think that the girl in question is the same Georgiana we have reference to in T.G.R.’s diary, and that her act was standard magic show material of the day, such as identifying objects hidden behind a screen. Others believe that Georgiana was a gifted medium, and that Queen Victoria had used her to contact her late husband Prince Albert, this being one amongst many times Victoria resorted to psychics.

The watch, shown here, was on show at the College of Psychic Studies in London until 1963 when it was apparently stolen. There were two inscriptions on the watch, one of which, read as follows:

‘Presented by Her Majesty to Miss Georgiana Eagle for her Meritorious and
Extraordinary Clairvoyance produced at Osborn House, Isle of Wight, July 15th, 1846′

This watch was cited by some as being proof of Georgiana Eagle’s place as “Queen Victoria’s Psychic”, thought the watch was claimed by many to be a fake (the wrong spelling of Osborne House being a possible give away).

There is no irrefutable proof that Victoria ever consulted a psychic or held a séance, though claims apparently abound, claims as odd as the suggestion that John Brown, Victoria’s man-servant was channelling the dead Albert. There is also no proof that Georgiana Eagle ever met Queen Victoria, so all of this has been supposition.

I leave you to decide whether the woman seen on stage by T.G.R. was the same Georgiana Eagle, and to decide whether she contacted the dead for Queen Victoria, or simply performed parlour tricks. Why not look Eagle up online and get as confused as I did?

Possibly T.G.R. was on to the right thing in studying matters that could be proved or disproved and mathematically arranged… still, it is fun to read a good ghost story.

This article was first posted on Wednesday, August 13th, 2014.