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Theos-World From Dr Gregory Tillett on CW Leadbeater's birthdate

May 25, 2000 11:13 AM
by David Green

From Dr Gregory Tillett on CW Leadbeater's birthdate
Although one might have thought the question of the date of
Charles Webster Leadbeater¹s birth was resolved by the
publication in my book, The Elder Brother in 1982, it would seem
that this is not so. The Theosophical Publishing House at Adyar,
after a period from 1982 when they tended to include the date of
Leadbeater¹s death on the covers of his books but not to mention
the year of his birth, has now begun to republish Leadbeater¹s
books with the dates 1847-1934 for his life. More bizarrely, at
its meeting in Sydney in the latter half of 1996, the General
Episcopal Synod of the Liberal Catholic Church by resolution
declared that Leadbeater was born in 1847, despite apparent
evidence to the contrary. The Church had, apparently, originally
accepted the corrected birth date, publishing a booklet by Hugh
Shearman which stated (and attempted to explain) it, and
revising material published by the Liberal Catholic Institute of
Studies to include (but not note or explain) the changed date.
Why, therefore, would anyone now bother to try to promote an
obviously false date ?

The answer is fairly obvious. If Leadbeater could not tell the
truth about the basic facts of his early life, what trust can be
placed in his clairvoyant vision ? If someone is dishonest about
that which is open to external assessment, what credibility can
they have regarding that which is known only to them ?
In Leadbeater¹s case, if he can be shown to be untruthful
regarding the prosaic events of his childhood and early life,
what assessment is to be made of accounts of life on Mars,
discussions with inner plane Masters or clairvoyant descriptions
of everything from the archaeology of Atlantis to the history of
Christianity, the causes of cancer or the post-mortem state of
someone¹s beloved cat?

Leadbeater claimed, consistently and in print, to have been born
on February 17, 1947. It seems a simple enough question, and one
which any individual could and should be able to answer: when
were you born ?  There are, however, in Leadbeater¹s case, two
answers to that question: the answer given by Leadbeater
(February 17, 1847) and the answer given by the birth
certificate in the General Register Office in London, and other
documents (February 16, 1854). It may be that, for some complex
family reason, an individual might believe they were born a
little earlier or later than was the case. Even a year, perhaps,
to conceal a pregnancy prior to marriage. But, presumably, most
people would know if the discrepancy was of seven years. Could a
seven year old boy seriously be passed off as a newborn ? So,
presumably,  in Leadbeater¹s case only one of these dates can be
correct ? Well, not necessarily. After the publication of The
Elder Brother in 1982, the Liberal Catholic Church and the
Theosophical Society, astutely, dealt with the problem by
virtually never mentioning the book. A small biographical
pamphlet on Leadbeater by the eminent Theosophist and Liberal
Catholic priest, Hugh Shearman, was, however, released by the
Church¹s publisher, the St Alban Press. It accepted the 1854
birthrate and suggested that the conflict of dates was
inexplicable and unimportant.

One correspondent wrote to me alleging that the Jesuits had
changed documents relating to Leadbeater¹s early life as part of
their ongoing attempts to destroy Theosophy!  Another
correspondent explained that Leadbeater himself had been a
Jesuit agent intent upon destroying the Theosophical Society and
that the ³missing seven years² (which were, of course, not
missing at all!) were accounted for by the time he had spent in
his Jesuit training.  Yet another Theosophist wrote assuring me
that Leadbeater himself, for reasons not fully explained,
occultly changed the documents to prevent anyone finding out
about his early life. These explanations, as unconvincing as
they may be to non-believing scholars, serve the explain away
the apparent conflict between claim and reality.

Although the bishops of the Liberal Catholic Synod did not,
unfortunately, develop the reasoning for their decision (at
least in any public document) the answer, presumably, must be
that there were two Charles Webster Leadbeaters, and that my
research found the wrong one. There is evidence of one Charles
Webster Leadbeater; his birth certificate (not to mention his
mother¹s and father¹s marriage and death certificates) are in
the Public Record Office in London. So, there must be another
one, born in 1847.

There are, it seems to me, some fundamental problems with a two
Leadbeaters theory. It requires that two boys, each named
Charles Webster, with the fairly uncommon surname of Leadbeater,
were born to parents (both of whom had identical names) in a
relatively small town seven years apart, and that the birth of
the first (and the Theosophical Leadbeater) in 1847 was not
registered, but the birth of the second in 1854 was registered.
Possible, I suppose, but at what level of probability ?
However, the improbability of this scenario increases. Census
returns from the period reveal the movements of the family of
the Charles Leadbeater born in 1854, and records exist of
marriage and deaths of his mother and father (who both died on
the same dates given for his parents¹ deaths by the hypothetical
Leadbeater of 1847). There are, almost needless to say, no
census returns disclosing the existence of another family with
parents and child of the same names within the periods in
question, nor birth, marriage or death records for the parents
of this alternative Leadbeater. The degree of difficulty
increases.  But - for the two Charles Webster Leadbeaters theory
- it gets more worse. There is, in the archives of the
Theosophical Society at Adyar, some handwritten notes by
Jinarajadasa of Leadbeater¹s family background; I possess a copy
of those notes. They give a quite detailed family tree, and the
information came from Leadbeater himself (as Jinarajadasa
notes). The level of improbability now increases exponentially:
the family tree described in the notes is identical to the
family tree of the Leadbeater, born in 1854. Can we assume that
over multiple generations, the two Leadbeaters (1847 and 1854)
shared families in which every member was identical in name ?
Perhaps ..... but it becomes yet more complicated.

Given that Theosophical and Liberal Catholic Church publications
(not to mention Leadbeater¹s own writings) identify him as the
nephew (through the marriage of his father¹s sister, Mary) of a
prominent Anglican clergyman, William Wolfe Capes, a further
problem emerges. We must - if we accept  the two Charles Webster
Leadbeaters theory - now also accept that William Wolfe Capes
had two nephews, each of them called Charles Webster Leadbeater,
and born (to different parents ? at least to fathers with
identical names, and mothers with identical names) seven years
apart, and each the son of Cape¹s wife¹s brother. Does this mean
that the father of both Leadbeaters was a bigamist married to
two women of the same name ?  or two sisters of the same name ?
or did he marry two women of the same name sequentially ?  Or
did Capes have two wives, named Mary ? Or were there two William
Wolfe Capes each married to a sister of Leadbeater¹s father,
both of whom were named Mary ? And, if so, why is there no
genealogical record of the wife who gave birth to the 1847
Charles ? Perhaps Capes had two sisters (with the same names)
who married two men (with the same names) ? Even if the
statistical probability of such a situation was too remote, the
genealogical evidence removes this not an option. Genealogical
evidence certainly shows that the Leadbeater born in 1854 was
Capes¹ nephew, and obtained entry to the Anglican ministry
through Capes¹ influence, at the same time and in the same
place, and in the same manner, as the Leadbeater born in 1847.
It is really only with his ordination into the Anglican Church
that the public record and Leadbeater¹s biographical claims in
his writings begin to coincide. Certainly his statements about
the dates and circumstances of his ordination are correct.  But,
for  those who hold to the two Charles Webster Leadbeaters
theory there is now an apparently insurmountable problem: the
Charles Webster Leadbeater who was ordained as an Anglican
priest by the Bishop of Winchester on St Thomas¹ Day, 1879,
(and who was the nephew of William Wolfe Capes) gave as his
birth date the one shown on the birth certificate available from
the General Register Office in London: February 16, 1854.
Unless, of course, there were two Charles Webster Leadbeaters,
both the nephews of William Wolf Capes (and born of parents with
identical names....) ordained in the same service on the same
day (which the church records show that there were not), the two
Charles Webster Leadbeaters theory would now seem to have
totally collapsed. Unless we move into total fantasy land with
two Bishops of Winchester and two churches, each in a different
town called Farnham (perhaps in different dimensions) in each of
which a different Leadbeater, the nephew of a different Capes,
was ordained on the same day.

Lest doubt be cast on my own ability to undertake historical or
genealogical research, it should be noted that when, while The
Elder Brother was still being written, I informed the then
President of the Theosophical Society, John Coats,  of my
discoveries regarding Leadbeater¹s early life. I did this
against the strongly expressed wishes of my publisher, and in
the interests of fairness, lest there was some explanation which
ought to be included in my biography. Coats immediately had a
full investigation undertaken in England. This was done by Miss
Lilian Storey,  Librarian of the Theosophical Society in London
and a very competent genealogist; her research both confirmed
mine, and produced considerably more evidence, including
substantial data from census returns and other official records.
Although personally deeply distressed by the findings, Coats
provided me with copies of Miss Storey¹s report and all the
related documents. These came to me too late for inclusion in
The Elder Brother but are contained, with yet further material
relating to Leadbeater¹s early life, in my doctoral thesis. Yet
further material relating to the birth date and the years prior
to ordination have been uncovered since the submission of my
thesis. I would personally prefer a more exciting explanation of
Leadbeater¹s birth date than simple deceit. Some vast conspiracy
involving the alteration of masses of public records has
enormous appeal. Until evidence of some such improbable
explanation is produced, those who publish the claim that C.W.
Leadbeater was born in 1947 are simply perpetrating a fraud. I
would be greatly pleased to hear from either the Theosophical
Publishing House, Adyar, or the Synod of the Liberal Catholic
Church. I am more than willing to consider any historical
evidence, and will happily - and publicly - retract my error
regarding Leadbeater¹s birth date.

[Forwarded to theos-talk from Dr Gregory Tillett.]

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