Published by Blavatsky Study Center. Online Edition copyright 2004.

[Franz Hartmann on
the Ultimate Fate of the Shrine]

by Richard Hodgson

[First published in Richard Hodgson's "Account of Personal Investigations in India, and Discussion of the Authorship of the 'Koot Hoomi' Letters," Proceedings of the Society for Psychical Research, Volume III, 1885, pp. 224-226.  For more on the Shrine, see Walter A. Carrithers, Jr.'s overview and analysis, especially Section J on the "Traces of the Hole in the Wall." ]

The ultimate fate of the Shrine, according to a statement made by Dr. Hartmann to Mr. and Mrs. Cooper-Oakley, Mr. Hume, and myself, was as follows. After the expulsion of the Coulombs, Mr. Judge, an American Theosophist, then residing at the headquarters of the Society, was desirous of examining the Shrine. Mr. Damodar, who possessed the key of the Occult Room, avoided this examination several times on one pretext or another; but, eventually, a party of Theosophists proceeded to the inspection of the Shrine. The Shrine was removed from the wall and its doors were opened. Mr. T. Vigiaraghava Charloo, (commonly called Ananda) a Theosophist residing in an official position at the headquarters, struck the back of the Shrine with his hand, exclaiming, "You see, the back is quite solid," when, to the surprise of most of those who were present, the middle panel of the Shrine flew up. It seemed undesirable to some of the witnesses of this phenomenon that the discovery should be made public, and they resolved accordingly to destroy the Shrine. To do this they considered that the Shrine must be surreptitiously removed, but such removal was inconvenient from the Occult Room. The Shrine was therefore first removed openly to Mr. Damodar’s room, and, on the following night, was thence removed secretly by three Theosophists, concealed in the compound, afterwards broken up, and the fragments burned piecemeal during the following week. Dr. Hartmann had only retained two portions of the back of the Shrine, which he had enveloped in brown paper and kept carefully concealed in his room, - substantial pieces of cedar wood, black-lacked. It was of such wood, according to a previous statement of M. Coulomb, that the back of the Shrine was made.

Dr. Hartmann has since furnished me with a statement in writing which is of interest as affording evidence respecting the hole between the recess and the Shrine. That this hole had manifestly existed and had been blocked up, I had been assured by another Theosophist who is particularly observant, and who discovered its traces independently of Dr. Hartmann. The following is an extract from Dr. Hartmann’s written account: -

[Account by Dr. Franz Hartmann
on the Ultimate Fate of the Shrine]

At what time the hole in the wall was made is as much a mystery to me as it is to you; but from a consideration of all the circumstances as laid down in my pamphlet, I came to the conclusion and am still of the opinion, that they were made by M. Coulomb after H. P. Blavatsky went to Europe, and I am now inclined to believe that M. Coulomb made them to ingratiate himself with Madame Blavatsky to facilitate her supposed tricks. All the traps are too clumsy, and it would tax the utmost credulity to believe that such phenomena as I know of could have been made by their means. In fact I do not know of a single phenomena [sic] that happened in my presence where they would have been of the slightest use.

Of the existence of a movable back to the Shrine and a filled-up aperture in the wall, none of us knew anything, and although superficial examinations were made, they divulged nothing; because to make a thorough examination, it would have been necessary to take the Shrine down, and we were prevented from doing this by the superstitious awe with which Mr. Damodar K. Mavalankar regarded the Shrine, and who looked upon every European who dared to touch or handle the "sacred" Shrine as a desecration.

At about the time when Major-General Morgan sent his invitation to Mr. Patterson to come to headquarters, that examination was made, and it was found that the back of the Shrine could be removed, and on moistening the wall behind the Shrine with a wet cloth, it was found that an aperture had existed, which had been plastered up.

Why these discoveries should have thrown any discredit on Madame Blavatsky I cannot see, because they as well as the other traps were the work of M. Coulomb, and there was no indication whatever that H. P. Blavatsky knew anything of their existence, and moreover the testimonials of such as claimed to have examined the Shrine went to show that they were of recent origin.

Nevertheless, I must confess that it seemed to me that if at that inopportune moment this new discovery, to which I then alluded in the papers (see Madras Mail), would have been made public, it would have had a bad effect on the public mind. If I had been here as a delegate of the Society for Psychical Research, or as a detective of the missionaries, I would, perhaps, not have hesitated to state the exact nature of the new discovery; but in my position I had to look out for the interests of Madame Blavatsky, and I did not, therefore, consider it prudent to speak of this discovery; neither was I authorised to do so, neither did I (as I then stated) feel justified in letting the enemies of H. P. Blavatsky invade her private rooms without her consent.

A gentleman who was present, and who shared my opinions, was of the opinion that the Shrine had been too much desecrated to be of any more use, and he burned the Shrine in my presence . . . I never told Colonel Olcott nor Madame Blavatsky, nor any one else at headquarters up to that time, what had become of the Shrine. But when you and Mr. Hume, besides a lot of other absurd theories, also asserted your conviction, that Madame Blavatsky had sent her servant, Baboola, for the purpose of doing away with the Shrine, and that he had done so by her orders, I thought it about time to show you that even a member of the Society for Psychical Research may err in his judgment.

We learn from Dr. Hartmann that any thorough examination of the Shrine was prevented by the "superstitious awe" with which Mr. Damodar regarded it. Dr. Hartmann’s assertion is corroborated by the testimony of Mr. Lane-Fox, who has also very emphatically expressed to me his conviction that no examination of the Shrine by native witnesses can be considered as of the smallest value, in consequence of the exceeding reverence in which it was universally held. But it will be observed that in one part of his account Dr. Hartmann appears to lay some stress on "the testimonials of such as claimed to have examined the Shrine" before the exposure; he gave me, on different occasions, accounts of his examinations, and these accounts, besides being inconsistent with one another, are inconsistent with his final statements, - as he at once cheerfully admitted, retracting all his previous utterances on the subject.