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Home arrow BFR Matters I arrow Fletcher Robinson & the 'Mummy' (Part I)
Fletcher Robinson & the 'Mummy' (Part I) PDF Print E-mail

Around the time of World War I (1914-1918) there was a renewed interest in both Spiritualism and Occultism.  Each of these religions offered channels through which the bereaved might communicate with their loved ones in the afterlife.  Around this same time, there was also an intense appetite for news about the latest archaeological discoveries that were being made in Egypt.  This situation reached its zenith shortly after 4th November 1922 when Howard Carter found the undisturbed tomb of King Tutankhamun in Luxor.  It was against this backdrop that stories began to surface that proposed  a link between the death of Bertram Fletcher Robinson (hereafter BFR) and a 'Mummy's Curse'.

In 1913, a London born journalist and writer called Douglas Sladen had an autobiography published by E.P. Dutton of New York.  The following year, this book entitled Twenty Years of My Life was also published by Constable and Company Limited of London.  On page 275 of the American edition, Sladen wrote the following:

The popular account of his [BFR’s] death is that, not believing in the malignant powers of the celebrated mummy case in the British Museum, he determined to make a slashing attack on the belief in the columns of The Daily Express, and went to the museum, and sent his photographer there, to collect materials for that purpose: that he was then, although in the most perfect health, struck down mysteriously by some malady of which he died.

This report reveals that there was both discussion and debate following the untimely death of 36 year-old BFR on 21st January 1907.  It also shows that some people had linked his death to research that he had undertaken into an unnamed artifact whilst working as a newspaper journalist in London.  However, it should be noted that BFR actually resigned his position with the Daily Express in around May 1904.  

On 3rd April 1923, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (hereafter ACD) arrived in New York to commence a four month lecture tour of North America on the topic of Spiritualism.   Upon his arrival, he gave an interview to a reporter from the Daily Express.  On 7th April, that same newspaper reported ACD's views in relation to BFR’s death as follows:

…it was caused by Egyptian “elementals” guarding a female mummy, because Mr Robinson had begun an investigation of the stories of the mummy's malevolence. “It is impossible to say with absolute certainty if this is true,” said Sir Arthur to me today. “If we had proper occult powers we could determine it, but I warned Mr Robinson against concerning himself with the mummy at the British Museum. He persisted, and his death occurred….I told him he was tempting fate by pursuing his enquiries...The immediate cause of death was typhoid fever, but that is the way in which the elementals guarding the mummy might act. They could have guided Mr Robinson into a series of such circumstances as would lead him to contract the disease, and thus cause his death - just as in Lord Carnarvon's case, human illness was the primary cause of death…

Evidently, ACD also linked BFR's death to the enquiries that he had made in relation to a mummy at the British Museum.  Furthermore, ACD had previously tried to disuade BFR from pursuing his research.  This might suggest that ACD had prior knowledge about the subject of BFR's investigation.  Interestingly in 1891, ACD visited the British Museum to conduct  some research (see link below) and thereafter he wrote a short story entitled Lot No. 249This story is about  a student who acquires a mummy at auction and then uses it to murder his enemies.  It was first published in Harper's New Monthly Magazine during October 1892.

During 1933, Arthur Hammond Marshall (pseudonym ‘Archibald Marshall’) had an anecdotal autobiography published by John Murray (London).  In Chapter 1 of this book entitled Out and About: Random Reminiscence, he describes his time as an undergraduate at Trinity College, Cambridge.  Marshall makes several references to his early friendship with BFR and also wrote the following account about his death (pp. 4-5):

I didn’t see so much of Bobbles after we had both married and I was living in the country, but wrote occasionally for Vanity Fair, which was his last editorship. The very last time I saw him he told me a wonderful tale about a mummy, which had caused the death of everybody who had had to do with it. He was collecting his material, already had enough for a sensational story, and was on the track of more. This story is now well known, and I have seen frequent references to it, but this was the first I had heard of it. I don’t know whether he ever wrote the story, but it cannot have been long after that he was dead himself. He had gone over to Paris, caught pneumonia, and died in a few days at the age of thirty-six or seven. Not for a long time afterwards did I connect his death in my mind with that story about the mummy, and I have never heard of anyone else who did so.

Both BFR and Marshall were married within a few months of one another during the summer of 1902. The two men settled with their wives in London and Beaulieu in Hampshire respectively.  Evidently, BFR had continued with his mummy research after leaving the Daily Express to become the editor of Vanity Fair (May 1904).  It is interesting to note that Marshall was unaware of the earlier speculation that linked BFR's death to a mummy.  Furthermore, it should be noted that the last editorship BFR actually held was that of The World newspaper from November 1906.

Collectively, these three statements made by Sladen (1913), ACD (1923) and Marshall (1933), raise at least five questions: 

  • (1) Which mummy did BFR research? 
  • (2) For how long did BFR undertake this research?   
  • (3) What did BFR learn from this research?   
  • (4) Did BFR ever write a story based upon this research?
  • (5) When did the stories linking BFR's death to this research first begin?  

A recent discovery now makes it possible to answer each of these questions [refer to Bertram Fletcher Robinson and the Mummy (Part II)].  

For further information on the research conducted by ACD at the British Museum in 1891, please follow the link below:

http://www.thebritishmuseum.ac.uk/explore/highlights/highlight_image.aspx?image=ps341506.jpg&retpage=16208

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By Paul Spiring ©2007.

 
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