Guess Who's Coming to Dinner? The Extraordinary Life of
Medium Daniel Dunglas Home

Daniel Dunglas Home (1833-1886); Photographer and date unknown

Daniel Dunglas Home (1833-1886)
Photographer and date unknown [PD]

Daniel Dunglas Home (pronounced "Hume") was arguably the most extraordinary medium of the Victorian era, not least because he managed to live the majority of his life in sumptuous style courtesy of an ever-lengthening list of wealthy patrons, though all the while claiming not to accept a penny for his services.

He was born plain Daniel Home on March 20th 1833 in Scotland, in the small village of Currie, six miles south of Edinburgh. His father, the illegitimate son of the 10th Earl of Home, was a bitter and morose man who worked at the local paper mill, and his mother, who was said to possess second-sight, was locally thought to be fey. He was their third child, and at an early age was given over to the care of his mother's childless sister, Mary Cook (no relation to Florence Cook, the subject of the next post), who lived with her husband in the rapidly developing coastal resort and manufacturing town of Portobello, a few miles to the east on the southern shore of the Firth of Forth.

In 1842 at the age of nine he emigrated with his adoptive family, travelling steerage class to New York before settling for a time in Greeneville, Connecticut, on the banks of the Shetucket River. Daniel attended school there, and though a shy and retiring boy, he managed to befriend another student, whose name was Edwin. By the time Daniel turned thirteen the two had became so inseparable that they made a pact, one which had been inspired by a short story they both enjoyed of a man who returned from the dead to make his presence felt by his lady-love: if either were to die, the deceased would try to make contact with the other from beyond the grave. It came to pass. When Daniel's family moved one-hundred-and-fifty miles away to Troy, New York, Daniel had a vision of his friend standing at the foot of his bed. He later learned that Edwin had died of dysentery.

The family returned to Greenville, where they were reunited with Daniel's natural family, who had emigrated from Scotland to settle in the sheep-farming town of Waterford, some twelve miles away. One evening in 1850, while the seventeen-year-old Daniel was suffering a bout of fever (quite possibly a symptom of the tuberculosis he was later diagnosed as having), he had a vision of his mother telling him that she had died that day at twelve o'clock. This too turned out to be true. Soon loud rapping noises, similar to those produced by the Fox sisters two years earlier, could be heard throughout the house. Exorcisms were performed, but to no avail. His aunt, Mary Cook, became convinced that Daniel had the devil in him and ordered him to leave her house. He went to stay with friends, thus beginning his life-long career as a professional non-paying guest.

His mediumship followed next. In March of 1851, around the time of his eighteenth birthday, Home found himself at the residence of William and Maria Hayden of Hartford, Connecticut. As I mentioned last time, if this was not his first séance, it was certainly one of his very first. The evening was reported in the local press (most probably in a letter to the editor) by Mr Hayden, a family doctor, who described how Home had managed to move a table about the room without anybody touching it. His fame soon spread throughout New England, and then to New York and Massachusetts, while his talents became ever more diverse. For the next four years he would give as many as six or seven séances a day offering a mixture of table turning, spiritual healing, communications with the dead, the partial manifestation of body parts (such as hands), and acts of self-levitation in the homes of his patrons, who generally adored him. One particular couple, Mr and Mrs Elmer, who were rich and childless, offered to adopt him and to make him their heir. Presumably he refused their offer, since it was conditional on his changing his surname to Elmer. Towards the end of this period his health declined. In 1854 he was diagnosed with tuberculosis and advised (by Maria Hayden's husband William, I suspect, who had returned from England at the end of the previous year) to take a rest cure in Europe. He gave his final American séance in March 1855 in Hartford, then set sail for Liverpool, England, just days after his twenty-second birthday.

Having added the "Dunglas" part to his name, Home took up residence at a hotel in Jermyn Street, London, as a guest of the owner, the well-to-do property speculator, publishing magnate and barrister Edward William Cox. It is likely that he and Cox, who took a deep—though not uncritical—interest in spiritualism, shared a mutual friend: Maria B. Hayden. Though weakened by the tuberculosis, it was here that Home held sittings for many influential people from London society. As the list of his acquaintances grew, so did the number of offers of accommodation. He moved his base of operations to the home of the wealthy Rymer family of Ealing, and financed by them, set off on a tour of Europe in 1856 in the company of their eldest son. Whilst in Italy the two had a rather acrimonious falling-out and swiftly parted ways, but not before Home had established his reputation on the Continent as a first-rate medium.

Over the next few years he performed extensively throughout Europe, always for the royal, the rich and the famous (Queen Sophia of the Netherlands and Napoleon III among them), and always strictly only at private sittings. In Paris in 1857 he was offered £2,000 for a single séance by the Union Club, but he declined it. In 1858, at the age of twenty-five, he married Alexandria de Kroll, the daughter of a Russian noble, whom he had met on a trip to St Petersburg. The best man at the wedding was the novelist Alexandre Dumas; the union had the blessing of Alexander II, Emperor of Russia. But the marriage was not to last. Alexandria died of tuberculosis in 1862.

By this point Home had already resumed giving private sittings in Britain. In 1863 he published the first of two memoires, both of which he entitled Incidents in my Life, detailing his various psychic successes amongst the titled and the rich, but referring to his clients in cyphers such as "Countess O" (Countess Orsini), "Count de K" (Count de Komar), and "Princess de B" (Princess de Beauveau). He was now thirty, and still relied on his charms and pallid good-looks, in addition to his friends, to make his way in the world. In 1866 he received, for the second time in his life, an offer of adoption, this time from a wealthy widow named Mrs Jane Lyon. She settled £60,000 on Home on the condition that he change his surname to become Home-Lyon. The offer must have been appealing, for this time he did change it. In addition to receiving letters of affection from her newly-appointed heir, Mrs Lyon expected him to provide her with an entrée into polite society. Although he dutifully wrote her letters, when the anticipated introductions didn't materialize she demanded her money back. When Home failed to comply, she brought charges against him, claiming he had extorted it from her by misrepresentation. The case was tried at the Court of Chancery. Home lost and was obliged to return the money.

The press had a field day, but his society friends stood by him throughout. In 1867 he made the acquaintance of the twenty-six-year-old Lord Adare, the future fourth Earl of Dunraven, who had recently been appointed as a war correspondent to the Daily Telegraph. The young Viscount, who, to put it tactfully, struggled with his sexuality, became infatuated with Home—clearly as others had done before him. He started documenting the extraordinary feats he saw. On Sunday December 13th 1868 Home performed what was to become his most famous act of levitation when, in the presence of Adare and two other witnesses, he floated head-first out of a third-storey bedroom window, returning feet-first through the windows of a sitting room on the other side of the house.

One person who bore witness to Home's levitations on many occasions was the noted scientist William Crookes. Between 1870 and 1873 under carefully controlled conditions he put a number of mediums to the test—Daniel Dunglas Home, Kate Fox of the Fox sisters (who came to Britain in 1871 under the patronage of a New York banker, and who married the London barrister, Mr H. D. Jencken, the following year), and the materializing medium Florence Cook—and found all three to be gifted and capable of producing perfectly genuine results.

By 1871, however, three years before the publication of Crookes's report, Home was exhausted. At the age of thirty-eight he retired from performing séances due to ill-health. In the October of that year he married Julie de Gloumeline, yet another wealthy Russian, with whom he lived until his death in 1886. He was buried in the Russian cemetery in St Germain, Paris. After his death, his widow published an account of his career, but it failed to become as popular as Home's own self-penned testimonies.

Next chapter: The full-body materializations of Florence Cook