Home Page










Email Kim Farnell


The Making of a Magician

John Nevil Maskelyne, the Davenport Brothers and Spiritualism.

John Nevil Maskelyne has gone down in history as one of the greatest stage magicians to have ever lived. In his heyday he was known throughout the world for his illusions and his book on stage magic is still considered a classic today. Strictly speaking, Maskelyne was not a conjurer, as he specialised mainly in mechanical illusions. It was on the effects of these that he built his reputation. The height of Maskelyne's fame coincided with the rise of spiritualism in England, and Maskelyne lost no time in joining the ranks of spiritualist debunkers. He was also violently opposed to theosophy, in all its forms, and sold books and pamphlets at his shows which he had written in the hope of bringing his customers to his views. Most famously he is reputed to have shown the Davenport brothers to have been frauds. By 1873 he had established his own theatre, with his partner, George Cook, performing shows which blended comedy, illusion and conjuring tricks. They billed themselves as 'Royal Illusionists and Anti-Spiritualists', to make it clear that they were in the business of illusion. They influenced countless magicians and many of their techniques were adopted into stage shows, and later, the cinema.

John Nevil Maskelyne was born 22nd December 1839, in Cheltenham, Gloucestershire, the only boy of eight children. He was descended from Nevil Maskelyne, the astronomer. Maskelyne showed a taste and aptitude for mechanics at a young age, which was to develop into a taste for intricate mechanism. In 1851 he attended the Great Exhibition in Crystal Palace and was enchanted by Droze's "Piping Bullfinch". He became a watchmaker's apprentice in Cheltenham at the age of thirteen and soon became adept at his business. After three years he was able to execute the most difficult works with great skill. Most of his free time was spent in the construction of mechanical apparatus, devising optical illusions and inventing conjuring tricks. Before the age of seventeen, he often entertained a party of friends with conjuring tricks and illusions, many of his own invention. Whenever a conjuring entertainment or a mechanical exhibition, was announced he would attend to study the mechanism as far as he was able.

In 1864 Maskelyne met George Alfred Cook, (born 1825). Maskelyne was a keen musician and as well as being a member of a church choir he played the cornet in the band of the Volunteer Rifles. Cook, a cabinetmaker or tailors apprentice, depending on sources, was a member of the same band and also had an interest in conjuring. At this time magic was no more than a hobby to the two, and they didn't consider themselves sufficiently expert to earn a living by it. However, a year later, on February 9th 1865 Maskelyne would make his first appearance in public as an amateur conjurer. Cook has agreed to become his partner and as well as being Maskelyne's assistant on stage, he had charge of all the costumes and sceneries in the act.

It was at this time that his suspicions in spiritualism were fired. A piece of apparatus was brought to him for repair. It was a small machine for making raps on a table. The American who brought in the machinery was evasive about its true use. Maskelyne was paid well for his work and the stranger said after paying him handsomely 'I'm sure a smart young fellow like you could use the loose change. And in return, just forget you ever saw me.' 1

Later Maskelyne saw posters going up in town announcing the appearance of the Davenport Brothers at the Celtenham Assembly Rooms. He recognised the picture of Ira Davenport as the American who had brought in the apparatus for repair.

The Davenport Brothers actually were sons of a police official in Buffalo, US. They were selling papers on the streets, when in 1848 the Fox sisters began their spiritual manifestations. It didn't take long until the strange happenings in the Davenport household began to be talked about. Ghosts, dancing furniture and floating in the air were only a part of what was on offer. It didn't take long until the Davenports began to give seances. Their favourite trick was to be tied up in an apparently helpless condition and then produce spiritualistic manifestations. From 1855 to 1864 they toured the States and Canada. When the Civil War put a stop to their activities there they accompanied a Reverend Dr J B Ferguson to England. Their first seance was given in London on September 28th 1864. 2

During the next months the Davenport Brothers toured England. Not all of their performances were successful: " the Davenport Brothers appear to have come to grief at Liverpool and Huddersfield the "tom fool" knot having at each of these places so frightened their "spirits" that they even gave up the attempt to undo it"3 Whilst often met with astonishment, they were also met by many who sought to expose them as frauds. This was nothing new, magicians had been seeking to expose the Davenport Brothers, along with others for a number of years. . Houdini wrote of the magician John Henry Anderson, "He was amongst the first performers to expose the Davenport Brothers whose spiritualistic tricks and rope tying had astonished America. Directly on witnessing a performance and solving their methods Anderson hurried back to England and exposed the tricks."… 4

In March 1865 the Davenport brothers appeared in Cheltenham, and Maskelyne had the opportunity to see them. "Mr Burtonshaw presided at last Mondays entertainment…At the close of the recitations & the "Davenport Mystery" was introduced by Messrs. Weston and Seymour. After a few remarks on the "art" by Mr Stearn, 2 gentlemen, Messrs. Hyett and Lewis were selected from the audience to the performers. This having been done, a screen was used as a substitute for a cabinet, and after a lapse of a few minutes, they came forth amidst a burst of applause from the audience." 5

It is clear from this report that the legend of Maskelyne exposing the Davenport Brothers on their first performance in Cheltenham is simply untrue. At the time of their performance in Cheltenham they were at the height of their fame, and exciting a lot of interest. They were performing their celebrated "spirit seance", believed by many to be a genuine display of psychic phenomena. They were bound to chairs with their wrists tied, and their hands filled with flour. They entered a cabinet and a stool was placed between them on which stood a glass of water, a number of musical instruments, a board, a hammer, and some nails. The theatre lights went out and the stage was plunged into darkness. A sound of hammering was then heard from the cabinet. The musical instruments were played. Once the lights were turned back on it could be seen that the nails were driven into the board, the water had gone and the instruments appeared undisturbed. The brothers were still bound, with their hands full of flour, and their coats had been turned inside out.

Maskelyne never claimed to have exposed the Davenport Brothers at this performance although he was in the audience. As he was known as a conjurer he was selected as a member of a committee, who were set the task of watching the Davenports performance for trickery. The Davenports were claiming that they had nothing to do with the performance, having been rendered helpless by their bonds. They said that they were mediums through who the spirits were able to manifest.

A morning seance was held at the Town Hall to investigate the claims of the Davenport brothers. The room was semi darkened. Maskelyne was seated at one side of the stage with a row of windows behind him. A small part of the curtain fell from its place and the light cast on Ira Davenport made it easy for Maskelyne to see what he was doing. He saw Him with one hand free of his bonds and then after throwing instruments about etc he gave a wriggle and again seemed to be completely secured. The ropes were so tightly bound that they were marking his wrists.

At the end of the seance Maskelyne announced that he had discovered the trick. Ferguson tried to get him to leave, but with no success. He challenged Maskelyne to prove his assertion, saying he had seen nothing of the kind. As Maskelyne believed the trick to be based on a feat of dexterity, he said that he would need practice, and undertook to present a replica of the entire performance at the own hall.

Two months later, with Cook's assistance, Maskelyne redeemed his promise. On Monday 19th June 1865 Maskelyne and Cook made their first public appearances as professional magicians at Jessop's Aviary Gardens, Cheltenham. Their advertising bills read: "Messrs. Maskelyne and Cook, the only successful rivals of the Davenport Brothers, will give a grand exposition of the entire public séance in open daylight, showing the possibility of accomplishing, without the aid of spiritualism, not only all the Davenports' tricks, but many others, original and more astounding, including escaping from a box." The attention they gained from their performance enabled them to give up their businesses and become professional conjurers. The tricks they performed were described by David Devant in his book My Magic Life. 6

There was no looking back for Maskelyne and Cook. After eight years in the provinces the pair began to perform in London. The idea was to run a show for two or three months, and then return as "Maskelyne - The Great London Magician.". But he and Cook made so much money from their short stay at St James' Hall that they decided to take a long lease of the Egyptian Hall, Piccadilly.


The theatre was ideally suited for magical entertainment. By calling it "England's Home Of Mystery", Maskelyne heightened its atmosphere. Built in 1811, the premises, which were previously a museum, had shops on the ground floor and a hall with a gallery on the first floor. Between two and three hundred people attended performance, which were held at 8 o'clock each evening and alternate afternoons. Originally his shows were gaslit but Maskelyne soon took advantage of electric lighting.

In 1905 the lease expired and Maskelyne moved to St George's Hall. Cook had died in 1904 and Maskelyne teamed up with the magician David Devant. The two of them had performed together in 1893 at the Egyptian Hall and Devant was a long time admirer of Maskelyne. "Soon after this I discovered England's home of mystery at the Egyptian Hall, Piccadilly, where Maskelyne and Cook's gave shows twice daily. I shall never forget the joy the first performance gave me and the rapture, with which I saw their feast of magic. From then onwards Maskelyne and Cook's was my Mecca, and I determined some day to appear behind the footlights of this hall of mystery. This was in 1883, and in 1893, after ten years of hard work, I had attained the object of my ambition." 7

Devant was commonly recognised as the greatest stage illusionist of the era, becoming President of the Magic Circle in 1905. This partnership was even more successful and ended in 1915, shortly before Maskelyne's death. Apart from taking a little time out to marry his assistant, Elizabeth, Maskelyne spent his life giving performances and trying to debunk spiritualism.

Whether or not the Davenport Brothers had genuine powers, or they were simply brilliant illusionists was hotly debated at the time. The brothers themselves were never that clear on the issue. In a letter to the magician and escapologist Harry Houdini in 1909, Ira Davenport said: - : 'We never in public affirmed our belief in spiritualism, that we regarded as no business of the public, nor did we offer our entertainment as the results of sleight of hand, nor on the other hand as spiritualism, we let our friends and foes settle that as best they could between themselves.' 8

However, it is worth remembering that the brothers were only five and seven years old when they began to produce the phenomena. Whatever their skills at a later date, it seems highly unlikely that they would have the knowledge and skill to produce trickery at such a young age.

In 1910 Houdini befriended Ira Davenport, a year before his death. Popular legend has it that Ira passed on his stage secrets, but there is no actual record of this. In a letter to Conan Doyle dated 17 March 1920 Houdini stated: - 'I can make a positive assertion that the Davenport Brothers never were exposed.....I know for a positive fact that it was not essential for them to release these bonds in order to obtain manifestations.'. Conan Doyle pressed him on the matter , "I had meant to ask you, in my last, and I will do so now, whether you, with your unique experience, consider that the Davenport phenomena were clever physical tricks, or whether their claim to occult power was a true one". Houdini answered "I am afraid that I cannot say that all their work was accomplished by the spirits.' 9

Maskelyne's professional life is well documented elsewhere. Here we are more concerned with his relationship with the world of spiritualism. The episode with the Davenport Brothers had made his career. But Maskelyne was not going to let spiritualism and spiritualists rest in peace. His book Modern Spiritualism was published in the mid 1870's, this attack on spiritualism and it's proponents discusses many of spiritualism's early pioneers and contains information about such events as Daniel Homes conviction for fraud. At approximately the same time as The Fraud of Modern Theosophy was published. Both books were sold to customers at the Egyptian Hall. There was no way after this that Maskelyne could be regarded as less than an enemy of the spiritualist movement. Light delighted in taking every opportunity to slate him. "Mr Maskelyne...will be wise to make hay while the sun shines. The taste for marvels is on the decline and he cannot very well give the Egyptian Hall people anything else..." 11

This was also the year that Maskelyne performed at a Royal command Performance, in front of the Prince and Princess of Wales.

Maskelyne's continued fight against spiritualism led to a strange libel case being brought against him by Archbishop Colley. The Archbishop, a staunch believer in psychic phenomenon, said that he had attended a seance in which he had seen the form of a woman materialised from a mans side. The séance too place at a house in Bloomsbury, London. A medium had stood in the middle of a twilit room, and vapour was seen to come from his side, finally forming a golden haired spirit. This creature then stepped to the ground and spoke to the Archbishop before returning the way she came. Archbishop Colley offered £1,000 to anyone who could reproduce the effect using only natural means. Maskelyne had already derided this story by the time the offer was made, and the challenge was expressly sent to him. David Devant and Maskelyne's son Nevil, persuaded him to take up the challenge. At a stage performance in St George's Hall he performed the effect. The press and public acclaimed the even as an exact duplication of the description given by the Archbishop. However, when Maskelyne applied for the thousand pounds, the Archbishop refused to pay up. Maskelyne sued for the money and Colley put in a counter claim for libel. He also claimed that although the ghost had been produced correctly, Maskelyne had not caused it to return through the medium's side. On these counts Maskelyne lost the case and had to pay damages and costs. However, it turned out to be the best publicity Maskelyne could have had, and people flocked to see "The Side Issue of the £1,000 Ghost".

Maskelyne acknowledged the influence of theosophy and followed the arguments about the Theosophical Society in the press. His pamphlet, The Fraud of Modern Theosophy, disputed the existence of the Masters and was strongly critical of Helena Blavatsky. Maskelyne was convinced that hypnotism was used by Helena Blavatsky to further her own ends. He claimed that when in Paris in 1848 Blavatsky learned hypnotism. This was the time that Blavatsky was allegedly in Tibet. According to Maskelyne, Blavatsky was introduced to spiritualism by Daniel Dunglass Home in London. He said the in 1858 she claimed to be a medium to gain attention from her lover, who was a close friend of Home's. Maskelyne also claimed that she had two husbands, besides those who are commonly known about.

The arguments about where Blavatsky was at any given time, and what she was doing there, continue until this day. Maskelyne was convinced that theosophy and Blavatsky were frauds, and he sought to discredit her as far as he could. He had a strong belief in the power of hypnotism, believing that Annie Besant was hypnotised by Blavatsky to persuade her to join the Theosophical Society. To support his claim he wrote in the pamphlet "even level headed Press reporters, when describing my performances from memory, have often credited me with performing impossibilities"

In 1894, the fight for the presidency within the Theosophical Society following Helena Blavatsky's death, had led to a scandal involving claims of forged letters amongst other things. As one of the Theosophical Society members had given relevant papers to the press, the whole story was covered in the Westminster Gazette. Maskelyne followed it closely.

September 29th 1894 saw the first production of the illusion Oh under the title of The Mahatmas Undone. It was the joint invention of Nevil Maskelyne and Charles Morritt. In this a man was seated in a slender cabinet which had curtained sides, and although he seemed securely held by the hand and his legs strapped (with one hand tied to a cord held by an observer) he vanished. He eventually re-appeared in the auditorium. An advance notice of this effect was announced by Maskelyne as follows: On Monday the Hall will be closed to the public and kept in Egyptian Darkness, the day being set apart for the special training and self denial of the performers, to render them in a fit frame of mind to receive a knowledge of the secret forms of nature etc etc J.N. Maskelyne, President of the Mystical Society Of the Egyptian Hall adepts in Occultism…Caution…This is the original and only miracle society extant. All are invited to join the outer or paying circle, irrespective of creed, caste, sex, size or weight. Entrance fees strictly moderate" 12

Henry Steel Olcott, Blavatsky's close friend and co-founder of the Theosophical Society couldn't resist seeing for himself the burlesque based on theosophical shenanigans. "For over a year Maskelyne and Cook had been coining money at their theatre in the Egyptian Hall with a disgraceful libel on the Theosophical Society and HPB introducing into their play Modern Mystery a number of very clever illusions and indications of psychical phenomena...there is also the phenomenal dropping of letters or written messages composed in the audience by a man dressed up to represent our dear HPB...in collusion with her was a person called Professor something, a learned German chemist...my name was brought into the dialogue it being intimated that they could not depend on my standing by them if I should discover their trickery but the representative of HPB said that they could use my name for some time yet and that it behoved them to hasten the plucking of the pigeon in question..." 13

Maskelyne's role in perpetuating the scandal is barely mentioned in contemporary accounts. But it is clear that the extra fuel he threw on the fire was typical of the public derision suffered by the Theosophical Society. He continued to fight against the spiritualist movement for the rest of his life. "What a strange world it is that Mr Maskelyne has revealed for us! England in his boyhood, went mad over the crude spiritualism of those gifted impostors, the Davenport Brothers, and it remained for a lad hardly out of his teens to restore the nation to common-sense - not to say sanity. It was this, which proved the turning point in his life...Mr Maskelyne has ever since devoted his life to natural magic, with the results that all the world knows. Nor has he ceased to keep a lynx-eye on the spiritualistic impostors who have arisen since his first expose..." 14

Helena Blavatsky herself was scathing in her treatment of Maskelyne "Now Maskelyne and Cooke, two clever English jugglers, have been keeping the mouths and eyes of all London wide open with their exposures of Spiritualism. … All the tricks of the trade are familiar to them; where can science find better allies? But we must insist upon identical conditions. The "Tree-Trick" must not be performed by gas-light on the platform of any Egyptian Hall, nor with the performers in full evening dress. It must be in broad daylight, on a strange grass-plot to which the conjurers had no previous access. There must be no machinery, no confederates, white cravats and swallow-tail coats must be laid aside, and the English champions appear in the primitive apparel of Adam and Eve-a tight-fitting "coat of skin," and with the single addition of a dhoti, or a breechcloth seven inches wide. The Hindûs do all this, and we only ask fair play. If they raise a mango-sapling under these circumstances, Dr. Carpenter will be at perfect liberty to beat therewith the last remnant of brains out of the head of any "crazy Spiritualist" he may encounter. But until then, the less he says about Hindû jugglery the better for his scientific reputation…. Will the white-cravated and swallow-tailed gentlemen of the Egyptian Hall, please show the Royal Society how either is done?" 15

Maskelyne's business ventures outside magic were often failures. For Queen Victoria's Jubilee procession he undertook to erect a certain number of stands. All his money was lost when he misjudged the route of the procession.

The first typewriter to be produced in Britain was designed by Maskelyne and produced by the Maskelyne British Typewriter & Manufacturing Co Ltd of London in 1889. It had two unusual features - a shift key that could be operated either by hand OR foot according to the customer's preference and differential spacing which allowed each character to occupy a space appropriate to its width, as in printing. He invented a cash register in 1869, which won him an award in Paris. He had at least forty patents covering numerous inventions including the coin operated lock for toilets, wireless telegraphy and railway signalling. His typewriter can be seen at the Science Museum in South Kensington, London.

John Nevil Maskelyne died 18th May 1917 in London. His son and grandchildren continued the family tradition. In March 2000 Mary Maskelyne died aged 94. She and her brother, Jasper performed for some years at St George's Hall. With Mary Maskelyne's death the Maskelyne dynasty in the world of magic ended.

Back to top


1 http://www.psyzone.freeserve.co.uk/davports.htm Peter Duffie 1997

2 Morning Post

At the upper end of the apartment was placed what might be called a skeleton wardrobe. The portion in which the drawers of a similar piece of furniture are usually to be found was empty. A seat or bench, perforated here and there with holes, was fitted to the back and ends. The doors consisted of three panels, which shut inside with a brass bolt; thus when the middle door is open any person could put his hand in and bolt the side doors; the bolt of the middle door was shut by some invisible agency from the inside.

The brothers Davenport, having seated themselves vis-à-vis on the end bench, their hands and feet were securely tied by those present so as to prevent the possibility of them using those members. A guitar, a tambourine, a violin and bow, a brass horn, and a couple of bells were placed on the seat inside, and the doors were shut. At the top of the panel of the centre door is a diamond-shape opening about a foot square, with a curtain secured on the inside. Instantly on the centre door being dosed, the bolt was secured inside and "hands" were clearly observed through the opening. A gentleman present was invited to pass his hand through the opening, and it was touched by the "hands" several times.

Musical instruments and the bells commenced making all sorts of noises and knockings, snatches of airs were distinctly heard, when suddenly the centre door was burst open, the trumpet was thrown out into the room and fell heavily upon the carpet. The doors were subsequently closed by persons who, when doing so, were touched by invisible hands, and a noise of undoing the cords was distinctly heard. A moment or two afterwards the brothers were found sitting unbound with the ropes at their feet.

The next illustration was more curious still, for after an interval of perhaps two minutes the brothers were found to be securely bound with the same cords, the ends of the ropes being some distance from their hands. One of the company present was then invited to take a seat in the cabinet so as to assure himself that whatever might be done it could not be accomplished by the brothers.

A gentleman having volunteered to be imprisoned in such mysterious company, his hands were securely tied to the knees of the Davenports, whose hands were fastened behind their backs by cords passed through holes in the bench. Their feet were also tied together with a sailor's knot. A tambourine was then laid on the gentleman's lap, on which a guitar and violin were placed, as also the trumpet and a couple of hand bells. Any interference with these articles by the gentleman on whose lap they were deposited was rendered impossible by reason of his hands being tied. He states the instant the door was closed hands were passed over his face, his hair was gently pulled, and the whole of the musical instruments were played upon. The bells were also violently rung close to his face, and the tambourine beat time on his head.

Eventually the musical instruments were flung behind him and rested between his shoulders and the back of the cabinet. During these manifestations one of the gas burners of the chandelier was lighted and two wax candles were burning in different parts of the room, several other manifestations having taken place in connection with the cabinet.

Dr. Ferguson explained that it would be desirable that the company should clasp hands and the lights should be altogether extinguished.

A small writing-table had been previously placed in the centre of the room, with a chair at either side. The musical instruments, bells, etc., were placed on the table. The brothers Davenport were manacled by the hands and feet and securely bound to the chairs by ropes. A chain of communication (though not a circular one) was formed, and the instant the lights were extinguished the musical instruments appeared to be carried about the room. The current of air which they occasioned in their rapid transit was felt upon the faces of all present.

The bells were loudly rung, the trumpet made knocks on the floor, and the tambourine appeared running round the room jingling with all its might. At the same time, tiny sparks were observed as if passing from south to west. Several persons exclaimed that they were touched by the instruments, which on one occasion became so demonstrative that one gentleman received a knock on the nasal organ which broke the skin and caused a few drops of blood to flow.

The manifestations having been repeated two or three times with nearly similar results, the Davenport brothers joined the chain of communication, and Mr. Fay was bound to the chair.

His hands were tied tightly behind his back and his feet were firmly secured, as in the cabinet. A gentleman present was then asked to desire him to take off his coat the instant the light was extinguished. This was done. A whizzing noise was heard.

"It's off!" exclaimed Mr. Fay. The candle was lighted, and the coat was found lying in the middle of the room.

Astonishing though this appeared to be, what followed was more extraordinary still.

Dr. Ferguson requested a gentleman present to take off his coat and place it on the table. This was done. The light was extinguished, a repetition of the whizzing noise was heard, and the strange coat was found on Mr. Fay, whose hands and feet were still securely bound, and his body tied almost immovable. A gentleman present then enquired whether, if he were to place two finger rings on the table, they could be transferred to the hand of Mr. Fay.

Dr. Ferguson said that he could not undertake that this feat would be accomplished, but that an essay would be made. The rings were deposited on the table, the candle extinguished, and Mr. Fay immediately exclaimed, "They are on my fingers!" and surely enough they were. The owner of the rings then expressed a wish that they might be restored to his fingers. As soon as the room was darkened the musical instruments commenced their mysterious concert, and after an interval of about thirty seconds a gentleman (not the owner) exclaimed the rings had been placed on his fingers. This was found to be the case.

A lady next expressed a desire that a gold watch which she held in her hand might be conveyed to some distant portion of the room. Immediately afterwards the concert was resumed, the bells, tambourine, and horn became excited, and the lady exclaimed that the watch had gone. On the candle being lighted it was found at the feet of Dr. Ferguson. One of the bells was also found in the lap of a gentleman sitting near him.

Some doubt having been expressed as to whether it was possible for the brothers Davenport to have moved chair and all in the darkness, so as to elevate the musical instruments in the air and make them play, another illustration was volunteered by Dr. Ferguson. Mr. Fay took his place among the visitors, holding a hand of each, as before.

A gentleman present then sat between the Messrs. Davenport and placed his hand upon the head of each, while he rested either foot on the feet of the Davenports, which were placed close together in a parallel direction to each other. The Davenports then clasped the arms of the gentleman, and in this position it would have been absolutely impossible for one of the group to have moved without disturbing the others.

This pose having been arranged to the satisfaction of all present, the light was extinguished, and the guitar was again heard as if moving in the air close to the faces of all present. Mr. Fay, as before stated, was seated in a row, clasping hands with the persons right and left of him, while Dr. Ferguson was similarly placed in another portion of the room.

With the last-named illustration the séance terminated. It had lasted rather more than two hours, during which time the cabinet was minutely inspected, the coats examined to ascertain whether they were fashioned so as to favour a trick, and every possible precaution taken to bind the hands and feet of the persons whose presence appeared to be essential to the development of the manifestations

3 Cheltenham Free Press 25 February 1865

4 The Unmasking of Robert Houdin - Harry Houdini 1908 The Publishers Printing Co. New York

5 Cheltenham Free Press 18 March 1865

6 David Devant - My Magic Life (1931) The Birmingham Gazette gave a full description of this, in which it will be seen how fully the brothers' tricks were duplicated, and even excelled. I quote a small portion of this, which describes Maskelyne's own addition of the box trick:

But the most astonishing part of the programme had yet to be accomplished. Mr. Maskelyne announced that he would be locked in a box, three feet long, by two feet wide, and eighteen inches in depth--the box should be corded according to the fancy of anyone present--and that he would escape.

An ordinary-looking deal box of the dimensions stated, with a few holes drilled in it at either end, was placed in the cabinet, and in this Mr. Maskelyne voluntarily immured himself.

The box was locked and the key given to a gentleman called from the audience, who corded up the box--an operation which occupied fully six minutes. This having been done to his satisfaction, bells were placed upon the box, and the doors of the cabinet were closed. The click of the bolt had scarcely died away ere the bells began to be tremulous and gradually increased to a clatter, till at length they were pitched through the aperture on to the platform, and in less than ten minutes from the closing of the doors they were again thrown open and Mr. Maskelyne was coolly seated in the box, and smilingly bowing his acknowledgments of the applause with which he was greeted.

This is a trick which the Davenports never attempted, and (as Barnum somewhere has it) must be seen to be believed!

Messrs. Maskelyne and Cook were then bound by Mr. E. Lawrence and Mr. Dallon, the first-named being, we believe, one of the gentlemen whose knot-tying somewhat perplexed the Brothers Davenport during their visit here, an operation which occupied nearly twenty minutes, but the exhibitors managed to free themselves from their bonds in about fifteen minutes. Mr. Lawrence then explained to the audience that he had seen the Davenport Brothers tied, and had, indeed, assisted in that operation, but he could venture to assert that those worthies were not tied nearly so securely as their rivals had been. The performance throughout was loudly applauded, and gave the greatest satisfaction.

This report, incidentally, proves without doubt that Maskelyne's famous box trick was presented in public before Dr. Lynn or any other performer in any other country.

7 David Devant - My Magic Life p1 http://www.doremi.co.uk/dd/career.html

8 http://occultopedia.tripod.com/d/davenport.htm Peter Duffie 1997

9 http://occultopedia.tripod.com/d/davenport.htm Peter Duffie 1997

10 The publication of the College of Psychic Studies, still in circulation.

11 Light 12 November 1887 p537

12 Maskelyne and Cook, Egyptian Hall, London - George A Jennes 1967

13 Old Diary Leaves V 225

14 Light May 13 1899. Reprint of comments by TP O'Connor.

15 http://www.blavatsky.net/blavatsky/arts/TrickeryOrMagic.htmTRICKERY OR MAGIC? From The Religio-Philosophical Journal, Dec. 22nd, 1877.

Back to top



John Nevil Maskelyne and David Devant -http://www.terravista.pt/nazare/1194/neville2i.html

A D V E N T U R E S in C Y B E R S O U N D http://filament.illumin.co.uk/svank/biog/maskcook/maskcook.html

Was John Nevil Maskelyne a Genius? - http://www. The learnedpig.freeservers.com/goldston/46.html

http://diamond.idbsu.edu/gas/gondoliers/discussion/1889.html Maskelyne Typewriter, 1893


David Devant - My Magic Life (1931) and Secrets of My Magic Life (1935)

http://www.doremi.co.uk/dd/career.html http://www.nano-technology.com/i-world/magic6.htm

The Unmasking of Robert Houdin - Harry Houdini 1908 The Publishers Printing Co. New York

Maskelyine and Cook, Egyptian Hall, London - George A Jennes 1967

The Fraud of Modern Theosophy - JN Maskelyne G Routledge and Sons 1875

Modern Spiritualism - John Nevil Maskelyne Frederick Warne & co 1875

http://occultopedia.tripod.com/d/davenport.htm Peter Duffie 1997

http://www.psyzone.freeserve.co.uk/davports.htm by Massimo Polidoro

http://www.occultopedia.com/home.htm http://www.cicap.org/en/e_sp02.htm

Back to top

Return to articles




© Kim Farnell 2006.