Royal Reels: Gambling


At top left, this cover has a partially obscured (by a roller cancel:  Melbourne Vic JA 29  2-30P  1909) The Harbinger of Light, Editor: Mrs. Charles Bright, 117 Collins Street, Melbourne.  It has a blue Victoria 2½d stamp and it is addressed to Mr. Victor L. White, 32 Johnson Avenue, Richmond Hill, Long Island, New York State, USA (Figures 1 & 2).

The reverse has an incomplete reception postmark of RICHMOND HILL N.Y./ MAR 8/ 4.30 AM  (Figure 3).

Annie Bright, journalist and spiritualist, was born on 14 July 1840 at Mount Hooton, Nottingham, England, daughter of William Wright, book-keeper, later silk merchant, and his wife Charlotte. Although her father was a freethinker, Annie was educated at Anglican schools, becoming a good linguist with a special interest in literature and music.  She spent much of her time helping factory girls, teaching them in the large Sunday School held in the Unitarian chapel. Rev. James Pillars, a Unitarian minister, encouraged her to leave home and accompany him to Australia.  They were married on 6 July 1864 in the Unitarian Chapel, Nottingham, and migrated shortly afterwards to Sydney, where he took up his position as minister of a freethought church.

Pillars was an excellent preacher, but his advanced ideas split the congregation, delaying the completion of a new church building.  Annie began a small school with the help of her husband, teaching the daughters of their friends.  On 31 July 1875 she was left to do this alone when Pillars, while on a Sunday School excursion, fell from a cliff, was swept off the rocks at Bondi and presumably drowned.

This tragedy reunited the differing church elements, but Annie, disillusioned by previous unkindness, refused to join them.  She continued her school, building up the numbers as her pupils proved their achievement, while also looking after her young family of two sons and two daughters.  Although she had considered herself a materialist, she was persuaded to try using the planchette as a possible means of contact with her late husband.  This led to the receipt of messages through a medium and, eventually, to Annie’s attendance at a lecture given by Charles Bright, a divorced former Melbourne journalist who was a convert to spiritualism, and on 23 April 1883 they were married by a Unitarian minister at Sydney.

Charles and Annie remained active in Sydney’s volatile freethought circles, and in 1884 she lectured in New Zealand on The Emancipating Influence of Spiritualism.  She also wrote articles for local journals, and from 1894 to 1896 she was editor of Cosmos Magazine.  Both Annie and Charles were ordained Unitarian ministers in Sydney in 1902.  After Bright’s death in 1903, Annie was invited to become editor of the Harbinger of Light.  She moved to Melbourne to take up this position in 1905, writing much of the journal herself, while maintaining her dependence on unseen spiritual helpers.  Her autobiographical novel, A Soul’s Pilgrimage, was published in Melbourne in 1907.  She wrote What Life in the Spiritualist World Really Is in 1912 by ‘transmission’ from W. T. Stead, the crusading editor who went down with the Titanic.

Although a convinced spiritualist, Annie refused to label herself as such, believing that words and definitions were inadequate to describe spiritualist experience as well as being divisive. Strong-minded and resolute, she always believed in the rightness of her own destiny.  She died at her home in East Melbourne on 21 June 1913 and was buried in Brighton cemetery.  A son and daughter of her first marriage survived her.  A copy of the front page of the 1948 August The Harbinger of Light is shown in Figure 4.

The Victorian Spiritualists’ Union had its beginnings in Melbourne in 1870, when one of the first Spiritualist churches in the world was opened under the name of The Victorian Association of Progressive Spiritualists – VAPS.  VAPS was founded by William H. Terry, a prominent bookshop and health store owner, of Collins Street, Melbourne. He was a healer held in high regard by his clients and many of the medical profession who regularly sought his assistance. W.H. Terry was also the editor of the “Harbinger of Light”.

The original organisation commenced with 25 founder members and quickly became of a hub of Spiritualism within Victoria.  The society attracted many eminent people of their day, including Alfred Deakin (four times Prime Minister of Australia) who held the office of President for many years before taking on full time commitment to politics.

During 1930, members of The Victorian Association of Spiritualists and the Melbourne Progressive Spiritualistic Lyceum joined together and formed the Victorian Spiritualists’ Union. This was registered under the Religious Successory and Charitable Trusts Act of Victoria.  Today, the VSU is a recognised religious institution by the Australian Government and is permitted to perform Child and Adult Namings, Weddings, Funerals, Dedications and Ordinations. The VSU has ordained ministers who can provide these services.

The Australian Dictionary of Biography provided much of the text of this paper.