Richard Hodgson (1855-1905)
Richard Hodgson was born in Australia, and raised as a Methodist, but he abandoned his religious belief at an early age. He studied law at the University of Melbourne and then moved to England to study moral sciences at Cambridge. Hodgon studied here under Henry Sidgwick.
While attending Cambridge, Hodgson joined the Cambridge Society for Psychical Research, and took part in the investigation of mediums. In 1882, he became one of the first member of the Society for Psychical Research. One of his first assignments was to travel to India to investigate the Theosophical Society and its leaders, including Helena Blavatsky. After four months Hodgson concluded that Blavatsky was a charlatan and wrote a damning report on her. Hodgson then turned his attention to another medium, William Eglinton, known for a procedure in which spirits wrote their messages on slates. Hodgson doubted Eglinton, and co-authored reports on the fallibility of witness testimony and exposing cheating methods he believed mediums used. Hodgson concluded that ‘nearly all the professional mediums are a gang of vulgar tricksters who are more or less in league with one another.’
In 1887, Hodgson took on the position of executive secretary of the American Branch of the SPR, and moved to America. His primary assignment was to take over the investigation of Leonora Piper, a Boston trance medium who had been discovered by Professor William James of Harvard University. Hodgson had heard of her before, and was confident he could unmask her.
James arranged for Hodgson’s first anonymous sitting with Piper in May 1887. Piper went into a trance and her spirit began to talk about Hodgson’s family. She spoke about details surrounding his deceased cousin Fred that were accurate.
Although Hodgson was impressed, and convinced Piper was not a charlatan, he and James both favoured the idea of telepathy as the explanation for these feats. Hodgson however was not sure how the explanation could be telepathy as Piper was able to tell him things that he was unaware of yet, for example the fact her sister was going to give birth to a boy (Hodgson was not even aware she was pregnant).
In 1895, Hodgson returned to Cambridge and investigated Eusapia Palladino. This convinced him of her fraudulent nature.