Arthur Gebhard

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Arthur Gebhard was a German-American manufacturer whose family was close to Helena Petrovna Blavatsky in the early days of the Theosophical Society.

Personal life

Arthur Heinrich Paisley Gebhard was born on December 29, 1855 at Elberfeld, Wuppertal, Nordrhein-Westfalen, Germany. His father was Gustav Gebhard (1828-1900), a consul with manufacturing interests, and his mother was Frances Catherine Mary l'Estrange (1832-1892), known to her Theosophist friends as Mary.

In 1878, Gebhard moved to the United States, representing his family's manufacturing interests in New York and Boston. He was granted citizenship on May 17, 1889.[1]

On December 3, 1894, he married Harriet Luise Wilhelmine Frida Adolphe Bürger in Berlin.[2] Later he married a widow, Marie-Josephe von Hoesch, née von Carlowitz (b. Jan. 7, 1888), with whom he had two sons: Rollo (b. July 7, 1921; married to Hildegard Freyer; d. 2013) and Vidar Arthur Eward (b. Oct. 2, 1928, when his father was 73 years of age; d. 1910, London). In 1913, Arthur Gebhard officially added his mother's family name to his own, becoming known as Arthur Gebhard-L’Estrange. His sons used the surname Gebhard.

In 1913 he spent some time in Dresden on "literary work,"[3] and in the 1930s he spent time in Switzerland.

World War II found Gebhard was living in England. He died at Newton-Abbot on October 11, 1944.

Theosophical Society involvement

While living in the United States, Arthur was on friendly terms with Mohini M. Chatterjee and William Quan Judge. For a time he joined them in publishing The Path magazine. He took active part in the Theosophical Movement, lecturing on Oriental philosophy at salons and other meetings. Julia van der Planck was greatly influenced by one of his 1886 salon talks.[4] He studied astrology in Boston with Henry Morris, according to Theosophical historian K. Paul Johnson.[5]

One day, while lunching with her close friend, Mrs. Anna Lynch Botta, the name of Madame Blavatsky was mentioned, though she was spoken of as an exposed fraud. Mrs. Botta invited her to hear Arthur Gebhard speak on Theosophy at the home of a friend of hers. The impression produced upon Julia Ver Planck was so deep that she joined the Theosophical Society within two weeks, and started upon her Theosophical career.[6]

Gebhard was one of the first patrons of Wagner’s musical dramas in the 1870s, at Bayreuth, Bavaria, and recognized their occult significance. He lectured in at the Aryan Theosophical Society New York on "The Ideals of Richard Wagner, as They Bear on Theosophy."[7]

He frequently visited his relatives at Elberfeld, where H.P.B. and other Theosophists were also staying.

Gebhard was mentioned in several letters written by H. P. Blavatsky, including Mahatma Letter No. 141 and Mahatma Letter No. 135 addressed to A. P. Sinnett.

In collaboration with Mohini M. Chatterjee, who had by then become a critic of the Theosophical Society, he drew up a document that Madame Blavatsky (H.P.B.) regarded as a "manifesto." Entitled "A Few Words on The Theosophical Organization," it was filled with criticism of TS President-Founder Henry Steel Olcott, alleging despotism. H.P.B. wrote a powerful reply that has come to be called "The Original Programme of The Theosophical Society." That response was a statement on the basic platform of the T.S. and its policies, and a defense of Colonel Olcott. Both the "manifesto" and the "programme" were published in 1931 in the Adyar Pamphlets series, with an introduction by C. Jinarājadāsa.

Toward the end of his life, in 1940, Arthur Gebhard published a little book entitled The Tradition of Silence, in which he paid tribute to H.P.B. and her work.

Schmiechen painting

Evidently at the time of his death Arthur Gebhard had possession of a portrait by Hermann Schmiechen. A few years later, historian Boris de Zirkoff was trying to track down all of Schmiechen's occult paintings, and wrote to V. Wallace Slater, quoting a letter written by Gebhard's wife:

"After 1943 my husband left Guildford, after the visit of C. Jinarajadasa. He felt no more safe at Guildford, on account of the German V-arms. He went with all our furniture to South England, near Newton Abbott. He died there in October, 1944. He instructed Miss Mackay, the nurse, to bring the portrait immediately after his death to Mrs. Sch[n]iewind in USA. She keeps it since then. . ."

[Frau Gebhard went to Germany in 1939 for treatments, and simply could not get back to England because of the war. Vidar was with her. Communications with England was merely thru Red Cross, a few words at a time. In 1945, she learned that Arthur Gebhard had died.]

"Only in 1948 my son [Vidar] got a passport for England, but it was simply too late. The nurse had sold everything and got the passion for morphin[e], so that she lost the whole [Gebhard's underlining]. Fortunately she had brought the Portrait, a precious ring for Rollo, and a Medallion for Vidar, to USA."[8]


Arthur Gebhard wrote at least two articles that were printed in Theosophical magazines.

He wrote a short book in 1940 called The Tradition of Silence, of which no copy can be found.

His collaboration with Mohini is available online in several websites:


  1. Passport application. January 7, 1914. U.S., Passport Applications, 1795-1925 at
  2. Berlin, Germany, Marriages, 1874-1936 in
  3. Passport application. January 7, 1914. U.S., Passport Applications, 1795-1925 at
  4. J. Campbell ver Planck, "Madame Blavatsky at a Distance" The American Theosophist 60 No. 4 (April, 1972), 77. Previously printed in Lucifer 8 no. 47 (July, 1891), 382-383.
  5. K. Paul Johnson email to Janet Kerschner. February 4, 2014. Theosophical Society in America Archives.
  6. Boris de Zirkoff, 436.
  7. "Theosophical Activities" The Path" 1 no.1 (April, 1886), 31.
  8. Boris de Zirkoff letter to V. Wallace Slater. May 4, 1973. Boris de Zirkoff Papers. Records Series 22. Theosophical Society in America Archives. Mr. de Zirkoff was quoting a letter dated July 22, 1965 from Mrs. Marie-Josephe Gebhard-L'Estrange, the wife of Arthur Gebhard.