Alexis Coulomb

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Alexis Coulomb was a French man who worked as a handyman for Helena Petrovna Blavatsky in India. He and his wife Emma caused the scandal known as the Coulomb Affair.

Personal life

Little is known of Alexis except during his association with Emma. He was the son of hotel keepers in Cairo, Egypt and married Miss Emma Cutting, an English woman, sometime around 1872-1874.

[Emma] pretended to be a clairvoyante, and was daily mesmerized by Alexis Coulomb, who had a very high opinion of his own powers in that direction; and by her behaviour, when apparently entranced, she was successful in inducing him to marry her.[1]

"The couple fled the country after an attempt at fraudulent bankruptcy, turning up in Calcutta in 1874 and moving on to Ceylon."[2] Little is known about their activities from then until 1880, and after 1885.

Meeting Madame Blavatsky

Late in 1871, Helena Petrovna Blavatsky arrived in Cairo, Egypt. She formed a slight acquaintance with Miss Emma Cutting,and with the Coulomb family.

In 1880, Emma Coulomb and her husband Alexis were living in Galle, Ceylon, trying to operate a boarding house. They heard of Blavatsky's arrival with Colonel Henry S. Olcott in Bombay to establish an Indian headquarters of the Theosophical Society that had been founded in 1875. Emma wrote to H.P.B. asking for a loan, but no funds were then available to help her. "To everyone's surprise the couple appeared at the Bombay headquarters on the evening of March 28, 1880, 'shoeless, penniless and starving.' H.P.B., generous to a fault, invited them to stay until they could get settled."[3]

Theosophical Society employment

Within a week of their arrival in Bombay, the couple began to establish themselves within the Theosophists' household. Emma took on housekeeping tasks, and Alexis worked as a handyman. The General Membership Register of the Theosophical Society indicates that both Coulombs were admitted as members on April 3, 1880.[4]

The Coulombs gradually became indispensable, and they maintained the headquarters during the long absences of the Founders. When the headquarters was moved to Adyar near Madras at the end of 1882, the couple went along and continued in their same roles.

The Coulomb controversy

Over time, Emma came to be envious and dissatisfied. She slandered Madame Blavatsky viciously behind her back. In 1884, the Founders went to Europe, and Colonel Olcott, the President of the Theosophical Society, appointed seven men to serve as a Board of Control for the organization during his absence. Evidently Alexis was added to the board "because Mrs. Coulomb insisted to HSO that her husband was a proud man and his feelings would be hurt if he were left out."[5] Colonel Olcott later commented:

If I had had even an inkling of his real character, instead of making her husband ... a Committee man, I should have had our servants chase both of them out of our compound with bamboo switches.[6]

The Coulombs had considerable influence and access in the running of the headquarters estate. Alexis altered Blavatsky's rooms to support an allegation that she had used fraud to produce precipitated letters from the Mahatmas. Board of Control members discovered that Emma Coulomb had been trying to borrow money from Indian members. Finally, on May 14, 1884, the Board dismissed Emma and Alexis Coulomb from their positions. They moved away from the Adyar compound on May 25. With encouragement of Christian missionaries in Madras, Emma worked to discredit Madame Blavatsky and the Theosophical Society by publishing forged letters. Purportedly written by Madame Blavatsky, the correspondence implied that H.P.B. had been complicit in producing fake Mahatma letters and phenomena. After the letters became public, the Society for Psychical Research sent a young investigator, Richard Hodgson to interview the Coulombs and many others in India, resulting in the famous Hodgson Report.

These events are often referred to as the Coulomb Affair, about which many volumes have been written.

Additional resources

  • Charles J. Ryan, "Chapter 13: The Coulomb Conspiracy against Theosophy," H. P. Blavatsky and the Theosophical Movement (Pasadena, CA: Theosophical University Press, 1975). Available at Theosophical University Press Online.


  1. C. W. Leadbeater letter to Indian Mirror dated December 14, 1884. As presented in Michael Gomes, "The Coulomb Case" Theosophical History Occasional Papers Volume X (Fullerton, California: Theosophical History, 2005) 52.
  2. Michael Gomes, "The Coulomb Case" Theosophical History Occasional Papers Volume X (Fullerton, California: Theosophical History, 2005) 6.
  3. Michael Gomes, "The Coulomb Case" Theosophical History Occasional Papers Volume X (Fullerton, California: Theosophical History, 2005) 6.
  4. Theosophical Society General Membership Register, 1875-1942 at See book 1, entries 288 and 289 (website file: 1A/17).
  5. George E. Linton and Virginia Hanson, eds., Readers Guide to The Mahatma Letters to A. P. Sinnett (Adyar, Chennai, India: Theosophical Publishing House, 1972), 224-225.
  6. Henry S. Olcott, Old Diary Leaves Volume 3, page 74.