William Thomas Stead

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William Thomas Stead

William Thomas Stead (1849-1912), usually known as "W. T. Stead," was a prominent investigative journalist in Victorian England. He was a friend of Annie Besant before she became associated with the Theosophical Society. He asked her to write a review on H. P. Blavatsky's newly publish magnum opus The Secret Doctrine for his journal Review of Reviews.

Professional career

William T. Stead

W. T. Stead started out his career in journalism in 1871 by founding and editing the Darlington Northern Echo for nine years. He experienced several strong premonitions, and one such experience, on January 1, 1880, made him believe that he would find a new position in London, which seemed unlikely at the time.[1][2] However, later that year he began assisting John Morley in editing the Pall Mall Gazette in London for three years, prior to assuming its sole editorship (1883-90). After this he inaugurated the Review of Reviews (1890-1912). From 1893-1897 he also produced the spiritualist magazine Borderland.

His radical views and social activism often triggered opposition. As editor of the PMG he orchestrated an exposé based on his actual experience of trying to buy a child whose mother had sold for prostitution. He was briefly jailed for this exposé.

He was considered a likely recipient of the 1912 Nobel Peace Prize before he died on board the RMS Titanic.

Correspondence with H. P. Blavatsky

Stead in 1905, by E. H. Mills

In 1888, the Pall Mall Gazette printed an article to which Madame Blavatsky responded angrily. Stead sent her a personal note:

You are a very great woman and I do not think that anyone but yourself (either man or woman) could have written the Secret Doctrine, nor do I feel competent, from the depths of my ignorance, even to express an opinion upon its extraordinary contents... I do not profess to understand you, for you inhabit space of more dimensions than I can even conceive, but I am not so great a fool as to be unable to see that you have a genius quite transcendent, and an extraordinary aptitude for both literature and propagandism, which the rest of your fellow-creatures may well envy... Thank you much for the promise of your second volume. May I, in return, ask you to accept a copy of my book, "Truth about Russia," which I hope will be issued next week? -- Hoping that I shall have the pleasure of seeing you before long.[3]

She wrote back to explain what phrases had offended her in the Gazette, and said,

It is indeed kind, very kind of you to have written to me such a letter and I feel deeply grateful. Without compliment I believe you to be the redeeming feature in the picture gallery of English Editors... Let me offer you -- as a peace offering, my new book "The Key to Theosophy." I do not ask you to review, but to read it; for this work, at least, you will understand and metaphysics is absent from it.[4]


Stead boarded the RMS Titanic for a visit to the United States to take part in a peace congress at Carnegie Hall at the request of William Howard Taft, and died on April 15, 1912, when it sank. It is reported that after the ship struck the iceberg, Stead helped several women and children into the lifeboats, in an act "typical of his generosity, courage, and humanity", and gave his life jacket to another passenger. Stead had often claimed that he would die from either lynching or drowning.[5]

A later sighting of Stead, by survivor Philip Mock, had him clinging to a raft with John Jacob Astor IV. "Their feet became frozen," reported Mock, "and they were compelled to release their hold. Both were drowned." William Stead's body was not recovered.[6]

There was a widely held belief that he was due to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize that same year.


Stead wrote numerous books. The W.T.Stead Resource Site offers an extensive list with full text. These are some other sources:

  • The crucifixion : a narrative of Jesus' last week on earth. Chicago, IL: Davis, 1900. Available at Internet Archive.
  • How I Know That the Dead Return. Boston: Ball Publishing Co., 1909. Available at Internet Archive.
  • If Christ Came to Chicago. Chicago: Laird & Lee, 1894. 470 pages. Available at Internet Archive.
  • Real Ghost Stories.Available at Project Gutenberg.
  • Satan's Invisible World Displayed or, Despairing Democracy. Available at Project Gutenberg.
  • Truth about Russia. London: Cassell & Co, 1888. Available at Internet Archive.
  • The United States of Europe on the Eve of the Parliament of Peace. New York: Doubleday & McClure Co, 1899. Available at Internet Archive.
  • The M. P. for Russia: reminiscences & correspondence of Madame Olga Novikoff, ed. by W. T. Stead. Putnam, 1909. Available at Hathitrust.

Online resources


  1. Estelle W. Stead, My Father (London, 1913), 88-91.
  2. Walter Franklin Prince, Noted Witnesses for Psychic Occurrences (New Hyde Park, NY: University Books, 1963), 224-226.
  3. William T. Stead letter to H. P. Blavatsky. December 8, 1888.
  4. H. P. Blavatsky letter to W. T. Stead. Undated, but probably December 1888 or early 1889, during the period when Blavatsky was corresponding with Stead.
  5. Joseph O. Baylen, 'Stead, William Thomas (1849–1912)', Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004.
  6. See Stead and Astor Cling to Raft at W.T. Stead Resource Site