William Tournay Brown

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William Tournay Brown

William Tournay Brown was a Scottish lawyer. After joining the Theosophical Society in London, he sailed for India where he got in touch with the Founders. His greatest Theosophical contribution was a few written communications he received from Master KH and his witnessing of this Master in the flesh, which formed the basis for Brown's defense of the existence of the Masters from such the attack of skeptics as Moncure D. Conway of the Glasgow Herald.

Early life

William Tournay Brown was born in Glasgow on May 16, 1857, of elderly parents. His father was a clerk and his mother the daughter of a wealthy Glasgow weaver. The family was strictly Presbyterian, wollowing the concept of original sin; William and his two older brothers later rejected this teaching. At the age of four, William attended a "dame school," or nursery school, and after three years was sent to the Glasgow Academy. Michael Gomes writes about Mr. Brown's early life:

At the age of 14 he entered the law offices of Bannatynes, Kirkwood & McJannet as a clerk, and at the same time joined the Junior class at Glasgow University, it being the habit for students interested in following a career in Law to attend classes at the University while serving with a legal firm. The death of his father in 1877, and that of his mother two years later, led him to take a deeper interest in religion. At the end of 1880 before taking his examination, he left the law firm of Bannatynes to visit his elder brother who was at Strassburg, Germany. In April 1882 he received the degree of Bachelor of Law from Glasgow University, which he followed with a tour of upstate New York, seeing Niagara Falls and returning to Edinburgh by way of Montreal and Quebec. Studying for his examination in Court Practice at the end of that year, his health gave way. A reading of Spiritualist literature led him to decide to go to London in the spring of 1883 to try the mesmeric cures that were being offered there.
The London milieu that Brown now encountered was one of seances and mediums, phrenologists, homeopathy, vegetarianism, and Theosophy.[1]

Theosophical involvement

Mr. Brown was introduced to A. P. Sinnett and his writings through the acquaintance Mary Gebhard. Reading Sinnett’s The Occult World convinced him of the reality of Theosophy, and he joined the London Lodge of the Theosophical Society on June 3, 1883, at the age of 26.[2] On August 25, only three months after joining the TS, he sailed for India to meet the Founders.

According to Readers Guide to The Mahatma Letters to A. P. Sinnett:

Apparently, he was a man of nervous temperament but of considerable promise. HPB sent him to join HSO and DKM, who were on tour in North India (LBS, p. 62). In Lahore he was visited by KH (LBS, p. 68) During the absence of the Founders from Adyar, India, he served on the Board of Control appointed by HSO and was present at the time of the Hodgson investigation. See ML, p. 421; SH, pp. 184, 185, 192; D, p. 570; HPB VI:31, 32, 429; ODL 3: 23, 42; LMW 1: 28. See Chronology [of RG].[3]

On April 11 the Glasgow Herald, a newspaper from his place of birth, published a report by Moncure D. Conway where he was skeptical about the reality of Theosophical phenomena and the Mahatmas. In response, Brown issued a pamphlet of fourteen pages titled, The Theosophical Society: An Explanatory Treatise where, among other things, he gave testimony of the reality of the Masters.

Although Brown had been accepted as a probationary chela, he eventually distanced himself from this path. He left Adyar on January 4, 1885, resolving to leave the pursuit of occult studies for the present to return to the ordinary world. After various changes of mind about his future, and failing to find his place in the world, he decided to return to India to search for his Master, K.H. On his way to India, however, he stopped in Europe and decided to tour the continent. When at last he was ready to leave Europe, he changed his mind right before boarding his ship to India, and decided to stay.

In the meantime, he got drawn towards esoteric Christianity, and felt that the TS was meant for Eastern people. He wrote:

A great many of us have come to think that we have been running vainly after Eastern mystics and ecstatics, when, within the New Testament itself, we find the Way, the Truth and the Life. . . . We are now prepared to stand by our Essenian Master and to ‘test the Spirits’ in his name.[4]

H. P. Blavatsky responded to these statements in an article, as follows:

I know of one theosophist—let him be nameless though it is hoped he will recognize himself—a quiet, intelligent young gentleman, a mystic by nature, who, in his ill-advised enthusiasm and impatience, changed Masters and his ideas about half a dozen times in less than three years. First he offered himself, was accepted on probation and took the vow of chelaship; about a year later, he suddenly got the idea of getting married, though he had several proofs of the corporeal presence of his Master, and had several favours bestowed upon him. Projects of marriage failing, he sought "Masters" under other climes, and became an enthusiastic Rosicrucian; then he returned to theosophy as a Christian mystic; then again sought to enliven his austerities with a wife; then gave up the idea and turned a spiritualist. And now having applied once more "to be taken back as a chela" (I have his letter) and his Master remaining silent—he renounced him altogether, to seek in the words of the above manifesto—his old "Essenian Master and to test the spirits in his name.​[5]

Brown's reaction to this article was to resign from the Theosophical Society, which he did on December 13, 1886, and began to actively campaign against Blavatsky.[6]

Visit from Master K. H.

Mr. Brown was accompanying Col. Olcott on a lecture tour. He claims that in a couple of lectures he saw the astral form of the Masters, in one occasion recognizing the Mahatma K.H. Later, on November 20, 1883, he had the opportunity to see the Master in his physical body. He wrote:


Lahore has a special interest, because there we saw, in his own physical body, Mahatma Koot Hoomi himself.

On the afternoon of the 19th November, I saw the Master in broad daylight, and recognized him, and on the morning of the 20th he came to my tent, and said, "Now you see me before you in the flesh; look and assure yourself that it is I," and left a letter of instructions and silk handkerchief.

On the evening of the 21st, after the lecture was over, Colonel Olcott, Damodar, and I were sitting outside the shamiana (pavilion or pandal [temporary, open-sided shelter roofed with bamboo matting], when we were visited by Djual Khool, the Master's head Chela, who informed us that the Master was about to come. The Master then came near to us, gave instructions to Damodar, and walked away.

On leaving Lahore the next place visited was Jammu, the winter residence of His Highness the Maharajah of Cashmere.

At Jammu I had another opportunity of seeing Mahatma Koot Hoomi in propria persona. One evening I went to the end of the "compound" (private enclosure), and there I found the Master awaiting my approach. I saluted in European fashion, and came, hat in hand, to within a few yards of the place on which he was standing. After a minute or so he marched away, the noise of his footsteps on the gravel being markedly audible.[7]

Letters from Master K. H.

Brown received a few letters from K. H. Two of them were published as Letter 21 and Letter 22 in Letters from the Masters of the Wisdom, 1881-1888, also known as First Series.

A short letter was published in Some Experiences in India and Scenes of My Life. It was received by Mr. Brown in the "Occult Room" at Adyar in the presence of H. P. Blavatsky and several others soon after his arrival to Adyar on October 1, 1883. The text reads:

Why feel uneasy? Perchance we may yet become friends. I have to thank you for your defense of Esoteric Buddhism. K.H. to C.G. Clarke [W. T. Brown], B.L., F.T.S.[8]

Another letter is the one left to him by the Master with instructions along with the silk handkerchief. Brown quoted from it in his writings My Life and Scenes of My Life. This letter read:

What Damodar told you at Poonah is true. We approach nearer and nearer to a person as he goes on preparing himself more and more for the same. You first saw us in visions, then in astral forms, tho’ very often not recognized, then in body at a short distance from you. Now you see me in my own physical body, so close to you as to enable you to give your countryment the assurance that you are, from personal knowledge, as sure of our existence as you are of your own. Whatever may happen, remember that you will be watched and rewarded in proportion to your zeal and work for the cause of humanity, which the founders of the Theosophical Society have imposed upon themselves. The handkerchief is left as a token of this visit. Damodar is competent enough to tell you about the Rawalpindi member. K.H.[9]

There is a passage of one more letter that Mr. Brown printed in his pamphlet My Life. It was addressed to Mr. Lane-Fox in August 1884 and received by him in the "Occult Room" at Adyar:

Yes, you are right in your supposition. We leave each man to exercise his own judgement and manage his affairs as he thinks fit. Every man is the maker of his own Karma and the Master of his own destiny. Every human being has his own trials to get through and difficulties assist his self development by calling his energies into action, and ultimately determining the course of his higher evolution. K.H.


  • Some Experiences in India. London: London Lodge of the Theosophical Society, 1884. 5–7, 10–11, 12, 13, 15–17. See A Casebook of Encounters with the Theosophical Mahatmas Case 37, compiled and edited by Daniel H. Caldwell.
  • "The Theosophical Mahatmas" in The Religio-Philosophical Journal (Chicago), October 16, 1886, p. 2.
  • My Life. Freiburg, Germany: D. Lauber, 64 pages. Title page bearing, "The following pamphlet has been prepared for the writer's acquaintances, especially in Scotland."
  • The Theosophical Society: An Explanatory Treatise. Madras: National Press, 1885. 16 pages. The only known copy cataloged in a library is at the British Library. Perhaps there is one at Adyar.

Additional resources

  • Beechey, Katherine A. "W. T. Brown and Two Less Known Letters of the Master K. H." The Theosophist 109.3 (December, 1987), 87-90.
  • "William Tournay Brown" at University of Glasgow website.
  • Brown, William Tournay in Theosophy World.
  • Gomes, Michael. W.T. Brown’s “Scenes in My Life” in Theosophical History Occasional Papers Volume IV. Fullerton, California: Theosophical History, 1995. Reprinted from the Rochester Post-Express, 1886, with additional material by Michael Gomes. A library catalog description says: "Under the pseudonym "Carwood Gerald Clark," William Tournay Brown recounts his experiences with members of the Theosophical Society and the Master Koot Hoomi, as originally printed in the Rochester Post-Express, August and September 1886.


  1. Gomes, Michael, comp., Theosophical History Occasional Papers, Volume IV (Fullerton, California, 1995), 1.
  2. Gomes, Michael, comp., Theosophical History Occasional Papers, Volume IV (Fullerton, California, 1995), 2.
  3. George E. Linton and Virginia Hanson, eds., Readers Guide to The Mahatma Letters to A. P. Sinnett (Adyar, Chennai, India: Theosophical Publishing House, 1972), 222.
  4. W. T. Brown and J. Cables, "The Theosophical Mahatmas," The Occult Word 2/6-7 (October-November, 1886), 21.
  5. Helena Petrovna Blavatsky, Collected Writings vol. VII (Wheaton, IL: Theosophical Publishing House, 1987), 244-245.
  6. Gomes, Michael, comp., Theosophical History Occasional Papers, Volume IV (Fullerton, California, 1995), 7-8.
  7. A Casebook of Encounters with the Theosophical Mahatmas Case 37, compiled and edited by Daniel H. Caldwell
  8. Gomes, Michael, comp., Theosophical History Occasional Papers, Volume IV (Fullerton, California, 1995), 26.
  9. Gomes, Michael, comp., Theosophical History Occasional Papers, Volume IV (Fullerton, California, 1995), 34.