Just as the traffic lights changed and it was my turn to cross the road I espied a brass plaque out of the corner of my eye. Not wanting to miss the green light I quickly opened my camera and snapped a picture of the plaque with a view to looking at it later.
It really is amazing the sort of obscure things you find in places if you keep your eyes open. The plaque commemorates a visit to Adelaide in 1920 by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, whom my well read reader will immediately identify as the creator of Sherlock Holmes.
Perhaps, like myself, you may not have been aware that Doyle, in addition to being a writer, was a spiritualist and his visit to Adelaide was part of a three month visit to Australia promoting that aspect of his life and seeking converts.
In an interview with The West Australian newspaper he explained how, during the then recent WWI he had seen evidence of spirits of the departed returning and how he had felt compelled to come to Australia to let those who had lost dear ones here (and there were many) share the joy and comfort that he had derived.
Billed as the “flaming evangelist of spiritualism”, Doyle made very few converts in Australia. The Mail, an Adelaide newspaper, remarked that his arguments were too unconvincing to impress or influence a mass of earnest, intelligent listeners. He was described as inflexible, intolerant, cutting, contemptuous, scoffing and jarring. It is ‘the Gospel according to Sir Conan’ — and woe unto the unbeliever!
The words on the plaque are worthy a read.
The Case of the Wandering Spirit
On the vast curve of an Adelaide beach
Doyle reflects that conjuring
Sherlock back from the grave
Was elementary work
Real death is harder to persuade
Though it lets through whispers
And exposes the occasional ghost
The afterlife theory he tours
Packs curious thousands into lecture halls
But his proof of miracles is not wrought
They can’t connect the clues
And without Holmes himself
There to declare the mystery solved
The case remains open.
With your indulgence I will digress now to comment on Doyle’s lodgings during his visit to Adelaide.
The plaque also tells us that Doyle stayed in the Grand Central Hotel (picture three) which once stood on this prestigious site on the corner of Pulteney and Rundle Streets. Mark Twain and the Duke of York also stayed here. When it opened in June 1911 the Grand Central was regarded as one of the most impressive hotels in the Southern Hemisphere.
Prior to the Grand Central various incarnations of the York Hotel occupied the site. The York, since it was first built in 1836 (when the city itself was founded), was “the” place to stay for anyone of note. Many wealthy and retired gentlemen made the York their home, including a Dutch Admiral who could be seen on most days in the mid 1860’s in full naval dress, pacing up and down the balcony!
Notwithstanding its success, in the mid 1920’s the Grand Central was shut down to make way for the expansion of Foy and Gibson’s emporium which started out as a rather modest concession on the ground floor of the hotel in 1911 – though it had a larger premises across the road – (now a Target emporium! – Aussies will get the joke in that!).
The building was demolished and replaced with the current ugly multi-storey car park (picture four) in 1976 – causing outrage at the time and indeed ever since. A recent forum comment laments that “the destruction of this building was the greatest ever crime against the people of Adelaide. Whoever was responsible needed to put to the electric chair.”I concur.
Location : Corner of Pulteney and Rundle Streets (at the east end of the pedestrianised section of Rundle Mall)