Ancient & Modern

History of Theosophy in Wales




Annie Besant

1847 - 1933



Welsh Theosophists Protest Against

Internment of Annie Besant




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Annie Besant and many other Theosophists were fervent campaigners for Indian Independence from British rule. Annie Besant was at one time President of the Indian National Congress which eventually evolved into the Indian Congress Party. Annie Besant, G S Arundale and B P Wadia as both leaders of the Theosophical movement and supporters of Indian independence were considered a threat by the authorities in India and in 1917 the following report from Reuters appeared in the Times outlining restrictions against them placed by the Governor of Madra, Lord Pentland. These restrictions were effectively internment without trial.


From the Times June 19th 1917






Stringent Order


Madras June 18th


Mrs Besant was recently ordered to go to Ootacamund but the order was cancelled. The Governor, Lord Pentland, today came to Madras, and in the course of the day the following order was issued.


In the exercise of the powers conferred on him by Rule 5 of the Defence of India (Consolidation) rules 1915, the Governor in Council has directed the service of Orders on Mrs Annie Besant, Mr G S Arundale and Mr B P Wadia, prohibiting them from attending or taking part in any meeting, from delivering any lecture, from making any speech and from publishing or procuring the publication of any writings or speech composed by them, placing their correspondence under censorship, & directing further, that after the expiry of a brief prescribed period they shall cease to reside in the City of Madras or district of Chingleput (a large town near Madras), and shall take up their residence and remain within any one of the following six areas; Nilgiri district, Coimbatore district, Bellary district, the Palni Hills, the Shevaroy Hills, and the municipal town of Vizagapatam.


Annie Besant went into internment in Oocatamund in the Nilgiri district on June 21st. The orders against G S Arundale and B P Wadia were not enforced but not lifted.


On receiving this news the following communication was sent to a Theosophical Society members in Wales. Please note that the TS in Wales did not yet exist as a separate organization in its own right and this letter was aimed at mustering local support at short notice.








30 Charles St,


July 2nd 1917




I am requested by Mr Peter B W Freeman, Secretary of Group 3 of the Southern Federation, to invite all F.T.S. in Wales to a members’ meeting to be held at the above Address on Saturday next, July 7th at 3.0 p.m., for the purpose of discussing the recent action taken by the Governor of Madras against Mrs Besant, Mr G S Arundale and Mr Wadia, as reported by Reuters, in the Times, on Tuesday June 19th 1917, and to consider what action, if any, should be taken in the matter.


I shall be glad to receive expressions of views or instructions as to voting, from any members who are unable to be present at the meetings.




Hon. Secretary




Although the original notification scheduled the meeting for 3PM, the meeting actually took place at 7.30PM with “about 20” members attending. Mrs S Maude Sharpe was in the chair. The following resolution was passed unanimously.




That this meeting of the Welsh members of the Theosophical Society in England and Wales most earnestly protest against the Orders of the Governor of Madras in Council made on the 16th June 1917, against Mrs Besant, Mr Arundale and Mr Wadia in so far as they constitute a bar to their taking part in non-political work, but particularly in the work of the Theosophical Society ; it declares that in preventing these persons, but particularly Mrs Besant, from speaking or writing in the future and even from re-publishing speeches and books composed and published in the past, those Orders deal a very serious blow against the operations of the Theosophical Society in the United Kingdom as well as in India : it maintains that consequently they constitute in fact, whatever may have been the intention of their authors, a very serious attack on religious and civil liberty : and it calls upon H.E. The Governor of Madras to cancel such Orders, and to default of his doing so on H.E. the Viceroy to disallow them without loss of time.



This resolution was forwarded to an impressive mailing list, recorded as follows



The Secretary was instructed to forward a copy of it (The Resolution) to the King, the Prime Minister, Mr Bonar Law, Lord Rhondda, Mr Snowden, Commander Wedgwood, Mr Redmond, Mr Asquith, Mr Chamberlain, all Welsh Members of Parliament, The Governor of Madras, and the Viceroy of India, - also to all local papers.



British Prime Minister – David Lloyd-George

Viceroy of India – Lord Chelmsford


This protest was part of a campaign by Theosophists worldwide. There was also unrest in India and denunciations of the government by the press. Finally the Secretary of State for India (Sir Edwin Samuel Montagu) intervened and Annie Besant was released from internment on September 17th 1917.


On October 20th the South Wales Group of The Southern Federation of the TS in England and Wales met for the first time and passed this further resolution approving of the Secretary of State’s action and forwarded it to “those concerned”






That this conference of the South Wales Group of the Southern Federation of the Theosophical Society in England and Wales, knowing the extent to which the internment of Mrs Besant interfered with her non-political activities, records its keen appreciation of the action of H.M Secretary of State for India in securing her unconditional release and desires to assure him of the active support of the members here assembled in any measures he may take for securing the right of free speech and a free Press for India and in regard to Indian affairs.





Writings of Annie Besant


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