Mary Brodie was born in England in 1842. In late 1860s, she secretly married her cousin Emmanuel Marshall. After the marriage, she attended the seances of her mother-in-law, Mrs. Marshall, an eminent London medium. She also acted on stage under the name, Madame Claire. Beginning in 1867 she worked as a direct voice medium for a spirit called John King. She was assisted by her niece and occasionally by her son. Her husband developed his talent as a spirit artist at this time.
Reports of her seances appeared in the press regularly. An early account was published in Outlines of Ten Years’ Investigations into the Phenomena of Modern Spiritualism by Thomas Barkas (1862). Some scoffed at her abilities, but Robert Bell, a dramatist who wrote for the Cornhill magazine, was convinced that the phenomena were genuine spirit manifestations.
Marshall’s popularity attracted the attention of Sir William Crookes and Alfred Russel Wallace. Crookes was studying the effects of sending an electric current through a gas in a sealed tube. In 1879, he invented the cathode ray tube. Wallace was a naturalist and philosopher who developed many concurrent ideas with Charles Darwin. Both men and their families were introduced to mediumship and Spiritualism through Mary Marshall’s seances.
Francis Wallace Sims in a letter wrote, “I am very pleased John was convinced, & converted, but it will take some time to feel the ground firm under his feet, you know how long it takes to be perfectly sure of one’s own apparent beliefs. — I have never doubted since the first two names written under Mrs. Marshall’s table, our first séance together…”
Marshall produced many manifestations, including table tipping and levitation, raps on tables and other parts of the room, knotting handkerchiefs under the table-leaf, and writing on glass, similar to slate-writing used later by many mediums. Under her stage name, Madame Claire, she produced spiritual manifestations in daylight, including table levitation and other objects, changes in the weight of objects, rapping at the table floor and other parts of a room, and accordion playing.
In February 1876, she traveled to St. Petersburg at the invitation of A.N. Aksakov, a follower of Emanuel Swedenborg and nephew of famous writer and philosopher S.T. Akaskov. She held a séance during their writers’ conference and continued to stay and hold more seances for the rest of the winter. After her visit to Russia, she returned to England to resume her acting career. Unfortunately, her theater burned down in 1881. She returned to mediumship and died three years later at the age of forty-two.
Barkas, Thomas P. (1862) Outlines of Ten Years’ Investigations into the Phenomena of Modern Spiritualism. London.
Vinitsky, Ilya (2009) Ghostly Paradoxes: Modern Spiritualism and Russian Culture in the Age of Realism. University of Toronto Press.
Wallace letter https://epsilon.ac.uk/view/wallace/letters/WCP400