The Victorian Occultist

Today’s instalment of the Royal Occultist Compendium takes a look at a previous holder of the office – Edwin Drood.

Sir Edwin Drood had the honour to hold the position of Royal Occultist at the close of the nineteenth century. Elevated in the wake of Aylmer Beamish’s disappearance, Drood’s assumption of the post brought a return to respectability in the eyes of many. Scientist, philosopher and diplomat, Drood’s approach to the occult was one of rigorous discipline and precision. He first made a name for himself investigating certain abnormalities found in the aftermath of the Woolwich Pier Disaster of 1878 alongside Beamish, but went on to great success in the years following.

He made great strides in recording and cataloguing his various encounters with what he called the ‘ab-natural’, as well as anonymously disseminating that information to the public through the works of writers such as Robert Louis Stevenson and Bram Stoker. He was an early patron of the Society for Psychical Research, the London Spiritualist Alliance, the Ghost Club and a dozen others, working alongside notables such as Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and AA Watts.

Besides being a scientist and occultist, Drood displayed a number of extrasensory talents, including psychometry. It was this latter ability that necessitated his habit of wearing of gloves on most occasions and is rumoured to be the reason for his occasional visits to noted Harley Street alienist, Dr. Moore Agar, as well as more esoteric consultations with his peers, Dr. Martin Hesselius and Dr. John Silence. Drood’s constitution, never the most robust, suffered markedly as his tenure progressed.

Despite this persistent weakness, it was Drood who, along with several others, defeated the vampiric invader known as Dracula, as well as the malign tulpa calling itself Hyde. He even disrupted the schemes of secret societies such as the Order of the Golden Dawn and the Sisterhood of Rats. Perhaps his most infamous exploit occurred during Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee, when he dispatched the monstrous Creeping Man before the eldritch being could throttle Victoria herself.

His exploits filled the pages of The Idler and other publications, though Drood himself disapproved of sensationalism. Drood vanished under mysterious circumstances sometime at the close of the nineteenth century, leaving his duties – as well as a sizeable inheritance – to his apprentice, Thomas Carnacki.

Rumours surrounding his whereabouts and possible fate persisted into the 1920s, including sightings of a man resembling Drood’s description in a certain garret in Soho, as well as around Cheyne Walk and the Embankment. These sightings tapered off towards the end of 1925, and there has since been no further sign of Edwin Drood – dead or alive.

Drood has appeared in only two stories – “The Disagreeable Bridegroom” and “The Pnakotic Puzzle”. While the shadow he casts is not so long as that of some, he is nonetheless an important figure in the annals of the Royal Occultist and he’s one of my favourite characters in the series. He’s every Victorian adventurer – Alan Quatermain, Professor Van Helsing and Sexton Blake, etc. – rolled into one stuffy, stolid figure. His mysterious final fate is explained in “The Pnakotic Puzzle”, which, I think, sends him out on an appropriately heroic note.

I have ideas for other stories about him (including one dealing with the aforementioned ‘abnormalities near Woolwich Pier’), but I haven’t quite gotten around to writing any of them beyond a few stray bits and pieces. Maybe one day.