Robert James Lees


Associated Figures 



James Burns

James Burns


The Victorian spiritualist and journalist James Burns edited a number of early spiritualist journals including the influential “The Medium” and “The Daybreak” which later merged.  He was an energetic and highly capable ambassador for early English Spiritualism. It has been claimed that it was Burns who informed Queen Victoria that the young Lees had `contacted’ the late Prince Albert through an article published in one of his journals. No such article has yet been found.


Mrs Morgan Payler

Mrs Morgan Payler

Mrs Morgan Payler was a close friend of the Lees family during their London years and later. It is said that she acted as `nanny' to Lees' children, supporting Robert and Sarah in their work. Her husband provided most of the finance for the acquisition of the building in Peckham High Street which became the location of the People's League. She is pictured here with a collection of dolls.  Neither the context or the location of this photograph is known.

Mrs Morgan-Payler apparently moved with the Lees family from London to the West Country, and later to Leicester.

The Western Echo of 10 March 1900 recorded that the fishermen of St Ives had presented Robert James Lees with a silver loving cup "in recognition of his indefatigable services in their causes during a residence of five years in their midst."  Mrs Morgan-Payler was presented with a silver butter-dish, on which was inscribed "Presented to Mrs Morgan-Payler by the fishermen of St Ives, 1900."

This curious extract from Lees' diary dated 17 February 1896 (whilst the Lees and the Morgan-Paylers were living in St Ives) suggests that the relationship between Mrs Morgan-Payler and Lees was becoming too involved:

"For some considerable time there has been growing a more pronounced antipathy on Mrs Morgan-Payler's part towards Mrs Lees, simply because my dear friends show more favour to Mrs L than herself, forgetful that those who have been purified by death are no longer respecters of persons but are entirely influenced by soul sympathy. This she is quite unable to understand as in spite of her years she is only still a child in most things in life, and as a child is moved to all kinds of petty jealousies which is cherished with a vindictiveness which is quite mature. She cannot see why Mrs L had a greater claim to me than she has if she wants me, and is continually getting that Mrs Lees has greater privileges than she has. She objects to us seeing anyone but them, or to our going anywhere without taking her.  Her daughter must not call upon us without she is with her, neither must we call there when she is out. This sort of thing we have quietly resented and have hoped to conquer it buy some little spark has set the whole edifice ablaze and at last I have spoken straight only to find that all through our long acquaintance she has been quietly and persistently poisoning her husband's mind against my wife."


Presentation to swimmer Kathleen Thomas

Kathleen Thomas and her supporters (including Robert James Lees standing to the right of Miss Thomas). The date appears
to be September 1930



This is a poor quality image from local news coverage of the successful attempt by a young Penarth woman, Kathleen Thomas, to swim the Bristol Channel. This picture was taken at Ilfracombe on the occasion of a presentation to mark her successful swim. 

It is said that her family strongly opposed her attempt, but that Robert James Lees gave her the self confidence and assurance she needed to succeed.  Hugh Mogford, the reporter who covered this story for the local South Wales press later worked for the Leicester Mercury at the time of Lees' death.  He became a spiritualist, largely through his contact with Lees.  It was Mogford who published the first newspaper article in which the claim the Lees assisted the police in tracking down and identifying Jack the Ripper was made.

On 5 September 1927 Kathleen became the first woman to swim the Bristol Channel. She swam from her native Penarth to Weston-super-Mare. She made the journey in the time of 7 hours and 20 minutes.  In 1928, Kathleen was a special guest at the first Gala of the Barry Amateur Swimming Club where she gave a demonstration of her swimming prowess.


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© 2003 Stephen Butt (revised 23/08/05)