A Theosophical spin on the lost Island of Lemuria, with maps

W[illiam] Scott-Elliot, THE LOST LEMURIA WITH TWO MAPS SHOWING . . DISTRIBUTION OF LAND AREAS AT DIFFERENT PERIODS. London: Theosophical Publishing Society, 1904.
8vo. [iv],44 plus two folding three-color maps (14”h x 17 ½”w at neat line plus margins) in pocket at back. Library cloth, with ownership and de-accession markings of Northampton Public Libraries. Some creasing to text, mend to outer edge of pp. 13-14. Maps excellent.

A wacky—but dead serious–1904 account of the lost land of Lemuria by Theosophist William Scott-Elliot, with two interesting maps.

In the 1860s zoologist Philip Sclater was the first to posit the existence of a lost continent of Lemuria, long-since sunk beneath the Indian Ocean. For Sclater Lemuria served as a useful explanatory construct to account for the existence of lemur fossils in India and Madagascar but not in Africa or the Middle East. Later in the 19th century the idea of a lost Lemuria was repurposed by Theosophist thinker Helena Blavatsky (1831-1891), who greatly expanded its supposed extent and identified it as the homeland of the third “root race” of ancestral humans.

Author William Scott-Elliot (1849-1919), was born in Edinburgh and succeeded his father as the 10th Earl of Arkleton. He worked as an investment banker at Wallace Brothers & Co., Ltd., dabbled in anthropology, and was an active member of the London Lodge of the Theosophical Society. I am not going to attempt a deep dive into Theosophy, but the variant pursued by the Theosophical Society reflected the views of Blavatsky and her two-volume The Secret Doctrine (1886). Her outlook seems to have been a mash-up of, among other things, Buddhism, Hinduism, and crank-ish readings of both the Western Canon (such as Plato’s writings on Atlantis) and modern archaeology, botany, geology and zoology. Core views of The Secret Doctrine are that civilization is cyclical and has its origins in a series of “root races”, the third of which inhabited Lemuria and the fourth Atlantis, while modern humanity represents the “Fifth or Aryan Root Race”.

In addition to The Lost Lemuria, Scott-Elliot wrote The Story of Atlantis (1896), Man’s Place in the Universe: A Summary of Theosophic Study (1902) and other works. Per Wikipedia, documentary evidence indicates that much of the material for The Story of Atlantis and Lost Lemuria was supplied by fellow Theosophist Charles Webster Leadbetter (1854-1934), who claimed to have achieved clairvoyant insight into the history and culture of both Atlantis and Lemuria. It may have been believed that Scott-Elliot’s social position would make the work far more acceptable to mainstream publishers and readers.

The Lost Lemuria
In a short foreword, Scott-Elliot states describes his purpose “as to establish by the evidence available from geology and from the study of the relative distribution of living and extinct animals and plants, as well as from the observed processes of physical evolution in the lower kingdoms, the facts [about Lemuria] stated in the “Secret Doctrine” and in other works…”

Of particular interest are the two maps folded into a pocket at the back of the volume: “LEMURIA at its greatest extent” and “LEMURIA at a later period”. The first represents “the earth’s configuration from the Permian, through the Triassic and into the Jurassic epoch”, the second “the earth’s configuration through the Cretaceous and into the Eocene period”. Both employ a base map, printed in black, of the world as known in 1904—though it oddly understates what was then known of Antarctica. Superimposed on this in red are the posited extent of Lemuria, with blue delineating the limits “of the even earlier Hyperborean continent” (p. 16) On the first map Lemuria is rendered as a supercontinent covering much of the Pacific, Southeast Asia, Australia and perhaps a third of Africa. On the later map, following a series of volcanic cataclysms it is reconfigured as a series of vast islands spread over much of the earth’s surface. It’s worth noting that Scott-Elliot had previously used a set of four very similar maps in his 1896 The Story of Atlantis.

Scott-Elliot ends his work with an account of the transition from the Third Root Race of Lemuria to the Fourth of Atlantis: Once the Lemurians were “sufficiently developed physiologically”, a small group was selected and settled as a colony in present day Nigeria. There they were “guarded for generations from any admixture with a lower type”, until they were “ready to receive and to hand on the new impulse to physical heredity which the Manu was destined to import”. In case you were wondering, the role of Manu was performed by “one of the Adepts from Venus”. (p. 42)

In all, a fascinating pseudoscientific attempt to establish a developmental theory of human civilization, making free use of cartography to move the story along.

OCLC 486606 et al, giving numerous institutional holdings.