Joseph Knight Gardner was initiated into the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn at its Horus Temple in Bradford in July 1891. He chose the Latin motto ‘Valet anchora virtus’. He had some prior knowledge of the western esoteric tradition and - despite working full time - was able to do the work required for entry into the GD’s inner, second order in just over two years; being initiated into it in September 1893. You couldn’t do any practical magic in the GD until and unless you were in that inner order. Joseph was still an active member of the GD in 1895; though probably not for much longer.

Rachel Taylor was initiated into the GD in September 1892, also at the Horus Temple, taking the Latin motto ‘Una voce’. She never progressed to the GD’s inner order and may have dropped out of the GD after only a short time.

Joseph and Rachel were married in 1895. They were two of the large group of members of the Horus Temple who actually lived in Liverpool. They were also two of the very large group of GD members who were also in the Theosophical Society.

Thanks are due to Ted G Davy whose profile of Joseph Knight Gardner was published in a Canadian theosophical magazine. My double-biography below is very indebted to Davy’s work especially for the later part of the Gardners’ lives.


Due to an infuriating lack of data I can’t prove this, but it looks from my researches into their families that Joseph (known as Joe) and Rachel (known as Ray) were distantly related in two ways. It has been much easier to find out about Ray’s family than about Joe’s; but I’ll start with Joe’s anyway.

Though I suspect it might be ‘Richard’ I don’t know Joe’s father’s forename for sure: I can’t find the man and his family together on the census in 1861, 1871 and 1881, and by 1891 he was dead. If he was the man I suspect he was, he died during 1880 and it’s likely that he was a member of a prominent family of businessmen with branches living and working in Liverpool and in north Wales. Richard Gardner - if I have his name right - married Esther Taylor, most probably in 1860. Esther was born around 1830, the eldest child of an Isaac Taylor and his wife, also named Esther. Isaac Taylor was in business a maltster and ironmonger in the Yardley district of Worcester; though both he and his wife were probably dead by 1860, and their daughter Esther got married in Liverpool where she spent the rest of her life.

Joe Gardner was the third son of Esther Gardner and her husband, born in West Derby - a middle-class suburb of Liverpool - in June 1864. Because I can’t find the family on the two censuses after that, their family history - including the death of Joe’s father - is a blank until census day 1891. On that day Esther was living at 16 Aubrey Street Everton and some of her children (maybe all of them) were still living at home. Any financial trouble the family had felt after the death of Esther’s husband while her children were quite young had been eased because all the boys were working. William was an engineer; George was working as a clerk in a timber firm; Joseph was also a clerk, in a firm of solicitors, though he was possibly doing accounting, rather than legal work; Charles was apprenticed to a pharmacist; and Emily was helping her mother run the house. There may have been a second daughter, Ada; but I can’t prove she was a relation because she was away on census day, staying with Rachel Taylor and her family. It’s likely that George Gardner had gone into the Gardner family’s timber business, which had bases in Liverpool and at Flint.

I think you might say that in the endless gradations of Victorian society, Rachel Taylor was a cut slightly above her husband-to-be. She had been born in Holywell, Flintshire, in 1867, one of the middle children in the huge family of another man called Isaac Taylor, possibly a relation of Joe’s grandfather of the same name. Rachel’s father Isaac Taylor was a land agent and surveyor. In the 1830s he had done work for the local county council, reassessing rateable values; and he was also employed by Lady Vivian to run her estate, Plas Gwyn at Pentraeth in Anglesey. Lady Vivian, formerly Mary Elizabeth Panton, had inherited Plas Gwyn from her father. She had married the 2nd Baron Vivian in 1841 and lived in Cornwall.

Isaac Taylor had married into the Gardner family of Liverpool and north Wales: his wife was Sarah Elizabeth, daughter of a man who was definitely called Richard Gardner, and of Richard’s wife Martha Jones of Liverpool. Richard Gardner was in business as a timber merchant - presumably in the same firm which later employed George Gardner at its Liverpool offices - and served as mayor of the Flint in 1850 and 1851. Isaac and Sarah Elizabeth lived at Coleshill Cottage at Bagillt near Holywell, at least from the 1870s to the 1890s. They had one son, Isaac, who was working learning the land agent and surveying trade from his father by 1881; and at least nine daughters, of whom Rachel was the fifth.

Coleshill Cottage was teeming with people on the day of the 1891 census: father Isaac and wife Sarah Elizabeth were both at home and Isaac’s unmarried sister Alice had been a member of the household for many years. Son Isaac, now 27 and in partnership with his father, was as yet unmarried and living at home. And also still at home were daughters Mary, Rachel and Evelyn. Staying at the Cottage that night were four visitors, probably friends of the Taylor girls: Annie Williams and Ada Howell who were both 20; Ada Gardner - the woman who’s possibly Joe Gardner’s sister - aged 24; and Henry Williams whose probably a brother of Annie, aged 34. It’s not at all surprising that the two Adas and Henry had all been born in Liverpool and Annie not far away, in Birkenhead. Unlike Esther Gardner, who had no live-in servants, Isaac and Sarah Elizabeth employed three servants: a cook, a housemaid (both of whom must have been rushed off their feet); and - because this was a country district where a coach was more a necessity than a luxury - a coachman.


By the time of the 1891 census, Joe Gardner was a convinced theosophist. Helena Petrovna Blavatsky and Colonel Henry Steel Olcott had founded the Theosphical Society in New York in 1874 but interest in the subject amongst the public at large had to wait until the publication of Blavatsky’s Isis Unveiled in September 1877. Joe was amongst those who found Blavatsky’s attempt to reconcile modern science with theology an attractive alternative to Christianity in an age of increasing doubt. A group of English theosophists was meeting regularly by the early 1880s but this was in London and Joe may not have been aware of them - nor them of him - until several years later.

Blavatsky took up residence in England in May 1887 and the numbers attending the meetings of the TS in London began to increase; but lift-off for theosophy in England was not really reached until the publication in 1888 of her last work, The Secret Doctrine. This started a rapid expansion of the TS in England, organised into locally-based lodges which sprang up in most large towns. You could actually sit in the same room as the Great Woman by going to Countess Wachtmeister’s house in Regent’s Park, where Blavatsky was living and where the London-based theosophists held their meetings. Joe Gardner was one of those introduced to her there. Asked to advise him on the best approach to understanding the concepts discussed in The Secret Doctrine, Blavatsky recommended that Joe study it from the Kabbalistic angle - that is, in the light of a well-known western esoteric text much used in the GD; so Joe joined the TS’s Esoteric Section, founded in October 1888 for those TS members who wanted to look at philosophy from both the eastern and western points of view. William Wynn Westcott, who had helped found the GD earlier that year, was also a member of the TS Esoteric Section so I presume Joe got to know him, at least as a much older acquaintance.

Joe Gardner officially joined the TS in June 1890 though he had been a member unofficially for a couple of years beforehand. One of the two sponsors of his application was Sydney Coryn. Sydney Coryn was working in Liverpool at the time but was originally from London. His brother Herbert Coryn was one of Blavatsky’s hand-picked inner circle, and a leading light of theosophy in Brixton and Clapham. Perhaps Joe owed his personal introduction to Blavatsky to the Coryn brothers, both of whom were in the GD for several years, as well as the TS.

Over the next two years Joe and Sydney Coryn gathered together enough Liverpool residents who had similar interests to be able to found a local lodge of the TS. Sydney was elected its first president and Joe its first vice-president. Joe also made contact with theosophists based in Bradford Yorkshire, including the group who founded the GD’s Horus Temple in 1888 and it was through some of them, rather than through Westcott, that Joe was brought to the GD’s notice. For the next two or three years Joe studied western occultism and theosophy in parallel.

Joe was one of Liverpool Lodge’s most active members in its early years. He stood as sponsor to a large number of its recruits, including three who were curious enough about western esotericism and magic to be recommended - perhaps by Joe - to the GD at some stage: Robert Nisbet; Amy Earp; and John W S Callie. Also in Liverpool Lodge in the early 1890s - though not sponsored into it by Joe - were others who gave the GD a try: Robert Sandham, Rev Thomas Duncan, William Ranstead, Herbert Crooke, Eliza Jevons, and John Hill who married Amy Earp.

In the early 1890s Liverpool Lodge held its meetings on Thursday evenings. One member, or (very often) a visitor from Bradford TS, would lead a talk on a pre-arranged subject - Joe led one on The Planets and The Shakti, in spring 1893 and another later in the year whose subject he still hadn’t decided a week or so before the meeting. There were also discussion groups: one on The Secret Doctrine was running in 1892 and a second one was started in 1893 to consider the Key to Theosophy. In 1892 these meetings were taking place in rooms at 62 Dale Street but by 1893 the lodge had so many members that they had to rent a larger space; they moved to Crossley Buildings, 18 South Castle Street.

Joe moved out of Liverpool in 1893, to the Freshfield district of Formby. Formby was a little closer to Southport than to Liverpool and several members of Liverpool Lodge lived in one of those two towns. Although I think Joe was still working in Liverpool, he and Ray Taylor were amongst the founder-members of the Southport Lodge that year. This mention of Ray as an early member of the lodge in Southport was the earliest I’ve found for her in the TS records I’ve seen, as I seem to have missed the entry for her in the TS’s membership registers. Another of the lodge’s founders was Herbert Crooke. Herbert, Joe and Ray must have been close friends around 1893-95.

In the summer of 1894 Joe and Ray were able to meet the surviving founder of the TS when both Liverpool Lodge and Southport Lodge were visited by Colonel Olcott as part of a lecture tour. However, there was trouble brewing in theosophy and over the next two years the TS worldwide tore itself in two in a dispute about Blavatsky’s legacy and uniqueness (or otherwise) and who should be in command now that she was dead, Olcott not wishing to take on that role. Helena Petrovna Blavatsky had died in London in May 1891 and two candidates had emerged by 1894 as successors offering very different views of the future: the American William Quan Judge; and the Englishwoman Annie Besant. Judge had known both Blavatsky and Olcott for many years and was president-for-life of the TS in Europe; Besant was a relatively new recruit to theosophy but a committed and hard-working one, and she had Olcott’s support.

Between 1894 and 1896 debate on the complex issues embodied in the candidacies of Judge and Besant raged within the TS and became very bitter, and very public. Local lodges took sides; or split into warring factions. A few theosophists spoke out in favour of moderation and careful consideration but no one was listening. In 1895, a convention of the TS worldwide held in London backed Besant and attempted to limit Judge’s powers within the TS. This incensed Judge’s supporters and the TS began to disintegrate. The lodges in the USA held their own convention and left the TS worldwide to be an independent organisation. In England and elsewhere many individual members resigned and more just never paid their yearly subscription again. Whole lodges closed down through lack of members.

Perhaps it was the emphasis the GD put on independent study and action that made so many of those who were in both the GD and the TS come out in support of Judge. Judge was claiming that the mahatmas (who had only ever communicated with Blavatsky while she was alive) were now in touch with him. To Blavatsky’s old friends this was very distressing, it brough her unique status into question. But those who were in the GD and the TS understood that any properly prepared person might be able to communicate with entities from beyond the physical world. They saw Judge as another like themselves and in Liverpool, some got together as a committee to defend him. The GD’s founder William Wynn Westcott, however, was a member of the TS’s Council and also a man who valued order and hierarchy. He came down firmly on the side of Annie Besant, who knew how to work within a bureaucratic system and had never made any claims to be in touch with the mahatmas. To a certain extent, the dispute in the TS then spilled over into the GD: it’s noticeable that some GD members who supported Judge seem to have ceased to be active GD members around 1895. Including Joe and Ray.

As far as I can tell, Joe and Ray weren’t members of Liverpool’s ‘Judge committee’ although they knew all its members well. Whether they had reservations about Annie Besant, or were horrified to see theosophists behaving as badly as anyone else in an argument, they decided not to continue their membership of the TS in England. It must have cost them both dear to lose such an important part of their social life. They were able to remain members of the TS in Europe but it wasn’t quite the same, I’m sure, and they must have been excited and intrigued in 1896 when news reached them of a new leader of theosophy in the United States, Katherine Tingley.

Mrs Tingley arrived in England in June 1896 with a group calling themselves Crusaders, intent on raising European awareness of her vision of ‘universal brotherhood’. After London, Liverpool was the first place the Crusaders went to. They were accompanied by Herbert Coryn and were met at Lime Street station by Joe and other ex-members of the GD and TS in Liverpool and Southport, including Robert Sandham, Herbert Crooke and John Hill. Ray met them later, at one of a series of private and public meetings organised for the Crusaders around Liverpool between Sunday 21 June and Tuesday 23 June. Herbert Crooke and Herbert Coryn were convinced by Mrs Tingley’s new theosophical vision and became two of her most loyal supporters. Joe and Ray don’t seem to have been quite so enthusiastic and Joe was happy to continue as a vice-president of the TS in Europe when its members made a formal decision to distance themselves from Tingley’s group.

In his biography of Joe Gardner Ted Davy mentions that Joe was a freemason; though without giving any details of where and when. I haven’t come across any evidence that he was a freemason in England; but as with most people it’s easier to find those who reached the top. If Joe was a freemason in England, he confined his involvement to the lodge he belonged to.


It’s clear that Joe Gardner and Ray Taylor knew each other by 1893. I’d go further and say that they’d probably known each other, or at least known of each other, since their childhoods. Perhaps by 1893 they were engaged and Joe’s move to Formby was part of their preparations for married life. They married in the spring of 1895 and so, perhaps, were rather less actively involved in the ongoing Judge vs Besant argument than some of their friends. For the first couple of years they lived in Formby and that’s where their daughter Radha Knight Gardner was born in 1896. However by 1901 they had moved away from Lancashire altogether - Joe had taken a job in the offices of a cloth merchant in Bradford. They never lived in Liverpool again.

Was Joe beginning in the restlessness that in a few years would take the family much further away from home? Or were he and Ray hoping that the signs of rejuvenation in the TS in Bradford were something they could take a part in? After several years being like theosophical groups elsewhere in England - all-but-moribund - some of Joe and Ray’s old theosophist/GD friends in Bradford were meeting again and trying to put old differences behind them. Bradford TS Lodge was re-founded in 1902. However, neither of Gardners are listed as members so perhaps the moving to Bradford was a coincidence, driven by the offer of a good job. Cutting loose was made easier by the deaths of Ray’s parents in the late 1890s; Joe’s mother was still alive though - in 1901 she was living with Joe’s sister Emily Sanders - and she didn’t die until 1929, after Joe had retired.

Joe and Ray’s two sons were both born in Bradford: Arthur Godwin Gardner in 1901 and Bryan Knight Gardner in 1907. Perhaps 1907 was a year of decision. Joe was now 43 and Ray 40 and they had the future of three children to think of. They decided to emigrate. The USA was their original choice of destination but eventually they decided that British Columbia had more to offer.

I’m not going to go steal Ted Davy’s thunder by reiterating his profile of Joe Gardner. The profile is on the web, search for it using ‘Canadian Theosophist’ and ‘Joseph Knight Gardner’.

I do want to make a few comments though, mainly about what an extraordinary change Joe and Ray made to their lives by starting out again in their forties in western Canada - the vast wilderness west of the Rockies was about as different from urban, industrial Lancashire and West Yorkshire as you could get. The work that Joe Gardner initially chose to do there was also completely outside his previous experience: he tried ranching, in Kamloops and then in Salmon Arm before returning to accounts work and to urban life when the family moved to Vancouver in 1914. Through this period of almost continual change, Joe and Ray’s interest in theosophy was the one constant in their lives: Salmon Arm had an active theosophical group, and so did Vancouver. Both Joe and Ray had an aura of theosophist glamour about them in these circles - Joe as someone who had talked to and been given advice by Blavatsky; and Joe and Ray as people who had known Annie Besant and had met Colonel Olcott and Katherine Tingley.

When Joe retired, he and Ray moved from Vancouver back to Salmon Arm to be near Radha, who was now married. In his retirement Joe kept his brain lively by trying something new - he wrote a series of articles for the Canadian Theosophist using the writing name Ich Dein. He died in November 1937, in Salmon Arm. Continuing her commitment to theosophy in her widowhood, Ray joined the International Friends of Madame Blavatsky in 1938. Joe had kept a commonplace book of theosophical aphorisms that he had found useful for his meditation practice; Ray prepared this for publication, also in 1938, as Blossoms Culled from East and West.

Ray lived on until 1965. She and Joe have many descendants in Canada.

BASIC SOURCES I USED for all Golden Dawn members.

Membership of the Golden Dawn: The Golden Dawn Companion by R A Gilbert. Northampton: The Aquarian Press 1986. Between pages 125 and 175, Gilbert lists the names, initiation dates and addresses of all those people who became members of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn or its many daughter Orders between 1888 and 1914. The list is based on the Golden Dawn’s administrative records and its Members’ Roll - the large piece of parchment on which all new members signed their name at their initiation. All this information had been inherited by Gilbert but it’s now in the Freemasons’ Library at the United Grand Lodge of England building on Great Queen Street Covent Garden. Please note, though, that the records of the Amen-Ra Temple in Edinburgh were destroyed in 1900/01. I have recently (July 2014) discovered that some records of the Horus Temple at Bradford have survived, though most have not; however those that have survived are not yet accessible to the public.

For the history of the GD during the 1890s I usually use Ellic Howe’s The Magicians of the Golden Dawn: A Documentary History of a Magical Order 1887-1923. Published Routledge and Kegan Paul 1972. Foreword by Gerald Yorke. Howe is a historian of printing rather than of magic; he also makes no claims to be a magician himself, or even an occultist. He has no axe to grind.

Family history: freebmd; (census and probate);; familysearch; Burke’s Peerage and Baronetage; Burke’s Landed Gentry; Armorial Families;; and a wide variety of family trees on the web.

Famous-people sources: mostly about men, of course, but very useful even for the female members of GD. Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Who Was Who. Times Digital Archive.

Useful source for business and legal information: London Gazette and its Scottish counterpart Edinburgh Gazette. Now easy to find (with the right search information) on the web.

Catalogues: British Library; Freemasons’ Library.

Wikipedia; Google; Google Books - my three best resources. I also used other web pages, but with some caution, as - from the historian’s point of view - they vary in quality a great deal.


Blavatsky’s two important publications:

Isis Unveiled: A Master-Key to the Mysteries of Ancient and Modern Science and Theology. On p1 in the introduction to the edition pubished in1972 by the Theosophical Publishing House it says that the original edition was published in New York by J W Bouton in September 1877. I haven’t been able to find out when the book was first available in England but - living and working in Liverpool - Joe might have had friends who could bring him an American copy.

The Secret Doctrine: the Synthesis of Science, Religion and Philosophy in two volumes London: Theosophical Publishing Company 1888. A 3rd volume, very controversial even at the time, was published in 1897.


Theosophical Society Membership Register volume January 1889-September 1891 p158. Joe acted as a sponsor in his turn to about 20 new TS members, the last one making their application in October 1894.

Some mentions of Joe in the TS’s main magazine of the 1890s, published in London by its Theosophical Publishing Society. I didn’t see Ray mentioned at all.

Lucifer: A Theosophical Magazine volume X March-August 1892 p166; p340.

Lucifer: A Theosophical Magazine volume XI September 1892 to February 1893 p517-518.

Lucifer: A Theosophical Magazine volume XII March-August 1893 p67, p253.

Lucifer: A Theosophical Magazine volume XIII September 1893 to February 1894 p71, the last mention of Joe that I found.

Old Diary Leaves by Henry Steel Olcott, his memoirs of the early days of the TS. Published in 6 volumes between 1895 and 1932 by the Theosophical Publishing Society of Adyar Madras. Volume 6 1893-96 p210-222.


At website scribd: an account of the Crusaders’ visit to England appears in Theosophy volume XI number 2 May-December 1896 pp130-31.


There’s an online history of this lodge, which is still in existence. See Very many of the names mentioned are of people who were in both the TS and the GD and Joe at least will have known some of them. However, neither of the Gardners appears in the list of members.


The Golden Dawn and the Esoteric Section by R A Gilbert. Published London: Theosophical History Centre 1987: p3, pp6-8, p14 and p23 Appendix B which reprints an advert published in Lucifer volume 3 number p176. Joe is not mentioned at all in this account of the Esoteric Section.


Via to Historic Notices....of the Borough and County Town of Flint by Henry Taylor (who’s possibly another relation) published in London: Elliot Stock 1883: p213-214. Some of the book’s illustrations were by Randolph Caldecott whose widow became a member of the GD.

At a list of mayors of the town.

At records held at Flintshire Record Office as QS/FR/1 1836: rate assessment for Flintshire.

At Endowed Charities of Anglesey. Return and Digest for 1897 in what is probably an obituary, Isaac Taylor of Cole’s Hill (sic) Bagillt is described as “agent of Lady Vivian”.

At a history of the Plas Gwyn estate whose records are now in the National Library of Wales.

At a family tree of the barons Vivian.

A RICHARD GARDNER IN BUSINESS AROUND 1855 though it’s impossible from the published details to know if it’s Rachel’s father, Joseph’s father or a more distant relation: London Gazette date of issue not at top of page but it must be from May or June 1855. On p2184 one of a list of partnerships recently dissolved includes, on 31 May 1855 by mutual consent, that of Richard, Joseph and William Gardner, timber merchants trading as R I (or possibly R J) and W Gardner.


IF this is the right woman: familysearch England-EASy GS film number 1520014


Via to Fohat. A Quarterly Pubn of the Edmonton TS vol IX no 2 summer 2005 pp 41-43 article by Ted G Davy: An Early Theosophist in Western Canada: Joseph K Gardner. Family history details were supplied by Dorothy Sonnenberg, daughter of Radha Gardner.


I could only find one copy of Joe Gardner’s book: in the collection of the University of Alberta. It’s Blossoms Culled from East and West published Vancouver BC: Sun Publishing 1938.

At // you can read issues of The Canadian Theosophist, first published in 1926. Its volume 20, issue of 15 March 1939, p15 had an anonymous review of Blossoms...


Familysearch information from the Canadian census of 1911: sub-districts 1-54 in British Columbia, Yale and Cariboo districts.

Familysearch GS film number 2032873: marriage of Harry Wisby Leonard to Radha Knight Gardner, January 1920. Harry was also a recent immigrant to Canada; he’d been born in Portsmouth.

Familysearch GS film number 2074506: marriage of Arthur Godwin Gardner to May Victoria Welch, March 1927 in Vancouver BC.

Familysearch GS film number 1953194: death of Joseph Knight Gardner 8 November 1937.



19 December 2014


Find the web pages of Roger Wright and Sally Davis, including my list of people initiated into the Order of the Golden Dawn between 1888 and 1901, at: