Segrave, Sir Henry

Segrave, Sir Henry (1896–1930)

(religion, spiritualism, and occult)

Henry Segrave was born in 1896 in Baltimore, Maryland; his father was Irish and his mother was American. He is career in motor racing started immediately after World War I, and he had many successes over the years. On March 29, 1927, he became the first man to attain a speed of more than 200 mph, which he did with his 1000 horsepower, twin-engined, Mystery Sunbeam at Daytona Beach, Florida, establishing a world speed record of 203.79 mph. He later pushed that speed up to 231.44 mph in his Golden Arrow.

Turning his attention to the water speed record, Segrave hoped to break the 100 mph mark in his boat Miss England II, which was powered by two 2,000 horsepower Rolls Royce engines. He attempted the record on Britain’s Lake Windermere. It was Friday June 13, 1930, and he did two runs—into the wind and with the wind—one of 96.41 mph and one of 101.11 mph. On a third run the boat apparently hit a small tree trunk floating on the surface of the lake. Miss England II flew up into the air, crashed down again, and sank. Segrave and his chief mechanic, Willcox, were rescued but his second mechanic, Halliwell, drowned. Segrave was rushed to a hospital but died of lung hemorrhages. Willcox survived.

According to Maurice Barbanell, shortly before Segrave had attempted to break the land speed record at Daytona, he had been advised of a message received at an English Spiritualist séance. The message advised him that a certain part of his car would break when a particular speed was attained. Segrave tested the part and found that, at that speed, it did indeed fail. The séance message prevented a probable tragedy. The incident aroused Segrave’s curiosity and when he returned to England, after the successful land speed record attempt, he consulted journalist Hannen Swaffer about Spiritualism. Swaffer invited Segrave and Archie Emmett Adams to his London apartment. Adams was a medium who was, according to Barbanell, “more attracted to Theosophy than Spiritualism” and resented his own mediumship. But, “in the normal lighting of the flat … Segrave witnessed the extraordinary feat of Swaffer’s piano being levitated from the floor.”

Segrave mentioned the levitating piano in an article he wrote for a newspaper. Two days after Segrave’s death at Lake Windermere, the newspaper with his article in it was mysteriously moved about Hannen Swaffer’s apartment; from one room to another. Swaffer wondered whether this was an indication that Segrave was trying to communicate, and wrote to tell Segrave’s widow what he thought. It was some months later that Lady Segrave read one of Swaffer’s books on Spiritualism and contacted the journalist again and asked him about possible communication with her deceased husband. Swaffer introduced her to Maurice Barbanell who, in turn, took her to one of Estelle Roberts’s voice séances. Lady Segrave became a regular sitter there, with her husband speaking to her on intimate terms, in his own voice by way of the spirit trumpet. Long after,when questioned about her feelings regarding the communication, Lady Segrave replied, “Again and again I have turned this evidence over in my mind, examined it critically and calmly. I have tried to explain it away. I have asked myself the questions: ‘Can it be telepathy or the subconscious mind?’ ‘Have I been deceived?’ Always the evidence stood every test.”


Barbanell, Maurice: This Is Spiritualism. Oxshott: The Spiritual Truth Press, 1959
Roberts, Estelle: Fifty Years a Medium. New York: Corgi Books, 1969
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