Swindling Swami’s treasure island for sale, part 1

The weird story of Edward Arthur Wilson — Brother XII — seems too incredible to be true.

The weird story of Edward Arthur Wilson — Brother XII — seems too incredible to be true. But, for hundreds of bilked followers who’d placed their faith, and their funds, in his keeping he was all too real.

If you’d like to buy a piece of real history, one with a truly bizarre past — even, perhaps, with a pot or two of gold thrown in for good measure — here’s your chance. Forty-two hectare DeCourcy Island Farm is for sale.

Provincial followers of the occult will immediately twig to the fact that this was the site of the 1920s Aquarian Society, creation of the infamous Brother XII. And it can be yours for a mere $2.19 million.

Today the DeCourcy Islands, just south of Nanaimo, are popular with residents, boaters and vacationers. Few of whom have so much as a clue to this enchanted marine playground’s dark history of voodoo rites and violence that possibly includes murder.

They’re likely unaware, too, of an even more tantalizing legend, one concerning hundreds of thousands of dollars in buried gold!

So, let’s go back 90-odd years to when Victoria residents knew the subject of our tale as Edward Arthur Wilson. Little is known of his background beyond that which he later told his followers, and much of it is suspect, to say the least. He first appeared on the local scene in 1910, working as a clerk for the Dominion Express Co. Years ago, a leading Victorian recalled that Wilson had two interests, sailing and occultism, before he moved on to achieve his master mariner’s ticket and sail the seven seas. He also apparently found time to marry, become an authority on eastern religions and spend time in a monastery.

Wilson’s studies paid off as, to hear him tell it, the gods were so impressed by his zeal and abilities that they taught him their divine secrets and elevated him to their immortal ranks. Thus it was that, when he again turned up locally, he was no longer Edward Wilson but Brother XII, reincarnation of the Egyptian god Osiris; it’s as Brother XII that we know this “little brown leaf of a man with a small spiky beard and hypnotic dark eyes that did strange things to you” to this day.

Whatever skeptics might think of Wilson’s holy credentials, they can’t deny the five-foot mystic’s powers of persuasion. With ease, Brother XII established a devout following (it’s been estimated as many as 8,000) and led a selected few (the ones willing to part with their money) to the promised land — the DeCourcy Islands near Nanaimo.

Here he set up his Aquarian Foundation, complete with board of governors, seven highly reputable men. Wrote journalist Gwen Cash in 1956: “Everything was open and above-board — strictly on the up and up. Earnest groups of young men and maidens studied occultism…scholars and housewives joined in debates. Money rolled in from all corners of the continent; some from Europe, too.”

But it isn’t for the “above-board” activities of his misguided colony that Brother XII is immortalized in provincial lore. For trouble soon developed in paradise, with his openly misappropriating his disciples’ funds (one had to sign over all worldly goods to be accepted), carrying on with a succession of mistresses (the worst of whom was the whip-wielding Madame Zee), enforcing slave labour and starving several followers no longer useful to him — more importantly, no longer solvent.

The final outcome was a bizarre courtroom scene in Nanaimo with whispers of black magic. When provincial police at last investigated DeCourcy Island, they found Brother XII and Madame Zee gone — along with, apparently, his alleged hoard of gold. In a last fit of spite, he’d vandalized his mansion and dynamited his yacht.

The amazing case of the swindling swami ended — officially — with word that Wilson (alias Julian Churton Skottowe, alias Amiel de Valdez) had died in Switzerland. Of his treasure, supposedly about half a million dollars, there’s no mention. Nor, for that matter, of the beloved Madame Zee.

In 1957 the occupants of Wilson’s former ‘Contemplation Cottage’ at Cedar, south of Nanaimo, made a grim discovery in the attic. The skull, according to the Mayo Clinic which examined it, was that of “a woman about 25, who died about 1931”. Those familiar with the dark history of the Aquarian Foundation recalled how one of his mistresses had vanished years before. She was said to be about 25 years old when she disappeared in 1931.

The weird story of Edward Arthur Wilson — or Brother XII — seems too incredible to be true. But, to hundreds, perhaps thousands, of bilked followers who’d placed their faith, and their funds, in his keeping ruefully testified, he was all too real.

Which brings us to the matter of his treasure: all authorities are agreed that Wilson took his disciples for an expensive ride, arguing only as to the total which, of course, is impossible to determine at this late date. But the record clearly shows that his success as a swindler was nothing short of phenomenal. The late Bruce McKelvie, veteran journalist and historian, took an intense interest in Brother XII’s doings. In 1933 he delivered a talk on the stranger-than-fiction activities of the short-lived Aquarian Foundation in which he said that Wilson “bilked his followers out of hundreds of thousands of dollars”.

“All this money,” he explained to an intent audience, “was converted into gold when possible, and if not gold then into one or two dollar bills. The gold was placed in jars and covered with melted wax, the jar was then placed inside a wooden box. It is known that at least 43 of these were constructed”.

(To be continued)

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