Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Annie Bright (1840–1913)

by Lurline Stuart

This article was published:

Annie Bright (1840–1913), journalist and spiritualist, was born on 14 July 1840 at Mount Hooton, Nottingham, England, and registered as Anna, daughter of William Wright, book-keeper, later silk merchant, and his wife Charlotte, née Hooton. Although her father was a freethinker, Annie was educated at Anglican schools, becoming a good linguist with an especial interest in literature and music. Discontented with the life expected of her as a young lady, she spent much of her time helping factory girls, teaching them in the large Sunday School held in the local Unitarian chapel. Aspiring suitors held no attraction until Rev. James Pillars, a Unitarian minister, encouraged her to leave home and accompany him to Australia. They were married on 6 July 1864 in the High Pavement Unitarian Chapel, Nottingham, and migrated shortly afterwards to Sydney, where he took up his position as minister of a freethought church.

Pillars was acknowledged as an excellent preacher, but his advanced ideas split the congregation, delaying the completion of a new church building. A decline in subscriptions caused financial hardship and, in an effort to alleviate this as well as to further her own abilities, Annie began a small school with the help of her husband, teaching the daughters of their friends. On 31 July 1875 she was left to do this alone when Pillars, while on a Sunday School excursion, fell from a cliff, was swept off the rocks at Bondi and presumably drowned. A monument was erected at Tamarama Beach.

This tragedy reunited the differing church elements, but Annie, disillusioned by previous unkindness, refused to join them. She continued her school, building up the numbers as her pupils proved their achievement, while also looking after her young family of two sons (another had died in infancy) and two daughters. Although she had considered herself a materialist, she was persuaded to try using the planchette as a possible means of contact with her late husband. This led to the receipt of messages through a medium and, eventually, to Annie's attendance at a lecture given by Charles Bright, a divorced former Melbourne journalist who was a convert to spiritualism. They became friends and on 23 April 1883 were married by a Unitarian minister at Stanmore, Sydney.

Charles and Annie remained active in Sydney's volatile freethought circles, and in 1884 she lectured in New Zealand on 'The Emancipating Influence of Spiritualism'. She also wrote articles on various topics for local journals. From 1894 to 1896 she was editor of Cosmos Magazine. Both Annie and Charles were ordained Unitarian ministers in Sydney in 1902. After Bright's death in 1903, Annie was invited to become editor of the Harbinger of Light. She moved to Melbourne to take up this position in 1905, writing much of the journal herself, while maintaining her dependence on unseen spiritual helpers. Her autobiographical novel, A Soul's Pilgrimage, was published in Melbourne in 1907. She wrote What Life in the Spiritualist World Really Is in 1912 by 'transmission' from W. T. Stead, the crusading editor who went down with the Titanic.

Although a convinced spiritualist, Annie refused to label herself as such, believing that words and definitions were inadequate to describe spiritualist experience as well as being divisive. Strong-minded and resolute, she always believed in the rightness of her own destiny. She died at her home in East Melbourne on 21 June 1913 and was buried in Brighton cemetery. A son and daughter of her first marriage survived her.

Select Bibliography

  • J. Roe, Beyond Belief
  • Theosophy in Australia (Syd, 1986)
  • A. G. Gabay, Message From Beyond (Melb, 2001)
  • Harbinger of Light, 1 Nov 1904
  • The Liberal, 12 May 1883.

Citation details

Lurline Stuart, 'Bright, Annie (1840–1913)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2005, accessed online 22 May 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Supplementary Volume, (Melbourne University Press), 2005

View the front pages for the Supplementary Volume

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]

Alternative Names
  • Wright, Anna
  • Pillars, Annie

14 July, 1840
Mount Hooton, Nottinghamshire, England


21 June, 1913 (aged 72)
East Melbourne, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

Cultural Heritage

Includes subject's nationality; their parents' nationality; the countries in which they spent a significant part of their childhood, and their self-identity.

Religious Influence

Includes the religion in which subjects were raised, have chosen themselves, attendance at religious schools and/or religious funeral rites; Atheism and Agnosticism have been included.