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School of Radiant Living

Page 2 – Herbert Sutcliffe

Herbert Sutcliffe, 1886-1971

Herbert Sutcliffe was born in Louth, Lincolnshire, England, on 19 October 1886, the son of Elizabeth Easter Allen and her husband, John James Sutcliffe, an engineer. A lifelong love of singing came from involvement in the local cathedral choir. He worked as a telegraph engineer before migrating to Australia, apparently to work on new telegraph cable projects. On 5 June 1915, at Brunswick, Melbourne, he married Hilda Gertrude Wilson; they were to have two children. He maintained his interest in singing by conducting choirs, and was also an active Freemason.

Fascinated by the 'new' psychology of Freud, Adler, and particularly Jung, Sutcliffe joined the Australian Psychological Society, editing its magazine and acting as president from 1925 to 1930. By 1931 he had gained a doctorate in psychology. He introduced the society to Jungian ideas on the importance of personal counselling incorporating a metaphysical element.

Radiant Health and the International New Thought Alliance

Sutcliffe also edited the Radiant Health Messenger, which had an international readership, and lectured on healthy living on behalf of Radiant Health Clubs. Through this magazine he came to the notice of the United States-based International New Thought Alliance (INTA) and was invited to their 1931 conference in Cleveland, Ohio. An umbrella group of those following alternative spirituality or liberal Christian paths, the INTA also had links to the American 19th-century transcendentalist writers and incorporated the latest psychological theories. After being well received at the conference Sutcliffe studied for his doctorate in divinity at an INTA-affiliated Divine Science Church in New York State.

Radiant Living

Throughout this time Sutcliffe was developing the philosophy that he was soon to teach in his Schools of Radiant Living. He argued that each person has a spirit or soul and for successful psychoanalysis the relationship between mind and soul must be considered: fear, hate and feelings of inferiority, the causes of personal suffering, could not be overcome without facing the invisible world of soul, spirituality and the afterlife. By considering people as threefold beings - body, mind and spirit - he believed individual health and happiness could be achieved by changing diet, physical habits, attitudes and spiritual awareness, and by following the 'laws of nature'.

The first Sutcliffe School of Radiant Living was founded in Providence, Rhode Island, in 1931. During the next two decades Sutcliffe set up 36 schools - 24 in the United States, Canada, Hong Kong and Australia, and 12 in New Zealand. As he spent much of his time on lecture tours he provided detailed organisational requirements for each school and trained students to become teachers, resulting in a uniform structure and format. Annual Christmas schools provided refresher courses and regular council meetings were also held. The organisation of the schools, and associated tasks such as editing the magazine and arranging Sutcliffe's lecture tours, were mostly done by dedicated women.

Sutcliffe in New Zealand

Sutcliffe visited New Zealand in 1938. His mentor, the American New Thought activist and Radiant Health Club publicist Phoebe Marie Holmes, had visited earlier. Lecture tours by alternative health advocates found a ready audience in New Zealand, and by 1938 there was a Radiant Theatre in Christchurch, apparently financed by the baker Thomas Edmond. The rising sun symbol used by Edmond's company was popular with such movements, and was also used by Sutcliffe. One of New Zealand's first Schools of Radiant Living was founded in Auckland in 1938, with Gertrude Hillary as secretary. Her son Edmund was briefly Sutcliffe's assistant and also trained as a Radiant Living teacher.

Havelock North and Peloha

By 1942 Sutcliffe had made Havelock North, with its history of alternative spirituality and pleasant climate, his home and the international headquarters of the movement. He bought the large Quaker-built house Swarthmoor and renamed it Peloha (for Peace, Love and Harmony). For the next four decades it hosted summer schools, conferences and Easter observances, and also functioned as a commercial health retreat. Hilda Sutcliffe died in Australia in 1944, and on 25 February 1955 Herbert married his secretary, Phyllis Evelyn Farley.

Radiant Living thrived in New Zealand from the 1940s to the 1970s. Many schools built or purchased their own premises, and annual banquets, often attended by mayors, MPs and other dignitaries, celebrated the founding of each school. At a meeting in Wellington in the 1940s Prime Minister Peter Fraser apparently suggested that if more people followed Radiant Living health principles he would be closing hospitals rather than opening them. Public events included fitness displays by members.

The Eliminating Diet

Nutrition took a prominent place in Sutcliffe's teachings. To remove toxins from the body and mind the Eliminating Diet was commonly prescribed for a variety of ailments. The dietary theories of Radiant Living, based on food-combining and a high intake of fresh fruit, vegetables and their juices, foreshadows much later mainstream dietary advice. Correct breathing, exercises to improve eyesight, and singing and music were also encouraged. All were an embodiment of the philosophy that by following 'laws of nature' ailments could be cured and quality of life improved.

A colourful personality

Herbert Sutcliffe, usually dressed in a white suit, was a charismatic platform speaker, even known to turn cartwheels on stage in his 60s. For formal occasions at Peloha he wore a Masonic-style royal-blue gown. He taught that dark colours had negative associations and encouraged members to bring bright colour into their lives. He gave personal consultations to thousands of people, pioneered the use of wire recordings, offered postal courses and ran a mail-order business in herbs and vitamins. He was interested in homoeopathy, vitamin therapy and motivational sports psychology, and took a personal interest in the achievements of local sportsmen and women.

Radiant Living after Sutcliffe

Sutcliffe died at Havelock North on 27 October 1971, survived by Phyllis and the children of his first marriage. Phyllis ran Peloha until her death in 1981, and it was sold in the late 1980s. A large endowment was made to Victoria University of Wellington to establish the Herbert Sutcliffe scholarships for disadvantaged students in 1989. Other educational institutions, such as the Hohepa homes, also benefited.

Although sometimes authoritarian and overbearing, Sutcliffe lived simply at Peloha with the staff. Even those who fell out with him over various issues still respected his teachings. In 1998 one of his earliest texts, How to re-make your life (1931), was republished by Sally Fallon and the Ascended Master Teaching Foundation. Although no formal schools remain, the holistic teachings of Herbert Sutcliffe are still followed by many in New Zealand and overseas.

A biography of Herbert Sutcliffe can be found on the DNZB website

How to cite this page

Herbert Sutcliffe, URL:, (Manatū Taonga — Ministry for Culture and Heritage), updated