The story of a nineteenth century court case involving Thomas Guthrie Carr, a notorious, larger-than-life character who made his living as a mesmerist, phrenologist, public speaker and some say charlatan.
Thomas Guthrie Carr is charged by Eliza Gray with mesmerising her and raping her while she was under his influence. But if mesmerism and Mr Carr are shams, was Eliza raped?
In the tradition of The Suspicions of Mr Whicher, Charlatan is the story of a notorious nineteenth-century court case involving a larger-than-life character. With a driving narrative and novelistic pacing, this scrupulously researched account of the life of Thomas Guthrie Carr, stage mesmerist – who lied, fought and sleazed his way around Australia and New Zealand between 1865 and 1886 – is more than just a fascinating piece of social history. It’s also a mystery, a piece of true crime, and a delicately humorous portrait of a man whose eye for the main chance and ferocious pursuit of publicity made him an oddly contemporary figure.
With a star-studded supporting cast, including the Duke of Edinburgh, the Mad Dentist of Wynyard, the Nunawading Messiah, and a host of shady mesmerists, spiritualists, phrenologists and hired goons, Charlatan delves deep into a side of colonial history not often explored, and unearths a Victorian celebrity who should never have been forgotten …
Format & Editions
July 3, 2017
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In 1867, a journalist named Frederick Wilson published an account of his visit to Sydney’s Central Police Court, on George Street.
At the time, George Street was the main artery of the city, an endless succession of well- lit and well-supplied shops. The police court stood between Druitt, George and York streets. On one side of it lay Sydney’s covered markets; on the other, the churchyard of St Andrew’s cathedral. Topped by a modest dome, the courthouse abutted the police station, which crouched behind a high, stone wall. To reach the entrance, Wilson had to pass between two solid gateposts set into an iron fence, then cross a small courtyard and duck under a portico.
He discovered that this portico was plastered with ‘tragical posters’, each of which ‘started off with the word “MURDER!” in four-inch capitals, and subsided at once into very small type – as if they were engaged in a subject they didn’t like to speak about.’ He related how a desolate troop of prisoners shuffled across the yard from the watch-house into a courtroom that smelled like a night-licensed public bar. Finally, he described the courtroom itself: its bare walls, its notched, hacked, time-stained seats and its boxes full of ragged, uncombed heads. In one corner, he wrote, a constable was examining a piece of paper that had the appearance of ‘an immense butcher’s bill’. Nearby were a couple of magistrates, and in front of them, two or three attorneys were ‘making a second- hand bookstall of the middle table’ while they flung mysterious commands at a clutch of busy little clerks carrying large blue bags.