Lack of Foresight – Fortune Telling

We have previously written about fortune telling, a matter which was very popular during the Georgian era, so today we have a couple of short stories to share with you on the subject.

In April 1801 John Rowe was indicted for defrauding Sarah Hall of the sum of two shillings and six pence. According to the newspapers he was ‘one of those modern Sidrophels’.

“Who deal in destiny’s dark counsels,

And sage opinions of the moon sells,

To whom all people far and near

On deep importances repair”

Hudibras and Sidrophel. Hogarth, William. Royal Academy of Arts
Hudibras and Sidrophel. Hogarth, William. Royal Academy of Arts

He had announced his celebrity in resolving all questions appertaining to future events in a hand-bill, addressed to the ladies only, in which he acquainted them he attended at his Evening Planetarium, No. 5 Exeter Street, Strand, where he would answer any lawful questions he was asked.

Stanley, Caleb Robert; The Strand, Looking Eastwards from Exeter Change, London; Museum of London

Sarah Hall, an elderly woman, about fifty (don’t judge, it was regarded as old at that time),  had heard of his great fame and was determined to visit him and that through the medium of the stars she would find out about her destiny. She had never been married and wanted to know whether she would remain celibate for the rest of her life.

She parted with the usual ‘symbol’ which in this case was half a crown (about £5 in today’s money), he proceeded to assess her horoscope, he traced the planets through their several houses and discovered by mystic lore who was lord of the ascendant at her birth. He systematically arranged their several aspects and exclaimed, with the inspiration of the Cumaean Sybil, that the fates were favourable to her wishes.

That Mars and Venus were in conjunction; Virgo and Gemini, Sextile and Mercury, lord of the seventh house, the very hour she was born and consequently that these appearances denoted marriage.

Having lived a single life until now, he said was due to negative influence of Saturn, but that this was no longer to be case. He told her to go home and assure herself of approaching happiness. He informed her that she would first be courted by a dark man with broad shoulders, dark hair, large dark eyes, bushy eyebrows and thin legs – but he was not the man for her.

British Museum
British Museum

The husband for whom the stars intended was a fair man, with light hair and blue eyes and that he was very wealthy and that she would meet him in the next few days. He also advised her to invest in the lottery as she might gain a considerable sum of money. The old lady was ecstatic about this forthcoming good fortune. She left the venue and returned home and told all her friends about her approaching wedding and about the money.

She waited for the dark gentleman to appear – of course he didn’t, she waited longer for the fair gentleman – and as you guessed he failed to appear too. She invested in the lottery as she had been instructed to do. You’ve guessed, it she lost her money. She told a friend of her about what had happened, and he advised her to apply to the magistrate – she had, of course been conned.

John Rowe was arrested, his magical apparatus and books were seized, and he was sent to gaol. Once all the facts had been established Rowe said he was a poor man, a carpenter by trade and with his earnings he had managed to support a wife and large family, but such were the pressures of the times, though he worked as hard as ever he did, he could not support them. His wife had been brought to bed and he was unable to provide her with the comforts her situation required, he had seen others doing similar deceptions and earning money from this sort of public credulity that he decided he could do the same thing.

Needless to say he was found guilty and sentenced to one month imprisonment.

Three Women Telling Fortune in Coffee, 1780s, Pehr Hilleström.
Three Women Telling Fortune in Coffee, 1780s, Pehr Hilleström

Our second story concerns a Mary Deverell, a fortune teller who was brought before the sitting magistrate at Marlborough Street, charged with defrauding Susannah Foresight, under the pretence of telling her fortune.

Susannah, servant to Mrs Westall in New Road, Marylebone told the magistrate that she knew that women in London found wealth in strange ways and that she wanted to know more about it from the prisoner, Mary Deverell.

Susannah parted with all her money – ten shillings, with a view to finding some good fortune that she was told she would have. Needless to say she was also deceived. Instead of finding the palace she was promised, instead she found the workhouse.

As with John Rowe, Mary Deverell was sent to gaol. I really want to believe the name of this gullible woman, but no luck as yet with tracing such a person!

Sablet, Jacques Henri; La diseuse de bonne aventure (The Fortune Teller); National Galleries of Scotland.

Sources

Hampshire Chronicle 13 April 1801

Morning Post 11 April 1801

Oxford University and City Herald 06 February 1808

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