Tuesday, 3 October 2017

Trading in Sorrow – Criminal Clairvoyants

Trading in Sorrow – Criminal Clairvoyants 

In a move they didn’t see coming a number of self-proclaimed psychics, clairvoyants, palm readers and other meta-physicists were rounded up by South Australia police, and charged with “Trading in sorrow”

The year was 1917, and Australia was well and truly entrenched in the Great War (WWI). Australian women, often with husbands or sons fighting overseas, were anxious about the fate of their loved ones, and were particularly susceptible to psychic’s who traded upon that vulnerability.
Psychics, claiming to possess the occult powers that could tell their clients the where abouts, or upcoming movements of their loved ones, was a regular occurrence. The newspapers at the time stated that women of the era were “interested in the war, such haphazard guesses (by psychics) were apt to be singularly appropriate.”

 The meaning of this statement is quite clear. The authorities of the time were worried that these self-proclaimed psychics were keeping up to date with war news via the newspapers, and when a client came asking about their significant loved one at war, the psychic would make an educated guess as to where the loved one might be; thus the client would believe the psychic was really getting these messages from spirit, and would return to spend more money…and on the cycle goes.

 The first psychic to face the courts was Madam Fitzsimmons, who was accused of working her charms on a lady named Maude Wilcher.
This psychic had claimed that Maude’s husband was alive and well, and she would see him very soon. She claimed the husband was in Egypt, not France, and fighting among the Turks. She also claimed the couple would have, that another baby.

 Prosecutor Shierlaw laid the information through section 67 of the Police Act 1916. The Act proclaimed that rogues and vagabonds are liable to imprisonment with hard labour, for a period not exceeding three months, such people as pretended to tell fortunes, practice palmistry etc, in order to deceive the public.

 This act was handed down to South Australian War from our English ancestry. It came directly from the English Vagrant Act of 1824 (George IV), which put in place protections against fortune tellers.
In basic terms, the act made it illegal to practice in connection to a craft, means or device beyond physical dexterity, to employ some invisible agency to deceive and impose upon others. Fortune telling could only be sold as an amusement, not as a truthful piece of information.
As it turned out, Maude Wilcher’s husband had already departed, she was a widow, and her visit was part of a small sting operation by the Women’s Police Department. Fitzsimmons was found guilty and fined 10 pounds. (About $1000 in today’s money).

Other psychics found guilty in the trial included Madame Amalia, madam Phyllis, Madam Rosa, Mrs Vear, Madam Mora, Charabella Fisher, Mrs Hamilton, Mrs Glennie and Mrs Loftus – all of whom were find 9 pounds.

 The following psychics all pleaded not guilty, and went to further trial: Madam Luna, Professor Mernox, Madam Illah, Mrs Kennedy, Mrs Barr, Madam Zillah, Miss Melrose, Madam Thelma, and Mrs Duguett. (At this point I do not know the outcomes of their trials, perhaps that will be another blog.

In South Australia, the current laws still take into account fraudulent psychics claims. 

Section 40 Part 8 of the South Australian Police Act (https://www.legislation.sa.gov.au/LZ/C/A/SUMMARY%20OFFENCES%20ACT%201953/CURRENT/1953.55.UN.PDF)

40—Acting as a spiritualist, medium etc with intent to defraud A person who, with intent to defraud, purports to act as a spiritualist or medium, or to exercise powers of telepathy or clairvoyance or other similar powers, is guilty of an offence.
Maximum penalty: $10 000 or imprisonment for 2 years.

Researched and written by Allen Tiller ©2017

1917 'CLAIRVOYANTS IN COURT.', The Register (Adelaide, SA : 1901 - 1929), 23 June, p. 10. , viewed 18 Sep 2017, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article59147540

1917 'FORTUNE TELLING AND CRYSTAL GAZING', Daily Herald (Adelaide, SA : 1910 - 1924), 23 June, p. 6. , viewed 18 Sep 2017, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article105413057