Tuesday, 2 April 2013

Madame Melbourne

I went to see a medium once. I went with a friend of my partners in a sceptical humour. I had been a psychic fair once before where a speaker believed that my natural suspicion was down to the fact I had been a Rabbi in a previous life. I presumed that the audience would be mainly female and elderly. I was wrong on the second count, as the audience of around 120 was primarily young women. There were 5 men. I wondered at the time why are women more likely to be interested in this sort of thing? It seems always to be the case.

I found an amusing case from a 1908 edition of the Leek Times. It concerned a fraudster who set herself up as a fortune-teller operating from 6 Cromwell Terrace. Madame Melbourne announced her business by means of a card she put in the house window. It read Madame Melbourne- Australian and scientific palmist. Her real name was the prosaic May Tunnicliffe when she appeared before local magistrates on a charge of using palmistry to deceive. The paper reported that she was “ showily dressed and wearing a quantity of jewellery”

The three principal witnesses were the wives of policemen. Mrs Ewell of Wetton and Mrs Salter and Frost of Waterhouses all had availed themselves of her services. Madame Melbourne was firm in her conclusions and usually wrong. She told a bemused Mrs Salter that she had 5 children. She was mistaken, but gamely Madame struggled on “ You have 4 children” again wrong. She seemed to have little luck with Mrs Frost either. Madame Melbourne went on  “ In 3 years time you will marry an old man (great laughter) who would love the very ground you walk on and give you everything that you want”.

Madame Melbourne informed the court that she had read the hand of the Chairman of Stafford bench, but local magistrates were less good-natured. The palmist did have supporters in Marie Hall and Mary Harlow two silk hands who believed the fortune-teller. The bench were unmoved and they fined her. I wonder if May Tunnicliffe saw that coming?