One part biography, one part history, and three parts snake oil. Charlatan is a fantastic tale of fraud and phrenology on the Australian frontier. Mesmerism, magnetism, sex and skullduggery. Everything that one could want in an Australian history.
David Hunt, author of GIRT and TRUE GIRT
Here is the story of a 19th century Australian 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. But was he guilty of rape and how did this remarkable personality have such an impact in colonial Australia before being largely lost in the mists of time? Until Junks resurrected this Victorian celebrity who should never have been forgotten.
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.Continue Reading