Captain Henry Hudson (1807-1875)

Captain Henry Hudson was a mariner who later gained notoriety as a mesmerist for two decades, from the early 1850s onwards. He toured extensively giving lectures, performances and demonstrations, themed around the therapeutic powers of "animal magnetism".

He was instrumental in helping find the body of missing Marsden teenager Sarah Ann Lumb in January 1855. At that time he was giving lectures in the Huddersfield area.

Despite apparently being one of the more popular mesmerists of his day, little if anything has been written about him.


Hudson was born on 11 April 1807 in Sunderland. He married Margaret Sims in County Durham in March 1828 and they had at least ten children together. At the time of their marriage, Hudson had become a master mariner.

He was linked to the temperance movement throughout his life and captained the ship Hartlepool on temperance mission to Montreal, Canada, in 1837. A newspaper reported that, "in commemoration of this service the captain was presented by the teetotallers of Montreal with a large and elegant silver medal."

By the start of the 1840s, the family had moved to Liverpool where Hudson had become interested in mesmerism and he began giving lectures and demonstrations in the early 1850s. Many of his early performances involved a young clairvoyant named "Mary Ann" or "Mary", who was Mary Ann Challand (1838-1903) of Huddersfield.[1]

In 1852, he published a pamphlet titled An Attempt to Explain Some of the Wonders and Mysteries of Mesmerism, Biology, and Clairvoyance, although contemporary newspaper reviews were less than favourable:[2]

He properly characterises the book as an "attempt," since, in our opinion, it does very little to explain the mysteries of which it treats. His theory of a solution is not very intelligible, and, so far as we can understand it, not quite satisfactory.
Dumfries and Galloway Standard (04/Feb/1852)

Following the Holmfirth Flood of 1852, he donated takings from his lectures to the relief fund.

At the start of 1855, Hudson was giving lectures in Huddersfield when he was approached by relatives of missing Marsden teenager Sarah Ann Lumb, who had fallen into the River Colne in December 1854 and was presumed drowned. Together with Mary Ann, she was successful in locating the girl's body in Mirfield.

On the 1861 Census, he gave his occupation as "lecturer on mesmerism".

He continued to tour until 1870, by which time his first wife had died. He married Jane Hamilton in Swansea, Wales, in 1866 and lived the remainder of his life there.

Captain Henry Hudson died on 29 August 1875, aged 68.[3]


Hudson usually styled his performances as lectures and included a variety elements, linked with an overarching theme of the power of mesmerism, phrenology, clairvoyancy and animal magnetism.

Throughout his career, his act included hypnotising members of the audience and getting them to perform amusing scenarios, such as pretending to be a steam train or sitting in a rowing boat on a stormy ocean.

In the early years, his act included a female clairvoyant, the first of whom was named only as "Sarah". In 1850, Sarah made headlines by predicting that the lost explorer Captain Sir John Franklin would soon return to England — a prediction that failed to come true.

By January 1851, the clairvoyant was the young teenage Mary Ann Challand of Huddersfield. She would be blindfolded and then placed into a "mesmeric trance", after which she would read from items placed in her lap:

Her eyes were carefully covered, and cotton placed upon her checks, and the gentlemen on the platform expressed their satisfaction of the manner in which her eyes were bandaged. She was then thrown into the mesmeric sleep ; books, cards, and bills were presented by members of the audience, which she read with perfect ease.
Liverpool Mercury (04/Feb/1851)

Mary Ann's skills impressed the people of Lancashire to the extent that a wager of £5 was made that she would not be able to perform under the close scrutiny of a selected group of gentlemen. At an event held in late May 1851, Thomas Mitchell, one of the chosen gentlemen, detected that the nature of the blindfold meant that, by moving it fractionally, Mary Ann was able to see down the bridge of her nose to the item in her lap, whilst apparently continuing to stare forward in her trance.

Mitchell wrote a lengthy letter to the Preston Chronicle explaining that he didn't believe Hudson was deliberately deceiving the audience, but that Hudson had been tricked by Mary Ann. However, he then wrote a subsequent letter stating that he had attended some private demonstrations and that the "result was convincing as to the truth of [her] clairvoyance".

Mary Ann's last documented performance with Hudson took place on 4 July 1851 in Darwen, Lancashire.

Yesternight week, Captain Hudson gave his third lecture on Mesmerism, in the Assembly Room, Darwen, and in a most successful manner developed the mesmeric phenomena. Some of the subjects were made to imitate the horse ; others, who had never been astride, exhibited all the qualifications and manoeuvres of the jockey ; whilst others were upset into the sea, and in a most striking manner exhibited the tenacity with which we cling to life — climbing up the stage, and to the highest points attainable, as if the roaring sea were lashing furiously around them. Mr. Hudson's favourite subject, Mary, was then operated upon, and, after having had her eyes bandaged (which was superintended by visitors who "wouldn't be done") read extracts from hooks, cards, letters, &c., to the no small surprise of the lookers-on.
Preston Chronicle (05/Jul/1851)

In later years, Hudson appears to have used his hypnosis skills to cure a variety of ailments and illness, some physical and some emotional. These people would then sometimes be presented as case studies during the lectures.

Towards the end of his career, the public interest in mesmerism had declined from the peak in the 1840s and 1850s. His last known performance too place at Doddington in Cheshire.

On Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday evenings last, Capt. Hudson gave three of his phreno-mesmeric entertainments in the Temperance Hall, Dodington. The entertainments were not so well attended as they might have been.
Cheshire Observer (06/Aug/1870)


The following is a partial list of where Hudson appeared based on newspaper reports:

Year Locations
1850 Dumfries and Galloway
1851 Liverpool, Chester, Preston, Blackburn, Burnley, Darwen, Leyland, and Foxhill Bank
1852 Rochdale
1853 Rochdale, Ashton-under-Lyne and Oldham
1854 Sheffield, Rotherham, Huddersfield, and Leeds
1855 Huddersfield, Holmfirth, Leeds, Halifax, and Bradford
1856 Oldham, Manchester, Liverpool, Burnley, Blackburn, Padiham, and York
1857 York, Driffield, Scarborough, and Newcastle upon Tyne
1858 Birmingham, Jersey, and York
1859 Leeds, Bradford, Liverpool and Huddersfield
1860 Sheffield, Derby, and Manchester
1861 Driffield, Grimsby, Settle, Skipton, Kirkby Lonsdale, Garsdale, Kirkby Stephen
1862 Penrith, Carlisle and Buckley
1863 Chester
1864 Merthyr Tydfil, Brecon, and Bristol
1865 Bristol and Bath
1866 Galloway
1869 Carnarvon, Penrhyn, Portmadoc, Blaenau Festiniog, and Denbigh
1870 Wrexham, Coedpoeth, Ruabon, and Doddington

Further Reading

Notes and References

  1. Frustratingly, the details of how Hudson knew the young Mary Ann are not revealed in any of the materials found during research.
  2. Hudson's pamphlet is available view on
  3. His probate record lists effects of less than £100.