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".
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.
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:
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.
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 being 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:
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.
In later years, Hudson appears to have used his hypnosis skills to 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.
The following is a partial list of where Hudson appeared based on newspaper reports:
|1850||Dumfries and Galloway|
|1851||Liverpool, Chester, Preston, Blackburn, Burnley, Darwen, Leyland, and Foxhill Bank|
|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|
|1864||Merthyr Tydfil, Brecon, and Bristol|
|1865||Bristol and Bath|
|1869||Carnarvon, Penrhyn, Portmadoc, Blaenau Festiniog, and Denbigh|
|1870||Wrexham, Coedpoeth, Ruabon, and Doddington|