Mary Ann Challand (1838-1903)

Mary Ann Challand was a local dressmaker who achieved brief notoriety in her teenage years as a clairvoyant.


She was likely born on 3 August 1838, the daughter of corn miller Thomas Challand and his wife Mary (née Broadly).

By the time of the 1851 Census, 12-year-old Mary Ann was living on Smythey Lane, off Springfield Terrace, Huddersfield, with her parents and her older brother brother, George. Not long after, they appear to have moved to Moldgreen and it was here that Mary Ann worked as a dressmaker.

Mary Ann the Clairvoyant

The background as to how the two of them met remains unknown, but the young Mary Ann had become part of mesmerist Captain Hudson's performances during the early 1850s. Hudson was born in Liverpool and was strongly linked to the local temperance movement. He began touring at the start of the 1850s and his lectures regularly culminated with a female clairvoyant, the first of whom was simply named as "Sarah".

When Sarah's widely reported prediction that Captain Sir John Franklin would soon return to England from his ill-fated Arctic expedition failed to come true, Hudson seems to have dropped her from his lectures and instead began using the young Mary Ann Challand, who was billed only as "Mary Ann" or just "Mary".

In his lectures and demonstrations, he espoused the benefits of mesmerism and would often hypnotise members of the audience. The performances would usually end with Mary Ann being placed into the "mesmeric trance" and then blindfolded. Items such as books and pamphlets would then be placed in her lap and, whilst apparently staring straight ahead in a trance, she would read from them.

At a performance in Liverpool in May 1851, a member of the audience who had been invited to examine Mary Ann's blindfold noticed that she would place one hand on the side of her head when asked to read the item, as if in concentration, but he suspected she was actually moving the blindfold slightly to one side so that she could see down the bridge her nose at the item in her lap. When asked to read a book held up in front of her whilst still blindfolded, she was unable to comply.

After that, Hudson appears to have phased Mary Ann out of his lectures. In later years, his own daughters became involved in the performances. Hudson continued to tour until the early 1870s.

The Finding of Sarah Ann Lumb

On a stormy evening in December 1854, Marsden teenager Sarah Ann Lumb accidentally fell into the River Colne and her body was swept away. Despite exhaustive searches, only items of her clothing were recovered from the river and by Christmas, her parents were offering a £5 reward "to any one who shall find the body".

At that time, Captain Hudson was performing in the Huddersfield area and, perhaps out of desperation, one of Sarah Ann's relatives approached him for help. He told them he knew of a local clairvoyant and 16-year-old Mary Ann was then brought to his house, where he put her into a trance and asked her to locate Sarah Ann's body.

According to newspaper reports, Mary Ann went silent for several minutes before beginning to describe the progress the girl's body had taken down the river. She ended by stating it could be found within 100 yards of the second bridge in Mirfield and that the body was covered in mud and sand, apart from the feet.[1]

Sarah Ann’s uncle, builder Samuel Whitehead, took a small group of workmen to Mirfield on 4 January 1855 and they located Sarah Ann Lumb's body buried in the river mud some 20 yards from the bridge. Only her feet were visible.[2]

The Seed Hill Ghost

It seems certain that the recovery of Sarah Ann Lumb's body brought a level of local notoriety to Mary Ann and she was subsequently asked to help investigate the Seed Hill Ghost in March 1855. In that particular case, she was unable to contact the spirit responsible for the disturbances. However, a few days later, it was revealed that a young mischievous Irish servant girl was in fact the "ghost".

Death of Her Parents and Marriage

In June 1854, Mary Ann’s mother brought a case against a man named Charles Oldfield whose dog she claimed had attacked her whilst she was fetching in washing from her clothes line. However, discrepancies in her statements led to the case being dismissed.

Mary Ann's father, Thomas, died in May 1855 and her mother then sank into a depression. On the afternoon of 18 July, Mary Challand took her own life. The subsequent inquest returned a verdict of "suicide whilst temporarily insane".

The next few years of Mary Ann's life are undocumented and there were no further newspaper reports about her following the Seed Hill Ghost case. By the time of the 1861 Census, she was living as a lodger at the house of police constable George Ramsden, 33 Templar Street, Leeds, and working as a milliner.

She married engineer Benjamin Haigh on 7 March 1863 at St John the Baptist in Halifax. Within a few years, they had moved to Manchester and the couple had three daughters, all of whom were given the middle name "Ann".

By the time of the 1901 Census, Benjamin had died and the widowed Mary Ann was living with her married daughter, Ellen.

Mary Ann Haigh died in 1903, aged 67, and was buried St. Bartholomew's in Whitworth, Lancashire.

Further Reading

Notes and References

  1. A journal named Zoist also included a description of Challand's trance and is available to read on Google Books.
  2. For those seeking a rational explanation, Mary Ann may have made a remarkably inspired guess based on reports of the bodies found following the Holmfirth Flood of 1852. Many of the bodies found in the days after the flood had been partially buried in the muddy banks of the river as it subsided. At least one body, that of Betty Earnshaw, was eventually recovered at Mirfield, which was several miles downriver from Holmfirth.