AUSTRALIA – An academic has recently pieced together the story of Mary Barrell, which is among the earliest documented cases of Witchcraft and fortune telling in the country. Historian and folklorist Dr David Waldron made the discovery when conducting research in Victorian-era newspapers. He found letters to the editor spanning over three decades. “I first became aware of Mary Barrell when looking for writing on fortune tellers, phrenologists and mystics in 19th century Ballarat.” Waldron told The Wild Hunt. “Castelmaine, Ballarat and Bendigo were all described as a mecca for spiritualism and attracted the attention of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, who engaged in correspondence with Ballarat Spiritualist leader James Curtis.”
The Methodist and the Spiritualist
According to a recent article by the Ballarat Courier, the letters published in newspapers complaining about Barrell and her fortune telling were at least in part caused by and demonstrative of ongoing friction between two notable and influential Ballarat pioneers who had very different sensibilities: Wesleyan Methodist and town council member James Oddie and Freemason and Spiritualist James Curtis.