A Wizard in Court, 1856-1870

From the Freeman’s Journal, 15 September 1856:

The Wizard Anderson’s Banners

A motley group of men and women were brought before the magistrate in custody charged with carrying banners calculated to attract a crowd in the streets, and thereby obstruct the public thoroughfare. The flags, about a dozen and a half in number, were of an exceedingly handsome description, made of party coloured silk suspended from gilt poles, and bearing on them in gilt letters various statements and announcements relative to the Wizard Anderson, who will appear this evening.

They were all carried into the police office, and their bearers were crowded into and about the dock to answer the accusation of the police inspector. A gentleman connected with the wizard attended on behalf of the prisoners. It was stated that they were marching in single file through the streets, and were followed by a crowd of persons who interfered with the free passage of the flagways. The inspector said they had been cautioned against moving about with such ensigns, that it was contrary to law, but, notwithstanding, they persisted.

In answer, it was urged that Mr Anderson had gone to considerable expense getting up these banners, which from their handsome appearance, he thought would be perfectly unobjectionable. If, however, it was contrary to the law to have them carried about, he would, of course, direct that it should not be done.

Mr Stronge said that if an undertaking was given to withdraw these flags from the street, and instead to furnish the persons brought before him with ordinary placards, he would not impose penalties upon the accused (Here there was a general expression of thanks to his worship and of mutual congratulation from the prisoners). Placards of such a size as would not be inconvenient to the public might be sent out, but party coloured flags could not be paraded through the streets.

One of the women – We must bring them home, your worship.

Mr Stronge – Yes, I cannot help that.

The accused parties then shouldered their condemned banners and, on arriving in the street, were formed by a man who acted as commander into line, in which order they proceeded at a slow and measured pace through D’Olier Street, and Sackville street, to the Rotunda.”

John Henry Anderson, the Wizard of the North’, claimed to have been given his title by none other than Sir Walter Scott, although, as one writer remarked, whatever authority the literary giant possessed to confer such honorifics remains lost in the Gaelic mists. The first magician to pull a rabbit out of a hat, the Wizard later adapted his performances to include his four beautiful daughters, Louisa, Lizzie, Ada and Flora, the most famous of the quartet being the mentalist Louisa, otherwise known as ‘The Second-Sighted Sibyl.’

Anderson and Louisa, c.1870, via V & A Digital Collection

The Wizard’s daughters were with him when he visited Dublin again in 1870, but sadly their visit led to their father once again running into trouble with the law. On the 26 July 1870, the Freeman’s Journal carried a story about Anderson’s appearance at the Dundrum Petty Sessions Court in answer to a summons issued at the instance of Alfred Armstrong, a sewing factory proprietor, who complained that, on the 18th and 29th July 1870, at Lower Churchtown in the county of Dublin, the wizard had violently assaulted him and tore his clothes.

On Armstrong’s account, he had let lodgings to Flora and Louisa Anderson, without knowing that they were the daughters of the Wizard of the north. On discovering this, he demanded that they find other lodgings immediately. Tragically, Flora, in poor health at the time, died two days after the move. Reading between the lines, fear of contagion from her illness may have been the real cause of the demand she leave. The Wizard’s attack on Mr Armstrong was made in the belief that her death had been contributed to by Armstrong’s actions.

At the subsequent court hearing Louisa gave evidence that she never disguised the fact that she and her sisters were the Professor’s daughters, as there was nothing to be ashamed of in this; Flora, who had lodged in Dundrum on doctor’s advice, and appeared to be getting better there, left for town immediately as a consequence of her interview with Mr Armstrong, arrived there dreadfully existed, and died in Louisa’s arms on the following night, never having recovered from her nervousness.

Flora’s doctor, Mr Moran, from the College of Surgeons, deposed that Flora suffered from phthisis of one lung, but might have lived for a considerable time had it not been the shock on her nervous system; beyond doubt the immediate cause of death was the distress caused by Armstrong’s treatment of her and the subsequent move.

In the circumstances, the court unanimously came to the finding that it was appropriate to deal very lightly with the still greatly distressed Professor, imposing on him a sentence of 6d plus costs. Some might say that it was Mr Armstrong who should have been subject to legal sanction! The Professor had the last word: ‘I have done my duty to my dead child, and I pledge on my sacred word of honour that I will not visit that man again.’

Professor Anderson did not visit Ireland again either, dying prematurely in 1874. Although there were many subsequent pretenders to the title of ‘Wizard of the North’ and indeed to the title of ‘Daughter of the Wizard of the North,’ it is not clear what happened to his actual surviving daughters, one of whom was described, in a newspaper report of the 1880s, as ‘singing for pennies in the London slums.’ Would life have been different for them all were it not for the above tragedy?

More about the Wizard of the North (whose name may perhaps have inspired L. Frank Baum) here.

Top Image credit: Meir Yedid Magic

Author: Ruth Cannon BL

Irish barrister sharing the history of the Four Courts, Dublin, Ireland, and other Irish courts.

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