The Fortune Telling Lady

It is extremely interesting, if a little disconcerting, to study the various types of crimes that were reported from the Police Courts of the 19th century.

A particular crime that has always fascinated me, is that of pretending to be able to tell peoples fortunes. Cases such as that of Louisa Kingherst, the so-called “wise woman of Whitechapel” are both fascinating, and, to be honest, amusing – especially since the miscreants in these case evidently lacked the ability to foretell their own futures and make a break for it before the police came knocking on their doors.

Sarah Ellesmore was another such woman who found herself in court in 1878, charged with professing to tell fortunes.

The Maryport Advertiser carried her story in its edition of Friday 15 February 1878:-


“At the Barnsley Police-court, Sarah Ellmore, a married woman, was charged with professing to tell fortunes. The evidence given by three young girls was very extraordinary.


Mary Pendleton said that she went to defendant’s house on the 18th December last. A pack of cards was produced and was then “cut” in three. The defendant then proceeded to tell the witness her fortune, and charged sixpence for the “knowledge.”

Mr. Kaye asked the witness if she believed the defendant, and she replied that of course she did.

Mr. Kaye: “You are very simple.”

The Mayor: “I hope you have not acted up to your belief?”

Afterwards, the defendant invited the witness and her female companions to go to her house on Christmas Day, and to take their chaps with them.

The Mayor: “Did you take your chaps with you?”

Witness: “No.”

The witness’s mother once had a “funny dream” (laughter), and when the defendant heard of it she prophesied that her husband would run away with anther woman. (Laughter.)

Sarah Ellmore telling the fortunes of two girls.
Sarah Ellmore Tells Fortunes. From The Illustrated Police News, Saturday, 23rd February, 1878. Copyright, The British Library Board.


Martha Ann Casement, another young girl, said that she went to the defendant’s house for a saucepan a few weeks before Christmas, when she was much abused by her.

The witness had had her fortune told several times by the defendant at her house by means of the cards. She, too, would be “blessed” with “plenty of chaps.”

She said that she could bewitch the witness’s mother, who was then staying at Low Valley, and advised that a toad be got, and then filled with pins, and this would have the effect, so the defendant argued, of wasting Mrs. Casement’s existence away. The witness’s father repeatedly sent the witness to look for a toad, but she never found one.

The defendant also wished the witness to cut her finger and toe nails, to wrap the parings in a piece of paper, and throw the latter among the ashes, and she would get a sweetheart. The witness did not do this, but a companion did.

The witness gave the defendant ham, tea, and sugar, etc., in return for having her fortune told.


Sarah Anne Hinchliffe, a delicate-looking, well-dressed girl, who said she was 16 years of age, said that she had been several times to the defendant’s house during the last six months, to have her fortune told.

She was to have plenty of sweethearts, and she one day cut her toe and finger nail, wrapped the parings carefully in a piece of paper, and then placed the paper in the ashes. She was told that if she did this she would get her future husband that night, who would appear to her while she slept. He didn’t appear however. (Laughter.)

The witness gave the defendant three or four shirts, a child’s night-dress, and other things.

The Bench asked the witness if she thought how foolish she had been, and she answered ” Yes.”

Casement and Pendleton were then charged with having assaulted Ellmore, but the charge was dismissed.

Mrs. Casement was afterwards called, and spoke to her knowledge of Ellmore’s practices.


The Mayor said that a more remarkable and deplorable instance of credulity and foolery he had never heard in his life.

It was one of the most painful cases that had ever come before the Court, and the practices the defendant, who was an infamous woman, had indulged in, were calculated to destroy the morality of the whole neighbourhood round about.


The most extreme sentence which the law provided would be passed upon the defendant, viz., a term of three months imprisonment with hard labour.

The defendant’s husband was present in court, and he said that he was a miner at Edmund’s Main Colliery.”