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Christina Hardyment on an 18th-century showman
This is the lively biography of a reputedly demonic natural philosopher, the 18th-century magician and quack doctor, Gustavus Katterfelto, travelling conjurer and Prince of Puff.
The actress Mrs Siddons, Napoleon Bonaparte and sundry regency politicians were all likened to him on occasion, and he earned himself a place in Brewer’s magisterial Dictionary of Phrase and Fable. German by birth, Katterfelto arrived in Hull in 1776 with his wife and children and excelled in thrilling adverts for his ‘Wonders! Wonders! Wonders!’. He toured England in a rumbling coach loaded with scientific paraphernalia, attended by two young ‘blackamoors’ and sundry black cats.
This is the first biography of him, a thoroughly researched labour of love by David Paton-Williams, who is the rector of Bedale in Yorkshire, where Katterfelto died in 1799, and it is an illuminating window into the world of itinerant entertainers.
Christina Hardyment is an author and journalist