Benjamin Marshall, Water Caster – a medical fraudster?

This blog entry is written by local history research volunteer Becki Robertson, who has been helping to research deeper into the Leeds social history collections.

Benjamin Marshall was allegedly a late 19th/early 20th century healer, using a technique described as “water casting.” I was looking into an advert of his, which advertised his business. On the reverse of this advertisement were a number of testimonials from people who claimed that they had been completely healed by Mr Marshall’s technique. Many of these people had been suffering from cancer, and yet had been cured in full by this “water casting,” where the doctors had failed (This is a common theme throughout the testimonials). I was researching into who these people were, attempting to discover if they had ever really existed.

The writers of the letters had very generously provided their address, and in many cases, the date of the letter. With this information, I decided to visit Leeds library and use the genealogy websites as a starting point. (Ancestry.com)

The first person I began looking for was a Robert Flowitt, who had been cured of a tumour on his forehead, and, at the time of his testimonial (June 21st, 1890) was living at 7, Springfield Avenue in Burmantofts. Ancestry did not yield any matching results at first. On the 1891 census there was only one Robert Flowitt listed, and he was nine years old at the time. However, in the 1890 Directory of Leeds and District (Slaters), there was a Robert Flowitt living at 147 Hunslet Road, which sadly is a different address to the one noted in the testimonial (written in the same year). I had the same problem with R.S. Terrington, who gave his address as 86 Harold Grove, in a letter dated 1891. The 1891 directory listed a Robert S. Terrington. It seemed that this must be the same man, as the intials matched and there was no other R. Terrington listed. However, again the addresses did not match. The Robert Terrington in the directory was living at 116 Westfield Road. This seems to imply that Mr Marshall had used names of real people, but had created false addresses for them.

Working my way through the list, I quickly discovered that there were a number of people who I simply could not trace. Mrs Gaunt and Richard Pallister had both provided dated letters with addresses, but there seemed to be no one of these names listed as living in Leeds at the time the letters were written. Similarly, I failed to find matches for William Yates, Mrs Weatherhill, Mrs Pickthall, or Mrs Pickard. I began to think that I was not going to find any of the people that Mr Marshall had referenced on his advertisement.

However, the next testimonial I started looking into was written by Saint Luke Lake, then at 45 Rosebank Grove. He had a young daughter who was also suffering from a tumour on her forehead. Mr Lake had rejected the solution offered by the doctors, and instead took her to Mr Marshall, who cured her perfectly. Initially this was quite difficult to research as I did not have the name of Saint Luke Lake’s daughter, and the letter was undated. However Saint Luke Lake is not a common name. I picked up the 1890 Directory of Leeds more or less at random, and immediately came across Saint Luke Lake, who was a tanner, living at 45 Rosebank Grove. I therefore knew that the letter writer, at least, was a real person. The next step was to find any record of his daughter. Returning to Ancestry, I discovered that Saint Luke Lake had married and was listed in the 1881 as 32 years old, but there was no record of a child at this time. However, in 1891,he had a little girl called Anne Lake, who was a year old. I therefore knew that not only was the letter writer real, but that he did have a child (who was still alive and well in 1901). It would be interesting to see if any medical records from this time can be accessed, as Anne was apparently taken to the LGI at some point. However, it does not seem likely that detailed individual records have survived.

Another letter was written by H.Wardman in 1906, who had been cured of a rupture. I discovered a Henry Wardman in the 1906 Directory (Robinson), living at 1 Leighton Street (which was the correct address) and his occupation was that of a furniture mover. This was quite interesting, as it does seem to be a career which could easily result in a rupture. Mr Henry Wardman was still alive and well in 1911. (1911 census).

Then I came to Mrs Driver, suffering from a white leg. This was another tricky one as I did not have a first name. However, she had kindly provided her address and a date (8 Ashford Street, 1884). Using this, I discovered a John Driver living at 8 Ashford street, which was then a Post Office. (Leeds Directory 1882-3). So I had a Mr Driver. I then checked this new information against the censuses. In 1881 John Driver was listed as living at 8 Ashford Street, along with his spouse, Elizabeth Driver. So I had another real person. Whether or not any of the people listed above had really provided the alleged testimonials cannot be proved one way or the other, but it is of interest that at least some of the people had existed, and the details on the advertisement were correct.

In regards to Benjamin Marshall himself, I noted that on his advertisement, he was based at 32 Marsh Street, having relocated from 41 York Street. I checked the Leeds directories for him, and discovered he was listed at York Street in 1888, and was still there in 1907. (the date of the last testimonial was in 1906). However, in 1908 and 1909 there was no record of him at either York Street nor Marsh Street. It seems likely therefore that the advertisement was an attempt to drum up business after his relocation, an attempt which, sadly, seems to have failed.

If any reader of this blog has any clearer idea of what being a “Water Caster” may have involved, we would love to know.  It may have been related to homeopathy orhave involved some other mystical medical practice.  It has echoes of religious practices relating to baptism and the power of Holy water.  Any ideas welcome.

(Research and blog entry courtesy of Becki Robertson, volunteer)

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s