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Madame Sibly, Phrenologist & Mesmerist
, 1870's

by James E. Bray

carte de visite photograph (mount: 10.1 x 6.2 cm, image: 9.4 x 5.5 cm)

Marie Sibly (c. 1830–1894), mesmerist and phrenologist, performed in towns throughout Australia for some twenty years. Purportedly French-born, she arrived in Sydney around 1867 and worked as a clairvoyant, making her first stage appearances in 1868. By 1871 she was in Melbourne, ‘manipulating heads’ for packed houses nightly at Weston’s Opera House on Bourke Street before embarking on a tour of Victoria. In late 1871 she announced a tour of New South Wales during which she appeared in Goulburn, Dubbo, Armidale, Newcastle and numerous other places. Her performances incorporated séances, phrenological readings and feats of mesmerism whereby audiences members were persuaded to fight, dance, sing, or behave absurdly. A report of one of her shows described how she convinced two men to fetch a leg of lamb from the butcher; she then made them think they were dogs and they ate it. Her later repertoire included ‘baby exhibitions’ in which prizes were awarded to the specimens with the best mental and physical capacity. She took up land at Parkes in 1877 but continued touring regardless. By the mid-1880s she was in New South Wales again, appearing with her daughter, ‘Zel the Magnetic Lady’, and advertising her range of remedies for conditions such as gout, rheumatism and neuralgia. She was known by various names throughout her career although it is unclear how many husbands she had. She died in April 1894 at Drake, near Tenterfield, where, having ‘retired from the platform’, she ran a store.

Collection: National Portrait Gallery, Canberra
Purchased 2017
Accession number: 2017.113