Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Katterfelto, Gustavus

KATTERFELTO, GUSTAVUS (d. 1799), conjurer and empiric, a native of Prussia, seems to have attracted no notice until he made his appearance about 1782 in London, where he soon gained a widespread notoriety, partly by means of advertisements headed ‘Wonders! Wonders! Wonders!’ which he inserted in the newspapers. He is described as being a compound of conjurer and quack doctor. In both these capacities he worked upon the credulity of the Londoners during the epidemic of influenza in 1782. Among other ‘philosophical apparatus’ he employed the services of some extraordinary black cats, with which he astonished the ignorant. He also professed to have discovered the secret of perpetual motion, and in 1784 was visited by the royal family, the members of which declared that his performance exceeded their most sanguine expectations (Morning Post, 3 June 1784). During his stay in London, where he generally exhibited in Spring Gardens, Katterfelto was frequently alluded to in the public prints, and there is a large collection of extracts relating to his ‘solar-microscopic’ and other performances in Lysons's ‘Collectanea’ (i. 190 seq.), together with an amusing cartoon in which he is represented as trudging home laden with the apparatus of quackery, but in possession of a large bag of English guineas. Peter Pindar mentions him more than once. Cowper, in the ‘Task’ (bk. iv. l. 86), speaks of

    Katterfelto, with his hair on end
    At his own wonders, wondering for his bread.

Subsequently he made a tour in the provinces, with less success. At Shrewsbury he was committed to prison as a vagrant and an impostor. He frequently visited Whitby, where he was well received. He had a kind of travelling museum of natural and other curiosities, which was especially rich in fossils, agates, and similar productions of the Yorkshire coast. Microscopic demonstrations formed part of his entertainment. One of his most popular tricks at Whitby was to raise his daughter to the ceiling by the attractive influence—as the operator affirmed—of a huge magnet, after she had put on a massive steel helmet, with leathern straps passed under the armpits. Katterfelto died at Bedale, Yorkshire, on 25 Nov. 1799. His widow became the wife of John Carter, a publican of Whitby, who was mainly instrumental in reviving the manufacture of jet about 1800.

[Chambers's Book of Days, i. 510; Chambers's Pocket Miscellany, xix. 74; Thompson Cooper in Whitby Times, 11 Dec. 1863; Mirror, xvii. 69.]

T. C.