by Lyn Collingwood, from Bulletin 7/2022, September
The seventh site nominated for a Blue Plaque is 79 Glebe Point Rd where the clairvoyant Matilda Steer (1858-1931) lived.
Married to a van driver and mother of six, Steer augmented the family income by charging for private consultations and admission to her public seances at the turn of the 19th century when there was a craze for the occult.
Prime Minister Alfred Deakin and novelist Rosa Praed were spiritualists.
Steer advertised her services (controlled by Test Medium Zethyne Vuelice) in the spiritualist journal The Angel of Light along with other business and medical clairvoyants, psychometers, palmists, psychometrists and clairaudients. Glebe practitioners included Madame Simpson and Madame Zanzi.
Steer deserves recognition as a working-class woman trying to make a living when choices were limited. At a time of high infant mortality and during the period of the Boer War she no doubt gave comfort to clients seeking to make contact with loved ones out of physical reach.
The Vagrancy Act 1902 made fortune-telling illegal and plainclothes police walked the streets looking for offenders. Glebe mother-of-eleven Elizabeth Lowe took a chance when she declared ‘clairvoyant’ as her profession on the 1903 electoral roll.
Although located only 300 metres from Broadway, 79 Glebe Point Rd is a free-standing mid-Victorian villa which still has its front garden. While there are a few other free-standing houses, and some terraces as well, in this part of Glebe Point Rd whose front gardens survive, the majority have lost their gardens to shopfronts.
See Bulletin 9/2011 (pps. 6-7) for an in-depth look at the goings-on at 79 Glebe Point Rd and other Glebe locations where spiritualists plied their trade.