Professor Bonner was a self-styled hypnotist, touring the eastern states of Australia in the early part of the 20th century. On January 30 1906, the professor was in Ballarat, performing with Bostock and Wombwell’s Circus. As part of his headline act, a pocket knife was secreted in a distant part of town. The professor’s assistant and hypnotic subject, Sam Williams, then charged through the streets in a buggy in search of the hidden knife, whipping up his horses to increase the drama. He was accompanied by the town’s Mayor and other dignitaries. To increase the challenge and to confound onlookers even more, the hypnotized Williams was blindfolded. Was he successful? Well of course he was. Unfortunately, the police took a dim view of the affair.
Extracting the fine from Mr Williams proved rather problematic. From the Ballarat Star, Saturday 17 February 1906;
THE FINE UNPAID. WILLIAMS TO BE ARRESTED IN A HYPNOTIC SLEEP
Samuel Williams, who in conjunction with Professor Bonner, the hypnotist, caused a sensation in Ballarat last month for which Williams was fined 1 pound or seven days, at the City Court on Thursday, is at present lying in a hypnotic state in a grave at the circus located in the Market square, and today Senior-Constable Bowden, armed with a warrant for the arrest of Williams for non-payment of the fine, called at the tent. He was unable to get at the man, who slept on and refused to answer the policeman. The Senior-Constable will attend the circus on Saturday evening when Williams is awakened, and execute the warrant.
AN EXCITING NEW VENTURE
By 1909 Professor Bonner was looking to expand his horizons. He had linked up with a couple of champion wood-choppers from Tasmania These young men were the sporting superstars of the day. The professor planned to take them to London, where they would somehow be incorporated into his vaudeville act, and also perform in exhibition matches at venues such as the Crystal Palace. I wonder if the plan was for them to chop blindfolded under hypnosis!
The ship left Melbourne in July 1909. Launched the previous year in Glasgow, she was considered to be unsinkable.
A born promoter, Bonner took the axemen into a newspaper office when the Waratah docked at Durban. I’m sure he would have been delighted with the subsequent write-up, but sadly he would never see it. As the final sentence in the article below reads, ‘Seemingly they are aboard the missing Waratah.‘ The ship had vanished between Durban and Capetown. and was never seen again.
But oddly enough the name Bonner did not appear on the list of those missing on the doomed S.S Waratah. Could he have left the ship at Durban? It seemed highly unlikely, given that he was accompanying the axemen on an organised tour.
And then, an explanation, published in various newspapers;
Among the passengers on the Waratah are Ernest Page and his wife. Page was known as Professor Bonner, a hypnotist, who created a sensation about four years ago in Sydney, Melbourne and other places by hypnotising a man names Williams, and burying him underground for eight days. He also caused the latter to drive blindfolded through the streets in search of a hidden article.
Rest in peace Professor Bonner. You entertained the masses and had such dreams and expectations
FOR THE STORY OF THE S.S. WARATAH, CLICK HERE