Disability

Full transcript of The Curious Case of Miss Fanny Fust- 8 December 2017

This is a full transcript of of The Curious Case of Miss Fanny Fust where Emma Tracey, as part of Disability History Month, spoke to Openstorytellers Clemma Fleat and Nicola Grove.

EMMA - We are going right back to the late 18th century for this episode of the Ouch podcast to find out who was Miss Fanny Fust. It is disability history month after all. I'm Emma Tracey and the interview you're about to hear is with an organisation called Openstorytellers who support people with learning disabilities to tell true tales and yarns about disabled people from throughout history and about their own lives as well. They use music, dance, drama but above all storytelling to make their stories come alive.

Their current project is about Fanny Fust, a young learning disabled woman who, in 1787 when she was just 21, was abducted by a guy called Bowerman who wanted to marry her for her substantial fortune. Openstorytellers founder, Nicola Grove, who's also a speech therapist, and learning-disabled storyteller Clemma Fleat pick up the story. And it all starts when Fanny is extended a much wanted invitation.

NICOLA - It was a very, very elaborately plotted manipulation. Elizabeth Ross who'd also been at school with Fanny was a good friend of Fanny's and would go out with her a lot, and Mrs Fust trusted her. And they had an invitation from this other girl who was in the plot with Henry Bowerman - there were about eight of them in the plot I think, very elaborate - and invited her to tea. And one of the things we think is very touching about this is that even now if you've got a severe learning difficulty you don't very often get asked out to tea by people that aren't caring for you.

EMMA - And she went for tea and what happened then?

NICOLA - They said, "Oh, it's such a lovely day. Let us walk to the pump rooms in Hotwells". One of the things that's been happening is we've been finding a huge amount about the history of Bristol. And when they got there there was a carriage waiting with some other of the plotters there where they suggested going for strawberries and cream to the Ostrich Inn on the Downs, which was quite famous for that, and Elizabeth Ross protested. And they then said - which again I think if you look at conmen and the way that people get exploited nowadays you recognise exactly what's going on - one of the others said to Elizabeth Ross, "No, no, don't be so dull and foolish. You have not been invited. It would be very discourteous for you to get in the carriage. Another carriage will come along" and they separated them.

CLEMMA - And when she gets abducted they drove her all through the night all the way to France then. And then Elizabeth then came back to Mrs Fust, who I play, and said, "Mrs Fust, Mrs Fust, oh your daughter has been abducted". "Abducted! Oh my dear!" and then I say to the…

NICOLA - Agents.

CLEMMA - … agents, "Agents, agents, my daughter's been abducted!"

EMMA -What are the agents?

CLEMMA - Detectives.

EMMA - Right. And what happens then? Is the man who brought her to France is he caught?

NICOLA - Well, they trekked them all through France, and all the way through France he was trying to find people to marry them and everybody refused because they could see that Fanny was somebody with quite severe learning difficulties, and that when they were collecting evidence that's what they found. Until he got somebody drunk; somebody with the wonderful name of Popkin.

CLEMMA - And then when they came all the way back we took him to court, and then he thought he was going to win the case but in the end I think the mother won the case and we got Fanny back.

EMMA -So, first of all it was so long ago, how did you find all this information out? Was it in records? Was it in the paper? How did you find all the information?

NICOLA - It's all in the county records up in Kew. We've got more than 1,000 pages in a Dropbox that we're looking at in order to put our final performance together, which we're doing between now and next May.

EMMA -So, they're all pages that refer to Fanny Fust?

NICOLA - Yes, the whole case. The point was that the case took four years.

CLEMMA - And it shows you the costumes that they would have worn in those days too.

EMMA - So, the case that went to court to get Fanny back took four years?

NICOLA - The mother reluctantly took out a commission of lunacy, which is what you did in order to prove that somebody did not have capacity. And that was held in the New Inn in Bristol in 1787 in November. And she's on record as saying that she did not want to do this because she wanted her daughter to have an independent life, which is one of the things that's interesting is that what comes through the story is not only Fanny's resilience but the care: people seem to have genuine affection and respect and love for her.

So, it was like a sort of jury. It was held in the Inn. And Fanny was actually there, which is again interesting.

EMMA - And probably actually unusual. Sometimes even now when there's something about a person with learning disabilities they're not there.

NICOLA - Even now, exactly. They asked her very interesting questions. So, the questions they asked her were, "Did you give your consent to go to France with this man?"

EMMA -Did she say it was okay?

NICOLA - Yes.

CLEMMA - And they also asked her, "Do you like strawberries and cream?" "Yes, I love strawberries and cream".

NICOLA - Yeah. And then they said, "Did this man take you to France against your will?" and she said:

CLEMMA - Yes.

NICOLA - And then they said, "You see this man here, Jasiah Osborne, would you like to marry him?"

CLEMMA - And of course she said yes.

NICOLA - So, they asked for each member of the committee, "Would you like to marry this man?"

CLEMMA - And of course she said yes to all of the people.

NICOLA - And then one of them took out a handful of coins and presented them to her and said, "Here are four or five guineas, would you give your inheritance for this money?"

CLEMMA - She said yes.

NICOLA - So, they asked her very clever questions.

CLEMMA - Talking about a lot of money here.

NICOLA - Yeah, nearly £2 million in today's money.

CLEMMA - Yes, nearly £2 million in today's money.

EMMA - So, they knew how to get the best from Fanny?

NICOLA - Exactly.

CLEMMA - They did yes.

NICOLA - Really interesting.

EMMA - That could teach people a thing or two now, right.

NICOLA - I think so. As a speech therapist I was very interested in the fact that they actually presented this young woman with concrete evidence: the money. They didn't just say, "How much?" they didn't ask an abstract question; they took the coins out and showed them to her.

EMMA - Yeah, they had a prop which is often useful.

NICOLA - Exactly.

CLEMMA - It is, yes.

EMMA - Do you think anything worse happened to her? Do you think he tried to do anything to Fanny or do you think it was just the man just wanted to marry her for the money?

NICOLA - Well, we've had some discussion about this. John McTague turned up a newspaper report which said rather coyly, 'Miss Fust was married with all the attendant consequences' which we think implies that he did actually go to bed with her. But on the other hand she does not seem to have been abused in any way at all. When she was found in France she was very happy. She smiled and laughed when they said, "Who are you?" When they said, "Why did you go to France?" she said, "Strawberries and cream". We kind of get the impression that actually she had quite a good time and that he was not unkind to her.

EMMA - During the four years that the case was going on do you know where she was during that time?

NICOLA - With her mother we think.

CLEMMA - With her mother, yeah.

NICOLA - Not with him.

EMMA -So, she got to be at home, not with him.

NICOLA - Yes.

EMMA -What happened after that? What did Fanny do for the rest of her life?

NICOLA - The commission found that she was a lunatic, but also found interestingly that she should be cared for by her mother and then by a trusted cousin, and that she should inherit. She inherited Hill Court in Gloucester where a descendant still lives. And then he appealed that decision and that was what took the time. And he failed. And as far as we know he ended up in debt. That's all we know about him, which we're very happy about!

CLEMMA - Yes we are.

EMMA -Do you think anything that happened to Fanny could happen to you or to any of your friends with learning difficulties?

CLEMMA - Well, I hope not.

EMMA - The kind of little things, Clemma, so the way that Fanny was asked, did she want strawberries and cream, do you think that sort of thing happens now? So, someone might trick someone with a learning difficulty?

CLEMMA - Yes, I think so, yes.

NICOLA - Yeah.

EMMA -And has anything like that ever happened to you?

CLEMMA - No, because I've got a bit of fight in me compared to the other people that I would know!

NICOLA - Yes, nobody gets one over on Clemma.

CLEMMA - No one gets one over on me, because if they did they have hell to pay.

EMMA -Good for you.

CLEMMA - Basically I've got a very steady relationship and I love my boyfriend so much.

NICOLA - Yes. But we have known other people who have been friends of ours who have been in situations.

CLEMMA - Yes.

NICOLA - I remember there was somebody who we worked with whose boyfriend got her to get, she had a 'group of friends', and they got her to get money out of her own bank account and then they went off and bought expensive clothes with it.

CLEMMA - Oh yeah.

NICOLA- And she was a really generous young women so she would just say, "Oh yeah, I'll buy you a jacket, I'll buy you this, I'll buy you that". Again, it was this situation where when people remonstrated with the staff they said, "But it's her choice". And we hear that quite a lot. And of course choice is vitally important, but it's actually incredibly difficult because what the Mental Capacity Act says is that people should be allowed to make wrong choices.

CLEMMA - Yes exactly.

NICOLA - And you can't disagree with that, but it's very, very disturbing when you see what happens in those situations.

EMMA -So, to bring these stories to life you do songs, you do performance.

CLEMMA - Dancing.

NICOLA - We've been learning 18th century dance from the wonderful Anne Hinchliffe and Caroline David from down at Barrington Court, so we're now very good dancers.

EMMA -Anything that will help tell the story.

CLEMMA - Oh yes.

NICOLA- And a lot of audience participation.

EMMA -Oh really? So, what have the audience had to do with the Fanny Fust story, or have you brought that in yet?

CLEMMA - We did yeah.

NICOLA - On Friday we did, and you can see it online actually, Clemma and me doing the Commission of Lunacy at Brave, Poor (and Invisible), a really important symposium that was held at M-Shed on Friday 20th October. We got the audience, do you remember, we got them to read out the statements that were heard in evidence.

CLEMMA - Yes, we did yeah.

NICOLA- Some of which supported Bowerman's case; some of which supported Mrs Fust's case.

CLEMMA - Yes.

NICOLA- And then we asked the audience to discuss it and vote.

CLEMMA - Yes we did.

EMMA -Right. And you wrote a song for this, Clemma, for the Fanny Fust story?

CLEMMA - Yes I did yeah.

EMMA -Can you sing a little bit of it for me?

CLEMMA - Yes, of course we can. You start off Nicola:

SINGING - In Clifton in Bristol a damsel did dwell. She lived with her mother we know very well. On the Downs where there's strawberries and cream on a tray Henry Bowerman betrayed her and stole her away. No they never [clapping], no they never no more, he won't play the love doctor no never no more.

EMMA - And for all of you who wondered what happened to Fanny, she lived out the rest of her days with her cousin in Gloucestershire where she died at the age of 69.

If you're listening to this episode over the web remember you can subscribe to Ouch as a podcast. Please do. You can do so from Apple podcasts or wherever you get your podcasts from. You can also get in touch with us. And especially on this occasion if there's another disabled person from history who you think should get an airing and who we may have never heard of before let us know and maybe we can feature them on a future episode.

We are on Facebook and Twitter @bbcouch. You can email ouch@bbc.co.uk, and to find all the other stuff we do go to bbc.co.uk/disability.

More on this story