Anna Cora Mowatt and the Puzzled Pastor

Anna Cora Mowatt with Book

In contrast to last week’s fevered scandal-mongering over Watts’ redecoration of Mowatt’s dressing room at the Marylebone Theater, for contrast, I’d like to share an article I found that sounds a different tone in the author’s reaction to the Watts Scandal.

[As always, if this is your first time joining this blog, more background information is available on Anna Cora Mowatt in my book, The Lady Actress, and the Watts Scandal at this fine website.]

This piece is from the excitingly titled Post Magazine and Insurance Monitor. The current website for the publication promises that that it “delivers the latest hard-edged news & analysis for the UK general insurance industry and has been the market’s leading source of weekly business-critical information since 1840.”1 The article in question was published in 1909 and exhibits the sort of muddled memory one might expect of events occurring some sixty years hence but was still of enough interest to be actively gossiped about by people in the insurance business. Beginning with an error, the author transforms Walter Watts into Mr. Walter Woods.

Although the story is titled “An Insurance Romance,” the only hint of impropriety even hinted at between Watts and Mowatt comes when the author says introduces her parenthetically as “a lady who he is said to have been very fond of.”2 The writer does go on to say that the theater, “especially behind the scenes, was crowded with young loungers”3 but does not elaborate on who they were and what kind of problems they might have been causing.

The primary focus of the article was an accidental sleuth who stumbled on Watts’ crime. According to the article a country clergyman came to the London office of the Globe Insurance Company to pay his life insurance policy. The clerk told him that he could not accept payment on the policy because the person covered had been declared deceased years ago and the policy had already been paid out.

“Sir?” the outraged reverend cried. “Do you mean to tell me that I’ve been dead all this time?”

And so, according to the article, Watts’ scheme was uncovered and his nefarious plans foiled.

Of course, records from 1850 indicated that nothing of the kind happened. Nor have I come across any support for the author’s assertion in the last line of the piece that Watts actually died from ingesting a bottle of poison someone smuggled into the prison.

I wanted to include this version to demonstrate again how long there was lingering familiarity with the Watts scandal in England in contexts that seem to be completely removed from show business. By 1910, Watts and Mowatt were faded memories in the U.S. Insurance salesmen were still gossiping about them in Great Britain. I also wanted to give some indication that there was not necessarily unanimity in the way the story was presented in the popular press. Although I tend to feature iterations of the narrative that stress the menace and innuendo inherent in the story, as you see here, it was even possible to concoct a version that went to some length to turn the tale into a lame joke.

Anna Cora Mowatt with Book
Anna Cora Mowatt with Book

1. Post Magazine Website. https://www.postonline.co.uk/static/post-magazine-the-leading-insurance-industry-news-publication
2. An Insurance Romance. Post Magazine and Insurance Monitor. Vol. 70. Oct. 1909. P. 851