A Lion named Wallace?

On show at the Circus Hall of Fame Sarsota, Florid, USA.

Edward Cross, a notable wild beast merchant of the 19th century, owned and operated the menagerie at Exeter Exchange in London. Among his collection of exotic animals were several lions, and he famously named multiple lions “Wallace.”

Number of Wallace Lions:

It is documented that there were at least three lions named Wallace at different times. Each of these lions gained some degree of fame:

  1. First Wallace: The original Wallace became quite famous during its time, gaining notoriety for its size and demeanor. This lion was a significant attraction at Exeter Exchange.
  2. Second Wallace: Following the death of the first Wallace, Cross named another lion Wallace, continuing the legacy and maintaining the public’s interest in his menagerie.
  3. Third Wallace: A third lion also bore the name Wallace, keeping the tradition alive and ensuring that the name Wallace remained synonymous with the impressive lions of the menagerie.

The practice of reusing the name “Wallace” for successive lions helped build a lasting brand and reputation for Cross’s menagerie, attracting visitors who were familiar with the famed lion by that name. This tradition of naming multiple animals with the same name is not uncommon in the history of menageries and zoos.

George Wombwell was a prominent British showman and the founder of Wombwell’s Traveling Menagerie, one of the most famous traveling animal shows in the 19th century. His menagerie was renowned for its exotic animals, and among them, a lion named Wallace became particularly famous.

Wallace the Lion

Fame and Legacy:

  1. Exhibition: Wallace was one of the star attractions of Wombwell’s Menagerie. The lion was renowned for his size, strength, and the magnificent mane that became a symbol of the menagerie.
  2. Docile Nature: Unlike many other lions in captivity at the time, Wallace was known for his relatively docile and gentle nature. This made him particularly popular with the public and allowed for close interactions, which were a major draw for visitors.
  3. Historical Significance: Wallace was born in captivity in 1812 and became a part of Wombwell’s Menagerie. He lived until 1838, reaching an age of 26 years, which is quite notable for a lion, especially one in captivity during that era.

Impact on Popular Culture:

  1. Public Attention: Wallace’s fame extended beyond the menagerie itself. His image and stories about him were widely disseminated, making him a household name in 19th-century Britain.
  2. Literature and Art: Wallace inspired various artistic and literary works, reflecting the public’s fascination with exotic animals and the adventures of traveling menageries.

Legacy of George Wombwell:

  1. Menagerie Success: George Wombwell’s success with his traveling menagerie was partly due to his ability to create strong public personas for his animals. Wallace the lion was a prime example of this strategy.
  2. Animal Welfare: Although the standards of animal care were very different in the 19th century compared to today, Wombwell was known for his relatively good treatment of his animals, which contributed to their longevity and the success of his menagerie.

Conclusion:

George Wombwell’s lion, Wallace, remains one of the most famous lions in the history of traveling menageries. Wallace’s reputation for being a magnificent and gentle lion made him a star attraction and helped cement George Wombwell’s legacy as a leading showman of his time. The story of Wallace highlights the public’s enduring fascination with exotic animals and the rich history of animal exhibitions in the 19th century.

However, the Wallace depicted above was from the USA, and, according to the card, was from the Wombwell and Bostock Wold Animal Show. Reported to have killed 3 of its trainers and had to be ‘executed’.

It was Frank Bostock that went to the USA in the late 1800s and successfully traveled the country with his Wild Animal Show. He also had a permanent site on Coney Island, New York.

Frank Bostock and His Menagerie in New York

Introduction

Frank C. Bostock, known as the “Animal King,” was a pioneering figure in the world of traveling menageries and animal shows. Originating from a family deeply entrenched in the circus and menagerie business in the UK, Bostock expanded his operations internationally, achieving remarkable success in New York in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Early Life and Background

Born in 1866 in England, Frank Bostock was part of the famous Bostock and Wombwell menagerie family. From a young age, he was immersed in the world of exotic animals and show business. Frank eventually branched out to create his own menagerie, distinct from his family’s legacy, which would go on to become a global sensation.

Arrival in New York

In the early 1890s, Frank Bostock brought his menagerie to the United States, where he quickly made a name for himself. New York, with its burgeoning entertainment industry and appetite for spectacle, provided the perfect setting for Bostock’s grand exhibitions.

Bostock’s Menagerie

  1. Exotic Animals and Training:
    • Diverse Collection: Bostock’s menagerie featured a wide array of exotic animals, including lions, tigers, elephants, bears, and more. His collection was known for its variety and the healthy condition of the animals.
    • Innovative Training: Frank Bostock was renowned for his innovative and humane training techniques. Unlike many of his contemporaries, he emphasized positive reinforcement and developed a deep understanding of animal behavior, which allowed him to perform complex and engaging shows.
  2. Spectacular Shows:
    • Public Exhibitions: Bostock’s shows were a mix of education and entertainment. He showcased not only the animals’ natural behaviors but also their trained abilities. This approach captivated audiences and made his shows a must-see attraction in New York.
    • The Arena: In 1903, Bostock opened a permanent exhibition space known as Bostock’s Arena at Coney Island. The arena was a state-of-the-art facility designed to house his extensive menagerie and host daily shows. It quickly became one of Coney Island’s premier attractions.
  3. Notable Performances and Incidents:
    • Major Public Draw: Bostock’s performances included daring acts such as lion taming, tiger training, and elephant performances. His shows were characterized by their dramatic flair and the close bond he shared with his animals.
    • Fire at Dreamland: In 1911, a tragic fire at Dreamland amusement park, where Bostock had his animals, resulted in significant losses. Many of the animals perished in the fire, marking a somber moment in his career.

Impact on New York and Legacy

  1. Influence on Animal Shows:
    • Setting Standards: Bostock set new standards for animal care and training, influencing future generations of trainers and entertainers. His methods were studied and emulated by many in the industry.
    • Public Perception: He played a significant role in changing the public perception of animal exhibitions from mere curiosities to respected forms of entertainment and education.
  2. Cultural Contributions:
    • Entertainment Industry: Bostock’s success in New York contributed to the growth of the entertainment industry, particularly in Coney Island, which became a hub for amusement parks and attractions.
    • Animal Welfare Awareness: His humane approach to animal training brought attention to the importance of animal welfare, laying the groundwork for future improvements in the treatment of performing animals.
  3. Enduring Fame:
    • Publications and Media: Bostock’s life and career were chronicled in various publications, and his menagerie was frequently covered in the media. His fame extended beyond the United States, cementing his legacy as a global showman.

Conclusion

Frank Bostock’s tenure in New York marked a significant chapter in the history of traveling menageries and animal exhibitions. Through his innovative approach to animal training and showmanship, Bostock captivated audiences and set new standards for the industry. His legacy as the “Animal King” endures, reflecting his contributions to entertainment, animal welfare, and cultural history.

Cross, Wild Beast Merchant, Liverpool

This postcard is pre 1912. William Cross, grandson of Edward ran the menagerie until a fire destroyed it in 1912.

In the annals of history, certain figures emerge whose lives are as captivating as the stories they inhabit. One such individual is Edward Cross, whose remarkable journey as a wild beast merchant left an indelible mark on the world of entertainment in the 19th century.

The Early Years

Edward Cross was born in England in the early 1800s, during a time when the allure of the exotic and the unknown captivated the imaginations of people across the globe. From a young age, Cross exhibited a keen interest in the natural world, particularly in the magnificent creatures that roamed the earth’s far-flung corners.

A Merchant of Marvels

As he matured, Cross channeled his passion for wildlife into a burgeoning business venture: the trade of wild animals. In an era when exotic animals were coveted symbols of wealth and power, Cross carved out a niche for himself as a purveyor of rare and exotic beasts.

The Menagerie Takes Shape

Cross’s endeavors led him to establish a menagerie—an extravagant collection of wild animals from around the world. From lions and tigers to elephants and giraffes, his menagerie boasted an astonishing array of creatures that dazzled audiences with their beauty and ferocity.

The Circus Connection

Recognizing the potential for spectacle and entertainment, Cross partnered with circus impresarios to showcase his menagerie to the masses. Together, they transformed the presentation of wild animals into a mesmerizing spectacle, complete with daring feats and awe-inspiring performances.

Challenges and Triumphs

Cross’s journey as a wild beast merchant was not without its challenges. From logistical hurdles to the ethical considerations surrounding the captivity of wild animals, he faced myriad obstacles along the way. Yet, through sheer determination and ingenuity, he persevered, leaving an indelible legacy on the world of entertainment.

Legacy and Impact

Edward Cross’s legacy endures as a testament to the boundless human spirit and our insatiable curiosity about the natural world. Though the era of wild beast merchants may have passed, the allure of exotic animals and the spectacle of the circus continue to captivate audiences to this day.

Conclusion

In the colorful tapestry of history, figures like Edward Cross shine as beacons of curiosity, ambition, and adventure. His journey as a wild beast merchant stands as a testament to the power of passion and perseverance in the pursuit of one’s dreams. As we reflect on his remarkable story, we are reminded of the enduring magic of the natural world and the timeless allure of the circus.

Literature Review: The Social, Cultural, and Economic Impacts of Travelling Menageries on British Society during the 19th Century

I. Introduction

Travelling menageries were a prominent feature of British society during the 19th century, offering audiences the opportunity to encounter exotic animals from around the world. This literature review(without references) explores the multifaceted impacts of travelling menageries on British society, focusing on their social, cultural, and economic dimensions.

II. Historical Background of Travelling Menageries

Travelling menageries emerged in Britain during the late 18th century, capitalizing on public fascination with exotic wildlife and the growing interest in natural history. These exhibitions featured a diverse array of animals, ranging from elephants and lions to monkeys and birds, and were often accompanied by spectacle and entertainment. Menageries toured cities and towns across the country, drawing crowds eager to witness the wonders of the natural world.

III. Social Impacts of Travelling Menageries

Menagerie exhibitions provided a form of entertainment accessible to people of all social classes, offering a rare opportunity for individuals to interact with exotic animals. Working-class audiences, in particular, were drawn to menageries as a means of escape from the drudgery of daily life. However, debates surrounding animal welfare and ethical treatment also emerged, sparking discussions about humanity’s relationship with the natural world.

IV. Cultural Impacts of Travelling Menageries

Travelling menageries played a significant role in shaping British culture during the 19th century, influencing artistic expressions, literary works, and popular imagination. Artists and writers drew inspiration from menagerie exhibitions, incorporating exotic animals and scenes into their creations. Moreover, menageries contributed to the construction of narratives of exoticism and colonialism, reflecting broader cultural attitudes towards the “other” and the fascination with the unknown.

V. Economic Impacts of Travelling Menageries

As commercial enterprises, travelling menageries had a substantial economic impact on British society. Menagerie owners operated lucrative businesses, charging admission fees and selling souvenirs to patrons. The tours of menageries also provided economic opportunities for local communities, stimulating commerce and attracting visitors to towns and cities. However, the profitability of menageries was often precarious, with financial challenges leading to the eventual decline of the industry in the late 19th century.

VI. Methodological Approaches in Studying Travelling Menageries

Scholarly research on travelling menageries employs a variety of methodological approaches, including archival research, historical analysis, and cultural studies. Primary sources such as newspaper articles, diaries, and advertisements provide valuable insights into the experiences of audiences and the operations of menageries. However, researchers must navigate challenges such as biased representations and gaps in the historical record when studying this topic.

VII. Themes and Trends in the Literature

Existing scholarship on travelling menageries reveals several recurring themes and trends. Scholars have explored the intersections of entertainment, education, and exploitation in menagerie exhibitions, as well as the broader implications for understanding human-animal relationships. However, gaps in the literature persist, particularly regarding the perspectives of marginalized groups and the long-term legacies of menageries on British society.

VIII. Conclusion

Travelling menageries left a lasting imprint on 19th-century British society, influencing social interactions, cultural representations, and economic dynamics. Despite their eventual decline, menageries continue to fascinate scholars and enthusiasts alike, offering a window into a bygone era of exploration and spectacle. By examining the social, cultural, and economic impacts of travelling menageries, we gain valuable insights into the complexities of human-animal relations and the intersections of entertainment, commerce, and culture in the Victorian era.

Unraveling the Fascinating History of Exeter Exchange Tokens

Tucked away in the annals of numismatic history lies a captivating chapter centered around the Exeter Exchange tokens—a series of coin-like tokens that once circulated in the bustling streets of London during the late 18th and early 19th centuries. These tokens, minted for use at the Exeter Exchange, are not just pieces of metal; they represent a convergence of commerce, culture, and craftsmanship.

The Exeter Exchange:

Located in the heart of London’s West End, the Exeter Exchange was a prominent commercial and social hub during its heyday. Built in the early 17th century, it housed a menagerie, shops, and a coffeehouse, attracting visitors from all walks of life. The Exchange was not only a place of business but also a venue for entertainment and enlightenment—a microcosm of London’s vibrant spirit.

The Tokens’ Purpose:

Amidst the bustling activity of the Exeter Exchange, traditional currency often proved insufficient for transactions. To address this challenge, the proprietors of the Exchange issued their own tokens—small, circular pieces of metal bearing inscriptions and images that represented various denominations of currency. These tokens served as a convenient and reliable medium of exchange within the confines of the Exchange, facilitating commerce and fostering a sense of community among patrons.

Design and Symbolism:

What sets Exeter Exchange tokens apart is their intricate design and rich symbolism. Crafted by skilled artisans, these tokens feature a variety of motifs, including depictions of exotic animals from the menagerie, architectural elements of the Exchange building, and allegorical figures representing commerce and prosperity. Each token is a miniature work of art, reflecting the cultural and aesthetic sensibilities of its time.

Historical Significance:

Beyond their aesthetic appeal, Exeter Exchange tokens hold significant historical value. They provide valuable insights into the economic, social, and cultural dynamics of 18th and 19th-century London. Through their study, historians and numismatists can trace patterns of trade, explore the evolution of urban spaces, and uncover the everyday experiences of individuals living in the bustling metropolis.

Legacy and Collectibility:

Today, Exeter Exchange tokens are highly sought after by collectors and enthusiasts of numismatics. Their rarity, historical significance, and artistic merit make them prized additions to private collections and museum exhibits alike. Each token serves as a tangible link to a bygone era, inviting us to delve into the stories they hold and the worlds they represent.

Preserving the Past:

As we marvel at the beauty and complexity of Exeter Exchange tokens, we also recognize the importance of preserving them for future generations. These tokens are more than just relics; they are windows into our shared heritage, reminding us of the ingenuity, creativity, and resilience of those who came before us.

In conclusion, the story of Exeter Exchange tokens is a testament to the enduring legacy of London’s past. As we reflect on their significance, let us remember the vibrant history they represent and the invaluable lessons they impart about the intersection of commerce, culture, and community in the heart of the city.

Chagall’s Circus: A Kaleidoscope of Color and Movement

Marc Chagal, Le Grand Cirque, 1956, Oil on canvas, Private Collection

Marc Chagall, celebrated for his enchanting and dreamlike artworks, took an extraordinary leap into the vibrant world of the circus, creating a series of masterpieces that transcend the boundaries between reality and fantasy. Through his unique lens, Chagall captured the spirit, energy, and magic of the circus, creating a visual symphony that continues to captivate art enthusiasts worldwide.

The Circus as Inspiration

Chagall’s fascination with the circus was deeply rooted in his personal history. Born in Russia in 1887, he spent his early years surrounded by the lively performances of traveling circuses that visited his hometown. These childhood memories served as a wellspring of inspiration, fueling Chagall’s later artistic exploration of the circus theme.

Marc Chagal, The Horse Rider 1949-53 Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art

A Kaleidoscope of Color

Chagall’s circus paintings are characterized by a riot of colors that dance across the canvas. His unique use of bold, vivid hues creates a sense of whimsy and fantasy, transporting viewers into a realm where gravity seems optional, and reality takes on a dreamlike quality. The circus performers, animals, and acrobats become characters in a fantastical narrative.

The Blue Circus 1950 Marc Chagall 1887-1985 Presented by the artist 1953 http://www.tate.org.uk/art/work/N06136

Acrobats in Flight: Defying Gravity

One of the recurring motifs in Chagall’s circus series is the depiction of acrobats soaring through the air. These gravity-defying figures embody a sense of liberation and transcendence, reflecting Chagall’s belief in the power of art to elevate the human spirit. The fluidity of movement and the harmony between performers evoke a sense of joy and celebration.

Circus Animals: Symbolism and Whimsy

Chagall’s circus menagerie includes a cast of whimsical animals, from prancing horses to winged creatures. These animals are not mere spectators but active participants in the circus spectacle. Through his imaginative lens, Chagall imbues the animals with symbolic meaning, inviting viewers to interpret their roles within the intricate tapestry of the circus.

Love and Romance Under the Big Top

The circus, for Chagall, became a metaphor for love and romance. His paintings often feature amorous couples suspended in mid-air, locked in a tender embrace. These depictions go beyond the physical acts of the circus and delve into the emotional and poetic dimensions of human connection, echoing Chagall’s belief in the transformative power of love.

Chagall’s Unique Artistic Language

Chagall’s circus series showcases his distinctive artistic language, blending elements of Cubism, Fauvism, and Surrealism. His ability to merge diverse styles creates a visual vocabulary that is uniquely his own. The dreamy, fantastical quality of his circus paintings reflects not only the artist’s personal experiences but also his profound optimism and belief in the transcendent nature of art.

Enduring Legacy and Contemporary Impact

Decades after Chagall’s exploration of the circus theme, his works continue to resonate with contemporary audiences. The timeless allure of the circus, coupled with Chagall’s imaginative interpretations, ensures that these paintings remain a source of inspiration and wonder. Exhibitions featuring Chagall’s circus series draw crowds eager to experience the magic and emotion encapsulated within his canvases.

Marc Chagal, Circus Horse 1964

Conclusion: Chagall’s Circus – A Visual Feast

Marc Chagall’s circus series stands as a testament to the artist’s ability to transform ordinary subjects into extraordinary realms of imagination. Through a kaleidoscope of color, movement, and symbolism, Chagall invites viewers to step into a world where the boundaries between reality and fantasy dissolve. The circus, in Chagall’s hands, becomes a visual feast that transcends time, offering a perpetual celebration of the human spirit and the boundless possibilities of artistic expression.

Frank Bostock’s Menagerie: Roaming Marvels and Exotic Wonders

In the colorful tapestry of entertainment history, Frank Bostock’s menagerie stands out as a fascinating chapter that brought the exotic wonders of the animal kingdom to the doorsteps of audiences. Born in 1866, Frank Bostock was a showman and menagerist who created a traveling spectacle that captivated the imaginations of people across continents.

Bostock’s journey into the world of menageries began at a young age. His fascination with animals and a keen sense of showmanship led him to establish his own menagerie, showcasing a diverse collection of creatures from every corner of the globe. Bostock’s vision was not just about displaying exotic animals but creating an immersive experience that transported spectators to far-off lands.

The Travelling Menagerie: A Moving Marvel

What set Bostock apart was his mobile menagerie – a traveling caravan of wonders that brought the allure of the wild to both urban centers and rural areas. From lions and tigers to elephants and exotic birds, the menagerie featured a breathtaking array of creatures. This traveling spectacle became a cultural phenomenon, providing a taste of the exotic to audiences who might never have the chance to see such animals otherwise.

Educational and Entertaining: A Dual Purpose

Bostock’s menagerie wasn’t merely about entertainment; it also served an educational purpose. His shows often included informative talks about the habits, habitats, and characteristics of the animals on display. Bostock sought to cultivate a sense of wonder and respect for the natural world, fostering a connection between people and the creatures that shared the planet.

Royal Connections and International Success

Bostock’s menagerie gained royal approval when he presented his traveling show to King Edward VII, further solidifying its prestige. Beyond the shores of England, Bostock expanded his menagerie empire internationally. The success of his shows in the United States and Australia attested to the universal appeal of his carefully curated exhibits.

Challenges and Controversies

Running a traveling menagerie posed numerous challenges. Animal welfare concerns were raised, and Bostock faced criticism for the conditions in which the animals were kept. However, it’s important to contextualize these issues within the historical understanding of animal care during the time. Bostock, in his era, was at the forefront of popularizing and showcasing wildlife.

Legacy and Influence

Frank Bostock’s menagerie left an indelible mark on the history of entertainment. His innovative approach to combining education with spectacle laid the groundwork for future zoos and wildlife exhibitions. The legacy of Bostock’s menagerie endures in the collective memory of those who experienced the thrill of encountering exotic animals in the midst of their everyday lives.

Conclusion: A Wild Ride Through Time

In the grand tapestry of showmanship, Frank Bostock’s menagerie remains a vivid thread that weaves together the realms of entertainment, education, and wildlife appreciation. Bostock’s traveling spectacle brought the wild to the urban and rural landscapes, leaving an imprint on the cultural fabric of the times. While the methods and ethical standards of animal exhibitions have evolved, Bostock’s menagerie remains a fascinating chapter in the history of human fascination with the wonders of the animal kingdom.

Dwarfism as depicted in European art from the 17th century to the early 20th centuries in Europe

As a subject area, dwarfs were referred to as Midgets whenever they appeaed in newspapers advertising etc. The term “midgets” is considered outdated and offensive today. It’s more appropriate to use terms like “dwarf” or “little people.” That being said, historically, individuals with dwarfism were sometimes employed as court jesters or entertainers in various European royal courts. These individuals were often part of performances and events that amused the royal families and their guests. Later, particularly during the 19th and 20th centuries, participants were referred often as Midgets, as the above photographs show.

In art, the representation of individuals with dwarfism has been both historical and symbolic. Portraits and paintings from different periods may depict court jesters or dwarfs as a reflection of societal attitudes and norms at the time. These depictions could serve various purposes, such as entertainment, curiosity, or emphasizing social hierarchies.

The above card shows the Royal Hungarian Midgets circa 1910. A fairly obscure musical entertainment act headed by ‘Prince Andru’, alledgedly the world’s smallest man, traveling with a small group of dwarfs. Prince Andru apparently stood twenty-seven inches tall, weighed thirty-two pounds and was in his early twenties. The dwarfs perform in a beautiful well- lighted, airy miniature canopy erected on a stage, presenting a high-class program of vaudeville acts with musical numbers.

Whether this group of musicians were forced to do this to survive is not known, but it is possible in late Victorian England they would be seen as a speciality or novelty act. The Times newspaper in December 1913 recorded a dispute that was taken to law at Bow Streeet Court:

Although they had not been singled out for loss of earnings, it must have been disheartening to be considered not worthy of a full day’s pay!

There is a long history of the depiction of dwarfs in Court paintings, especially in Spain. Diego Velázquez, the prominent court painter to the King Philip IV during the 17th century.

Velázquez depicted a court dwarf in the service of King Philip IV of Spain. The title of the painting is commonly referred to as “Portrait of Sebastián de Morra,” although the actual identity of the sitter has been a subject of debate among art historians.

The painting is thought to have been created around 1645 during Velázquez’s second trip to Italy, where he was exposed to various artistic influences. Sebastián de Morra, the subject of the portrait, was a member of the court entourage and was likely employed for the amusement of the royal court. In the painting, Velázquez presents a sensitive and sympathetic portrayal of the dwarf.

One notable aspect of Velázquez’s treatment of the subject is the dignified and humanizing way in which he depicts Sebastián de Morra. Instead of relying on the typical conventions of the time that often sensationalized or exoticized dwarfs, Velázquez presents his subject with a sense of humanity, capturing his individuality and character.

The dwarf is portrayed in a relatively simple setting, emphasizing the direct gaze and engaging expression of Sebastián de Morra. Velázquez pays careful attention to details, such as the rendering of fabrics and textures in the clothing, showcasing his mastery of technique.

The portrait is characterized by its psychological depth and the artist’s ability to convey the humanity of the sitter. Velázquez was a master of capturing the personality and essence of his subjects, regardless of their social status or physical appearance.

“Portrait of Sebastián de Morra” is part of Velázquez’s larger body of work, which includes numerous portraits of the Spanish royal family and court members. It stands as a testament to Velázquez’s skill in portraiture and his ability to transcend the conventions of his time to create empathetic and humane representations of diverse individuals.

Harold Pyott, ‘The English Midget’ was another 19th century performer. According to the HeywoodHistory.com:

‘He was born in Stockport in September 1887 to Isaac and Harriet Pyott, who were both of average height, as were his two sisters. His parents died when he was 12 and he was placed under the care of his uncle, who took him to the local doctor for examination. Harold was found to be ‘normal’ in every way except size and weight. It was reported that he was visited by some of the most eminent doctors in Europe, who declared that he had a ‘strong and healthy constitution, but was certainly the smallest human being they had ever seen’.

Harold then lived at the Edinburgh home of his cousin William Beeley, who became his manager. William is listed in various records as working for the Post Office in both Edinburgh and Stockport. The exhibiting of short-statured people and midgets had been popularised by P.T. Barnum with the famous Tom Thumb (Charles Stratton). Barnum’s novelty act arrived in England in 1844 and Stratton became one the most highly paid and famous performers of the Victorian era. Many similar acts followed, including ‘Major Mite’, ‘Anita the Living Doll’ and of course Harold Pyott, who was billed as the ‘world’s smallest man’ and variously known as ‘Tiny Tim’, the ‘The English Midget’, the ‘English Tom Thumb’, or the ‘Living Doll’.

Harold travelled to various pantomimes and circus sideshows around Britain, Europe and South Africa for 35 years, and he performed before royalty on several occasions. Part of his act involved being carried around on the palm of a man’s hand and sitting in a top hat.’

Wild Beasts on the London Stage

During the 18th and 19th centuries, the use of wild animals in London theatres was a common and sensational practice. The use of animals, often exotic and dangerous, added an element of spectacle and excitement to theatrical performances. These displays were known as “animal acts” and were popular attractions in a variety of entertainment venues, including theatres, circuses, and menageries.

Wild animal acts in London theatres were diverse and ranged from dramatic reenactments of exotic scenes to more dangerous displays featuring trained animals. These performances could include scenes depicting jungle hunts, battles between humans and animals, or simply showcasing the exotic nature of the creatures. These acts were often included as part of larger theatrical productions or as stand-alone attractions between acts.

The animals used in these acts were sourced from around the world, and their presence in the city was a testament to the colonial and imperial interests of the time. However, the conditions in which these animals were kept and the treatment they received were often inhumane. Many animals suffered due to inadequate care, confinement, and the stress of performing in unnatural environments.

As public attitudes towards animal welfare began to shift during the late 19th century, concerns about the treatment of animals in entertainment grew. Activists advocated for better conditions and raised awareness about the ethical concerns associated with using wild animals in performances. Eventually, legal regulations and changing societal values led to the decline of such practices in theatres.

Overall, the use of wild animals in London theatres during the 18th and 19th centuries reflects a complex blend of curiosity, entertainment, and exploitation. It’s a historical reminder of how attitudes towards animals and entertainment have evolved over time.

Isaacs A Van Amburgh, the Aminal Trainer

Isaac A. Van Amburgh was a 19th-century American entertainer known for his performances with wild animals, particularly lions and tigers. He gained fame for his daring and often controversial acts in which he interacted closely with these dangerous animals in front of live audiences.

Isaac van Amburgh and his Animals Inscribed 1839

Oil on canvas | 113.7 x 174.8 cm (support, canvas/panel/stretcher external) | RCIN 406346, Royal Collection

Van Amburgh’s performances were a precursor to the modern concept of animal training and the use of exotic animals in entertainment. He would enter cages with ferocious animals, often using a combination of fear, dominance, and conditioning to control them during his acts. His feats included putting his head inside a lion’s mouth, commanding multiple lions and tigers at once, and engaging in mock battles with them.

While he was praised for his audacity and showmanship, there was also criticism and concern about the treatment of the animals in his care. Many animal rights advocates and observers questioned the ethics of subjecting these creatures to potentially harmful and stressful situations for the sake of entertainment.

Van Amburgh’s popularity waned in the latter half of the 19th century as public sentiment shifted towards more humane treatment of animals. His performances are remembered as a reflection of the attitudes and entertainment preferences of his time, as well as a catalyst for discussions about the treatment of animals in captivity.