Frost’s Circus Life and Circus Celebrities
Thomas Frost, Circus Life and Circus Celebrities, London: Chatto and Windus, 1881.
Lions and Lion-tamers - Lorenzo and the Lions - Androcles and the Lion - The Successor of Macomo - Accident in Bell and Myers's Circus - Lion Hunting - Death of Macarthy - True Causes of Accidents with Lions and Tigers - Performing Leopards - Anticipating the Millennium - Tame Hyenas - Fairgrieve's Menagerie - Performing Lions, Tigers, Leopards, and Hyenas - Camels and Dromedaries - The Great Elephant.
SINCE the death of the negro, Macomo, the most successful performer with lions and other large members of the feline genus has been Lorenzo, who travelled with Fairgrieve's menagerie for several years preceding its dispersion in the summer of 1872. On the death of George Wombwell, in 1850, his collection, which had grown to an almost unmanageable extent during nearly half a century, was divided, according to his testamentary directions, into three parts. With one of these his widow continued to travel until 1866, when she retired from the business, and the menagerie was transferred to Fairgrieve, who had married her niece. Another third was bequeathed to Wombwell's niece, Mrs Edmonds, who travelled with it until the close of 1872, when it was announced for sale. Who had the remaining third I am unable to say; it was travelling for several years in the original name, as the menageries of Fairgrieve and Edmonds did long after Wombwell's decease, and is now owned by Mrs Day.
Fairgrieve's group of performing animals consisted of several lions and lionesses, a tigress, two or three leopards, and a hyena. Tigers are not, as a rule, liked so well by lion-tamers as lions; but Fairgrieve's tigress exhibited as much docility and intelligence as her performing companions. There was a famous lion, named Wallace, with which Lorenzo represented the story of Androcles, the slave, who, flying from the cruel tyranny of his Roman master, met in the forest in which he sought refuge a lion that had been lamed by a thorn. Observing the suffering of the beast, which made no hostile demonstrations, he ventured to approach it, and was allowed to extract the thorn from the elastic pad of its foot, the lion testifying its gratitude for the relief by rubbing its head against him. Some time afterwards, the fugitive was captured, and was doomed by his master to be exposed in the arena of the amphitheatre to a recently trapped lion. But, to the amazement of the spectators, the lion, instead of falling upon Androcles, and tearing him to pieces, seemed to recognize him, and, after rubbing its head against him, lay down at his feet. It was the lion front whose foot Androcles had extracted the thorn in the forest. The slave told the story and received his pardon and his liberty on the spot.
The successor of Macomo was an Irishman named Macarthy, who had previously travelled, in the same capacity, with Bell and Myers's circus; and in 1862, while performing with the lions belonging to that establishment, had his left arm so severely mangled by one of the beasts that he had to undergo amputation. This circumstance seems to have added to the eclat of the unfortunate man's performances, but he had neither the nerve of Crockett and Macomo, nor their resolution to abstain from stimulants. Whether from carelessness or nervousness, he often turned his back upon the animals, though he had been repeatedly cautioned that it was dangerous to do so; and to this circumstance, and his intemperate habits, the lion-taming fraternity attribute his terrible end.
It is to be observed that Macarthy lost his life, not in the course of the ordinary performances of lion-tamers, but while giving a sensational exhibition termed ‘lion-hunting,' which had been introduced by Macomo, and consists in chasing the animals about the cage, the performer being armed with a sword and pistols, and throwing into the mimic sport as much semblance of reality as may be possible. It will be obvious that this is a dangerous exhibition, and it should never be attempted with any but young animals. For ordinary performances, most lion-tamers prefer full-grown animals, as being better trained; but when lions become full-grown, they are not disposed to be driven and hustled about in this manner, and they are so excited by it that it cannot be repeatedly performed with the same animals.
Macarthy had been bitten on three occasions previously to the catastrophe at Bolton. The first time was in 1862, when he lost his left arm, as already related; the second while performing at Edinburgh in 1871, when one of the lions made a snap at his arm, but only slightly grazed it. The third occasion was only a few days before the accident which terminated his career and his life, when one of the lions bit him slightly on the wrist. The fatal struggle at Bolton was preceded by a trifling accident, which may perhaps have done something to lessen the never remarkable steadiness of the man's nerves. In driving the animals from one end of the cage to the other, one of them ran against his legs, and threw him down. He regained his feet however, and drove the animals into a corner. He then walked to the centre of the cage, and was stamping his feet upon the floor, to make the beasts run past him, when one of the lions crept stealthily out from the group and sprang upon him, seizing him by the right hip, and throwing him upon his side. For a moment the spectators imagined that this attack was part of the performance; but the agonized features of Macarthy soon convinced them of their mistake A scene of wild and terrible confusion ensued. Three other lions sprang upon Macarthy, who was vainly endeavouring to regain his feet, and making desperate lunges amongst the excited animals with his sword. Presently one of the lions seized his arm, and the sword dropped from his hand. Several men were by this time endeavouring to beat the animals off, and to slide a partition between the bars of the cage, with the view of driving them behind it. This was a task of considerable difficulty, however, for as soon as one lion was compelled to relinquish his hold, another took his place. Fire-arms and heated bars of iron were then procured, and, by applying the irons to the paws and jaws of the lions, and firing upon them with blank cartridges, four of them were driven behind the partition.
Macarthy was then lying in the centre of the cage, with the lion which had first attacked him still biting and tearing him. Discharges of blank cartridge being found ineffectual to make it loose its hold of the unfortunate man, the heated iron was applied to his nose, and then it released him, and ran behind the partition, which had been drawn out a little to admit him. Even then the terrible scene was not concluded. Before the opening could be closed again, the lion which had been foremost in the onslaught ran out again, seized Macarthy by the foot, and dragged him into the corner, where all the lions again fell upon him with redoubled fury. A quarter of an hour elapsed from the commencement of the attack before he could be rescued; and, as the lions were then all caged at the end where the entrance was, the opposite end of the cage had to be opened before his mangled body could be lifted out.
This lamentable affair caused an outcry to be raised against the exhibition of performing lions such as had been heard a few years previously against such feats as those of Blondin and Leotard. ‘The display of wild animals in a menagerie,' said a London morning journalist, 'maybe tolerated, and even encouraged for the sake of science, and for the rational amusement of the public; but there is no analogy between the case of beasts secured in strong dens, and approached only with the greatest caution by wary and experienced keepers, and that of a caravan open on all sides, illuminated by flaring gas, and surrounded by a noisy audience.' The distinction is one without a difference, even if we suppose that the writer mentally restricted the term 'menagerie' to the Zoological Gardens; for the proprietor of a travelling menagerie, or a circus, consults his own interests, as well as the safety of the public, in providing strong cages, and engaging wary and experienced keepers. It is childish to talk of prohibiting every performance or exhibition from which an accident has resulted. Some years ago, one of the keepers of the Zoological Gardens in the Regent's Park, being somewhat intoxicated, chose to irritate a hooded snake, which thereupon seized him by the nose. He died within an hour. Would the journalist who proposed to exclude lion-tamers from menageries and circuses close the Zoological Gardens on that account?
'The caravans,' continues the author of the article just quoted, 'are tenanted by wild beasts weary with previous performances, irritated by the heat and the clamour around them, and teased by being obliged to perform tricks at the bidding of a man whom they hate, since his mandates are generally seconded by the blows of a whip or the searing of a branding-iron. Now and again, in a well-ordered zoological collection, some lazy, drowsy old lion, who passes the major part of his time in a corner of his den, blinking at the sunshine, and who is cloyed with abundant meals, and surfeited with cakes and sweetmeats, may exhibit passable good-nature, and allow his keeper to take liberties; but such placability can rarely be expected from animals moved continually from place to place, and ceaselessly pestered into going through movements which they detest. Lions or tigers may have the cunning of that feline race to which they pertain; yet they are assuredly destitute of the docility, the intelligence, or the fidelity of the dog or the horse; and such cunning as they possess will prompt them rather to elude performance of the tasks assigned them, or to fall upon their instructor unawares and rend him, than to go through their feats with the cheerful obedience manifested by creatures friendly to man. It is no secret that the customary method of taming wild beasts for purposes of exhibition is, to thrash them with gutta percha whips and iron bars, and when it is considered necessary, to scarify them with red-hot pokers.'
I quote this for the sake of refuting it by the evidence of one who, unlike the journalist, understood what he was writing about. The ex-lion king, whose experiences and reminiscences were recorded about the same time in another journal, and who must be admitted to be a competent authority, says, 'Violence is a mistake;' and he adds, that he has never known heated irons to be held in readiness, except when lions and lionesses are together at times such as led to the terrific struggle in Sanger's circus, which has been related in the seventh chapter. The true causes of accidents with lions and tigers are intemperance and violence. 'It's the drink,' says the ex-lion king, 'that plays the mischief with us fellows. There are plenty of people always ready to treat the daring fellow that plays with the lions as if they were kittens; and so he gets reckless, lets the dangerous animal - on which, if he were sober, he would know he must always keep his eye - get dodging round behind him; he hits a beast in which he ought to know that a blow rouses the sleeping devil; or makes a stagger and goes down, and then they set upon him.' He expected, he says, to hear of Macarthy's death from the time when he heard that he had given way to intemperance; and we have seen how a hasty cut with a whip brought the tiger upon Helen Blight.
To this evidence of the ex-lion king I may add what I witnessed about thirty years ago in one of the smaller class of travelling menageries, exhibiting at the time at Mitcham fair. There were no lions or tigers, but four performing leopards, a hyena, a wolf which anticipated the Millennium by lying down with a lamb, and several smaller animals. The showman entered the leopards' cage, with a light whip in one hand, and a hoop in the other. The animals leaped over the whip, through the hoop, and over the man's back, exhibiting as much docility throughout the performance as cats or dogs. The whip was used merely as part of the properties. Indeed, since cats can be taught to leap in the same way, without the use of whips or iron bars, why not leopards, which are merely a larger species of the same genus? The showman also entered the cage of the hyena, which fawned upon him after the manner of a dog, and allowed him to open its mouth. The hyena has the reputation of being untameable; but, in addition to this instance to the contrary, and another in Fairgrieve's menagerie, Bishop Heber had a hyena at Calcutta, which followed him about like a dog.
When Fairgrieve's collection was sold by auction at Edinburgh in 1872, the lions and tigers excited much attention, and good prices were realized, though in some instances they were not so great as had been expected. Rice, a dealer in animals, whose repository, like Jamrach's, is in Ratcliff Highway, bought, for L185, the famous lion, Wallace, aged seven years and a half, with which Lorenzo used to represent the story of Androcles. The auctioneer assured those present that the animal was as tame as a lamb, and that he was inclined to enter the cage himself, and perform Androcles 'for that time only,' but was afraid of the lion's gratitude. There were six other lions and three lionesses, five of which were also bought by Rice, at prices varying, according to the age and sex of the animals, from L80 for a full grown lioness, and L90 each for lions a year and a half old, to L140 for full-grown lions, from three to seven years old. A six-year old lion named Hannibal, said to be the largest and handsomest lion in this country, was bought by the proprietors of the Zoological Gardens at Bristol for L270; and his mate, four years old, was bought by Jennison, of the Belle Vue Gardens, Manchester, for 100 guineas. The third lioness realized L80, and the remaining lion, bought by Jamrach, L200.
The magnificent tigress, Tippoo, which used to perform with Lorenzo, was also purchased by Jamrach for L155; and the same enterprising dealer became the possessor of three of the four leopards for L60. As these leopards, two of which were females, were trained performing animals, the sum they realized must be considered extremely low. Another leopardess, advanced in years, realized only 6 guineas. Ferguson, the agent of Van Amburgh, the great American menagerist, secured the spotted hyena for L15; while a performing hyena of the striped variety was knocked down at only three guineas. A polar bear, ‘young, healthy, and lively as a trout.’ as the auctioneer said, was sold for L40, a Thibetian bear for 5 guineas, and a pair of wolves for 2 guineas.
Rice, who was the largest purchaser, became the possessor of the zebra for L50. The Bactrian camels, bought principally for travelling menageries, brought from L14 to L30. The largest male camel, twelve years old, was sold for L19; and another, six months younger, but a foot less in stature, for L14. Of the three females, one, six feet and a half high, and ten years old, brought L30; and another, of the same height, and only half the age of the former, L23. The third, only a year and a half old, and not yet full grown, brought L14. All three were in young. A baby camel, nine weeks old, realized 9 guineas. The male 'dromedary,' as it was described in the catalogue, but called by naturalists the Syrian camel, was sold for L30, and the female for 20 guineas. Menagerists restrict the term 'camel' to the Bactrian or two-bumped variety, and call the one-humped animals dromedaries; but the dromedary, according to naturalists, is a small variety of the Syrian camel, bearing the same relation to the latter as a pony does to a horse. The animals described as dromedaries in the catalogue of Fairgrieve's collection were, on the contrary, taller than the Bactrian camels.
There was a spirited competition for the two elephants, ending in the female, a musical phenomenon, playing the organ and the harmonium, being bought by Rice for L145; and the noble full-tusked male, rising eight years old, and seven feet six inches in height, being purchased by Jennison for L680. This enormous beast was described as the largest and cleverest performing elephant ever exhibited. In point of fact, he is surpassed in stature, I believe, by the Czar's elephant, kept at his country residence at Tzarski-Seloe; but that beast's performances have never gone beyond occasionally killing his keeper, whilst the elephant now in the Belle Vue Gardens, at Manchester, is one of the most docile and intelligent beasts ever exhibited. He will go in harness, and was accustomed to draw the band carriage when a parade was made. He will either drag or push a waggon up a hill, and during the last eighteen months that the menagerie was travelling, he placed all the vans in position, with the assistance only of a couple of men to guide the wheels.
The entire proceeds of the sale were a little under L3,000. The daily cost of the food of the animals in a menagerie is, I may add, far from a trifle. The quantity of hay, cabbages, bread, and boiled rice, sweetened with sugar, which an elephant will consume, in addition to the fruit, buns, and biscuits given to him by visitors, is enormous. The amount of animal food for the carnivora in Fairgrieve's menagerie was about four hundred-weight a day, consisting chiefly of the shins, hearts, and heads of bullocks. Each lion is said to have consumed twelve pounds of meat every day; but this is more, I believe, than is allowed in the Gardens of the Zoological Society. The appetite of the tiger is almost equal to that of his leonine relative; and all these beasts seem to insist upon having beef for dinner. We hear nothing of hippophagy among lions and tigers in a state of confinement; though, in their native jungles, they eat horse, pig, deer, antelope, sheep, or goat indiscriminately. The bears get meat only in very cold weather; at other seasons, their diet consists of bread, sopped biscuits, and boiled rice.
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