TIGERS LOOSE IN LONDON!
During the 1800s, wild animal dealers operated from warehouses in British cities, usually not far from the docks where the animals were unloaded. The larger, more dangerous animals were destined for menageries, some of which were set up in quite unsuitable buildings in towns and others of which travelled from place to place, often as part of a circus. Inevitably animals escaped - some were quickly recaptured, some were shot and killed and a few vanished forever. One of the more interesting accounts, which has mutated over the decades, is that of Jamrach’s tiger, but it was not the first tiger to escape into the London streets.
BENGAL TIGER ESCAPED FROM WOMBWELL'S MENAGERIE.The Spectator, 12th January 1839
A large Bengal tiger escaped on Sunday evening from Wombwell's menagerie at Limehouse. He found his way into the Commercial Road, where he was seen walking leisurely along ; and continued his course quietly enough till he met a large mastiff dog ; which he instantly attacked, striking the dog on the hack with his paw, crushing it with a single blow, and seizing it with his teeth threw it into the air. The dog fell lifeless on the ground ; and the tiger continued to amuse himself with the carcass for some time, running up and down the road with it until he reached a house near the bridge. The gate of the garden having been left open, he entered with his prey and lay down to devour it. A policeman advanced towards the spot and closed the gate : a stout rope was procured, and a slip noose having been made, it was thrown across the animal ; which made a spring towards the railing, about six feet in height, separating the garden from the footpath : this favoured the fastening a the noose, and the tiger remained with his head towards the ground and loins on the rails for sonic time, roaring tremendously and alarming the whole neighbourhood. 'The mob, which had kept at a respectful distance while the tiger was at liberty, now advanced; but the beast struggled violently, and made use of its fore-paws : an Irish coal-whipper, who got too near, had his cheek torn open, and his belly severely lacerated. The keepers from the menagerie at length arrived, with ropes, which they fastened round the tiger's neck, and took him back to his cage. One of the keepers was wounded in the hand.
ESCAPE OF A TIGER. The Sydney Monitor and Commercial Advertiser (N.S.W.), 13th May, 1839
On Sunday evening great alarm was experienced in the Commercial-road, Ratcliff, by the escape of a large Bengal tiger from Wombwell's menagerie, at Limehouse, near the Regent's canal Dock-bridge. It appeared that the animal broke loose from its den about half-past seven o'clock, and found its way into the Commercial-road, where it was first seen leisurely walking along by Mr. Thomas, a boot and shoe-maker in Ratcliff highway. He first observed the animal near the White Horse-gate, and, supposing it to be a bear, called out to a female who was near him, "Stand back, here is a bear coming!" The young woman immediately threw off her patterns, and ran away down an adjoining street leading towards Shadwell, and was not seen again.
Directly afterwards the tiger passed Mr. Thomas, who had sought refuge in a door-way. After the tiger had passed him, Mr. Thomas lost no time in communicating the circumstance to all the policemen in the vicinity, who proceeded in various directions, and warned the passengers of the contiguity of the dangerous beast. The tiger in the meantime continued his course along the Commercial-road, the people flying in great terror on his approach, until he met a large mastiff dog, which he instantly attacked, striking the dog on the back with his paw and crushing him with a single blow, and seizing the poor animal with his teeth threw him into the air. The dog fell lifeless on the ground, and the tiger then continued to amuse himself with the carcase for some time, running up and down the road with it until he reached a house near the bridge. The gate of the garden having been left open, he entered with his prey and laid down to devour it. The only per son at home was a servant girl, the family being absent at church. Hearing a noise in the garden she took a light, and went to the door to ascertain the cause. On opening the door several policemen called out to her to close it directly, and keep within the house; and it was fortunate she did so, for at that moment the tiger, attracted by, the light, was about to spring upon her.
The tiger remained in the garden for some time, busily engaged in devouring the dog, until a policeman, more bold than the rest, advanced towards the spot, and closed the gate upon it. A stout rope was immediately procured, and a slip noose having been made, it was thrown across the animal, which made a sudden spring towards the railing, about six feet in height, separating the garden from the foot path. In doing so, the noose fastened itself round it, and the tiger remained with its head towards the ground, and loins on the rails for some time, roaring tremendously and alarming the whole neighbourhood.
The mob, which had kept at a respectful distance while the animal was at liberty, now advanced; but although the beast was under some restraint, it struggled violently, and made use of its fore paws. One man, an Irish coal whipper, who got too near, had his cheek torn open and his belly severely lacerated. So great was the curiosity of the populace, that the police had great difficulty in keeping them beyond the reach of danger and some fool hardy, half-drunken ballast-getters and coal whippers were, with some difficulty, restrained from making an attack upon the tiger.
The keepers of Wombwell's menagerie were soon apprised by the police, and brought ropes, which they fastened round the tiger's neck, and after a good deal of resistance led him back to his den. One of the keepers was severely injured while securing the animal, which tore his hand, and put him in great pain. It was some time before the neighbourhood recovered from the alarm which this event occasioned. It appears that the door of the tiger's den had been incautiously left open, and it broke a chain by which it was secured to the side of the cage or caravan, and got out.
A more famous case, and one that is immortalised by a statue in London’s Docklands, is that of Jamrach’s tiger (actually a tigress) which escaped while it was being unloaded from a ship.
EXTRAORDINARY ESCAPE OF A TIGER IN RATCLIFF-HIGHWA Y. FRIGHTFUL ATTACK OF THE ANIMAL ON A BOY. London Evening Standard, 27th October 1857
Yesterday, between twelve and one o'clock at noon, the inhabitants of St. George's-in-the-East (alias Ratcliff-highway), were suddenly thrown into a state of the utmost alarm in consequence of the escape of a large tiger from the warehouse of Mr. Jamrach, the extensive importer of wild beasts etc, of No. 180, Ratcliff-highway, whereby a boy, named John Wade, aged five years, was very seriously injured, and other parties' lives were placed in great jeopardy.
It appears that yesterday morning Mr. Jamrach received several boxes, containing two tigers, a lion, and other animals, from the steam ship Germany, lying off Hambro' "Wharf near the Custom House, Lower Thames-street, City. The packages were safely placed in a van, and conveyed to the warehouse in Betts-street, St. George's-in- the-East, followed by a crowd of men, women, and children, where a number of labourers adopted means to unload the vehicle. They had removed several boxes into the premises in safety, and had just lowered a large iron-bound cage on to the pavement in front of the gateway when Police-constable Stewart, 427 A, requested the persons standing round to keep back in case of an accident. The next moment the occupant (a fine full-sized tiger) became restless, and forced out one end of the cage, when the spectators rushed in every direction from the spot in a state of extreme terror. The tiger appeared to be in a state of madness, and ran along the pavement in the direction of Ratcliff-highway, where it seized the little boy, John Wade, by the upper part of the right arm. The enraged animal was followed by Mr. Jamrach and his men several yards, when the former obtained possession of a crowbar and struck the tiger upon the head and nose, which caused it to relinquish its hold. In the meanwhile ropes were procured, and the savage beast was secured and dragged into the premises, where it was firmly fastened up by the keepers.
The poor boy was raised up by Stewart, the police- officer, in a state of great suffering, with two severe lacerated wounds on the arm and right side of the face, and it was quite a miracle he was not torn to pieces. The teeth of the animal passed completely through the right arm. A cab was procured, in which the wounded boy was conveyed to the London Hospital, where Mr. Forbes, the house surgeon, rendered every assistance. The boy was in a very low state from loss of blood from the wounds, and last evening, at seven o'clock, he was in a very precarious condition, both from the injuries and shock to the system through fright. At the time of the escape of the animal the tradespeople in the neighbourhood closed their shops, and remained in a state of fear and anxiety for nearly half an hour- afterwards. It seems that Mr. Jamrach is an extensive importer and exporter of all kinds of wild beasts and foreign birds, which he forwards to all parts of the world for menageries and private collections.
The Kentish Independent, 31st October 1857 appends the following to the tale: The tiger was a very large animal, and was worth about £250, and had been purchased by Mr. Jamrach for one of the Zoological Gardens. There are serious complaints to the insecure state of the cage from which the tiger escaped, but Mr. Jamrach, who is an experienced man, considered that it was strong enough for the conveyance of such animal. It seems that the tiger became wild from some cause and forced out the side of the cage with his fore feet. It is a matter of surprise that the savage beast was so soon captured by Mr. Jamrach and his men The former acted m a most daring and determined manner by seizing the tiger by the head, while the others secured the animal with ropes, after relinquishing its hold of the boy It was then dragged into the warehouse yard, and placed in a den well secured. The nose of the animal is much bruised and broken by the blows inflicted on it by Mr. Jamrach with the crow-bar.
According to the Westmorland Gazette, 7th November 1857: Upon making inquiry the London Hospital, it was ascertained that the boy, named John Wade, who was so seriously injured in the arm by the tiger which escaped from the custody of Mr. Jamrach, in Ratcliff Highway, was going on favourably, and no doubt he will recover if inflammation or gangrene does not supervene. It appears that another boy was also injured by the animal, but his injuries are not so severe.
The Evening Mail, 30th October 1857 mentioned John Wade as one casualty, but stated: It appears that another boy was also injured by the animal, and he is present under the care of Dr. English, of Upper East Smithfield, but his injuries are not so severe.
There was a sequel to this event, which brings us back to Wombwell’s travelling menagerie.
EXTRAORDINARY FIGHT. Isle of Wight Observer, 14th November 1857
Our readers doubtless noticed, a few days back, an account of a tiger which escaped from a cattle truck in Ratcliff-highway, London, and which, after running along the centre of the road for some distance, was caught by his keepers while in the act of tearing a lad who unfortunately crossed the animal's path. The tiger was the property of Mr. Jamrach, and he sold it a day or two afterwards to Mr. Edmonds, the successor of Wombwell, for his well-known travelling menagerie, which it joined on Monday at West Bromwich. It was placed in one of the ordinary carriages, of two compartments, the adjoining den being occupied by a very fine lion, six or seven years old, for which Mr. Edmonds gave £300 three years ago. The attendants had all left the menagerie to go to breakfast, when suddenly those in the carriage which the proprietors occupy were alarmed by unusual outcry among the beasts. They soon discovered the cause. The newly-bought tiger had burglariously broken through the "slide" or partition dividing his den from that of the lion, and had the latter in his terrible grasp. The combat which ensued was terrific one. The lion acted chiefly on the defensive, and having probably been considerably tamed by his three years' confinement the tiger had the advantage. His attacks were of the most ferocious kind. The lion's inane saved his head and neck from being much injured, but the savage assailant at last succeeded in ripping up his belly, and then the poor animal was at the tiger's mercy. The lion was dead in a few minutes. The scene was a fearful one. The inmates of every den seemed to be excited by the conflict, and their roaring and howling might have been heard a quarter of a mile distant. Of course Mr. Edmonds and his men could not interfere while the conflict lasted, but when the tiger's fury had parted subsided they managed to remove the carcase. He must have used his paws as a sort of battering ram against the partition, as it was pushed in rather than torn down. He cost Mr Edmonds £400.
Having done battle with the tiger, Jamrach then had to do battle in court. It is interesting that many reports downplay the boy’s injuries, and a few reports suggest the child was uninjured.
THE TIGER AND THE BOY. COURT OF QUEEN'S BENCH. Bath Chronicle and Weekly Gazette, 11th February 1858
Feb 5th. Wade y. Jamrach. - This action was brought to recover compensation in damages for injuries sustained by the son of the plaintiff, a lad ten years old, through the alleged negligence of the defendant's servants. Mr. Sergeant Thomas was for the plaintiff, and Mr. E. James for the defendant. The occurrence, out of which the action arose, took place on the 26th of October, Radcliff Highway. The defendant (Mr. Jamrach) kept a menagerie in the neighbourhood, and on the day in question he was having conveyed out of a waggon into his premises several cages containing wild animals which had recently arrived from abroad. One of these contained Bengal tiger, and while it was being pushed along the pavement one of the boards got loose, and the animal escaped, seized the boy with his mouth, and carried him across the road. A keeper struck the tiger on the head twice with crowbar, and succeeded in knocking him down, and when he was on the ground Mr. Jamrach, who was a powerful man, jumped upon the beast and seized him by the throat. The boy was then released, and taken in a bleeding state to the hospital, where he remained a considerable time. It appeared from the evidence that formerly the lad was strong and hearty, but that since the accident his health had declined, and he was subject to nervous fears of a serious character. The defendant had paid £10 into Court, which he thought was an ample compensation to the boy. According to the evidence adduced for the plaintiff, the boy was afraid to go about the house at night without a light, and that while in his sleep he was in the habit of calling out his father and mother in tones of terror, "Save me! Save me! The tiger is coming!" When he came home from the hospital he was placed in a bed with his little brother, but had to be removed in consequence of turning upon him, and biting him as if he were a tiger. His mother removed him to her own bed, where be acted in the same way towards her, calling out, at the same time, “The tiger! The tiger !" At school he also conducted himself in strange manner, and appeared to labour under an apprehension that he was exposed to some danger.
It appeared, from the medical evidence, that the wounds were healed, but that the boy, when at the hospital, was afraid he would die. Lord Campbell said the simple question was whether the sum of £10 paid into Court by the defendant was sufficient compensation for the injury sustained by the child. There was no imputation upon Mr. Jamrach, who behaved with great courage on the occasion in grappling with the tiger. The jury conferred together, and returned a verdict for the plaintiff - damages £60, being £50 more than had been paid into Court.
A RUNAWAY TIGER IN RATCLIFF HIGHWAY. Reynolds's Newspaper, 18th February,1866
It appears that in October 1857, Mr. Jamrach purchased a lot of animals from a ship arriving from abroad, and among them a large tiger in a den. During the voyage the weather had been very stormy, and the sea had frequently washed over the decks, the tiger's den partaking in the general wetting. When the ship arrived at the London Docks, the den was put in a van and placed in Mr. Jamrach's yard, with the bars towards the wall. The den having been thus placed, Mr. Jamrach walked away, when on turning round a few minutes afterwards, he saw that the tiger had reared herself up on her hind legs, and a board giving way to her pressure, he perceived with horror that she was coming loose out of the den. In a few moments the board, which was quite rotten, "let go," and out walked the tiger through the yard gate into the street. A little boy, about nine years old, happened to be playing in the street. This little boy, thinking that the tiger was a big dog, walked up to her, and began patting her; the tiger then turned her head and seized the boy by the shoulder with her tremendous fangs. Jamrach immediately running up, grasped the tiger by the loose skin of her neck, but, although a very strong and powerful-built man, he could not hold the beast, who immediately started off down the street at a gallop, carrying the boy in her mouth as a cat would a mouse, Jamrach holding on tight all the time to the tiger's neck, and keeping up with long strides by her side, like a groom by the side of a runaway horse.
Finding that his hold was giving way, he managed to slip the tiger's hind leg from under her, and she fell to the ground. Jamrach instantly threw his whole weight down on her, and letting go the skin of her neck, fastened his two thumbs behind her ears with a firm grip. There tiger, man, and boy lay many minutes altogether in a heap, the man gripping the tiger, the tiger (still holding the boy in his fangs) all the while suffering great pain from the pressure of Jamrach's hands, and from impeded respiration. After a time one of Jamrach's men was actually bold enough to put his head round the corner to see if he could render his master assistance. Jamrach cried out "Bring me a crowbar!" The man got a crowbar, and struck the tiger three severe blows on the nose with it, which made her drop the child from her mouth. Jamrach then sent him for some ropes; these ropes, of course, in the confusion became entangled, and the tiger, watching her opportunity, sprang up and getting loose, ran back again up the street, Jamrach after, crowbar in hand, she bolted immediately round the corner, through the yard gate, and leaped into her den, from which she had escaped. Once inside, she cowered down and lay as quiet as possible.
The child was, strange to say, not much hurt. He had only a bite on the shoulder, which got well in eight days. The poor little fellow however, was so terribly frightened that he never spoke for four hours. Mr. Jamrach got the worst of this affair; for having had to fight the tiger, he then bad to fight the lawyers, and the whole business cost him, in damages and law expenses, over £300. He had caught, in fact, a Tartar; for, said he, "There was a lawyer as well as a tiger inside the tiger's skin ;" and he had first to tackle the tiger, and then lawyer afterwards - too much for any man's nerves.
This story of the child and tiger got into all the newspapers, and Mr. Edmonds, seeing the account, came up from Birmingham (where his menagerie then was being exhibited) and bought the tiger for £200. He put it in his collection, and advertised it as "The tiger that swallowed the child in Batcliff-highway." Everybody went to see it, of course, and his purchase turned out a good speculation for about four days, but no longer; for this very tiger, when the men were gone to dinner, put her claw into the partition of her den, pushed out the partition, and walked into the neighbouring den, in which dwelt a lion worth a large sum of money. The tiger immediately attacked the lion, catching him by the throat and in a few minutes killed him. This same tiger is, i believe, still being exhibited in Edmonds's menagerie. I really think, and doubtless my readers will agree with me, that Mr. Jamrach deserves very great credit for attacking his fierce and runaway tiger single-handed, and rescuing the poor little boy. I record the story as a testimony to his courage and pluck.
A decade later the story has changed and shows how memories are short. The beast is no longer maddened, but merely walked quietly along the street. The little boy is described as unhurt and instead of the tiger being tied with ropes and dragged back to the warehouse, Jamrach is described as leading it back unassisted – making it sound like a man leading a horse!
MR. JAMRACH’S MART. Aberdeen Evening Express, 28th May 1879
Mr Frank Buckland has recorded how not very long ago a large tiger did manage to escape, and walked quietly to the end of the mews, where little boy came up and patted it on the head. The animal promptly seized him in its mouth and walked down the street, apparently with the intention of finding a quiet corner to breakfast in, and one seemed inclined to interfere with his proposed arrangements. Mr Jamrach, the elder, however, hating been informed of what had taken place, coolly walked out with iron bar, took the child unhurt from the beast's mouth, and, unassisted, led the tiger back again his den.
In the same year, a self-aggrandizing animal tamer, Richard Drisco, claims to have been the one who subdued the tiger. He claims to have been an employee of Jamrach, though this may just be name-dropping on his part. Drisco also conflates Ratcliff Highway incident with the fight between the lion and tigress, which actually occurred two days later in Edmond’s travelling menagerie while it was in West Bromwich, in the Midlands. In Drisco’s version the fight between the two big cats took place at Jamrach’s warehouse on that same night and once again, he portrayed himself as the hero. I wonder if he was ever found out for his confabulation?
AN ADVENTUROUS CAREER. The Buffalo Commercial, 27th March, 1879.
Richard H. Drisco is a native of the city of London, being born there in 1834. His father was a Quartermaster on that one of Her Majesty’s ships which was under the command of Lord Nelson in the battle of Trafalgar […] When [Richard] was fourteen [he] struck out for himself, and started on foot for Liverpool. In the earlier part of this tramp he fell in with a forlorn shepherd dog, and it was the affection and care shown by him for this animal that attracted to him the attention of the naturalist Cross, who persuaded him to return to London as an apprentice to the Royal Zoological Garden. He served out his apprenticeship of seven years here, and then went into the employ of Charles Jamrach and Son, who were extensive importers of wild animals, and with whom he was long connected. It was during his stay in the animal yard of these gentlemen that he met with his first serious adventure with a carnivorous beast. It was a female tiger, and his description of the affair is as follows:
“I had orders to go to the East India Dock and receive a tiger off a ship, just come in from India, and place it in a cage mounted on wheels and bring it to the animal yard. On the arrival at the yard we found the cage was very old and rotten. We got the tiger in all safe, however, but taking the cage off the wagon it slipped, broke and let the tiger loose in the streets of London. I stepped to one side and let the beast pass by me. Then what was my horror to see her seize a small boy in her mouth and carry him four blocks along Ratcliff Highway! Then came the question, ‘How are we to catch her and save the boy’s life?’ At first we were hopeless, but the idea seized me, the only way to do this was to attack and down her with a crowbar. This I did. The boy was got clear from the tiger, and placing a rope on her neck, we dragged her home victorious. For this I was always known as ‘Tiger Dick,’ and my employer gave me a ten-pound note.
After we got her back to the cage, that night I heard a noise in the yard, and wondered what it was. Presently I heard the watchman cry out, ‘The tiger is loose again!’ it was very dark at the time, and no lights were handy; and I was kind of afraid to venture out, but went anyway. There was the tiger fighting a lion through the bars of his cage. She had him torn to ribbons, and he was bleeding badly. The head-keeper asked ‘Where is Tigers? He will get her back.’ When I got out and saw the situation, I armed myself with a heavy rawhide whip, and walked to the scene of the battle. I stood firm to her, and fought her back to her cage, leaving the lion to lie there and die. It was one of the hardest sights I ever witnessed as a combat between two animals.”
OUR LONDON LETTER. Dover Express - Friday 18 September 1891
The death of Jamrach, the dealer in wild beasts, seems have had the effect of sending a tribe of interviewers down to Ratcliff-highway (that used be), to get racy particulars, and a large number of exciting incidents are narrated if they had never been told before, the majority of them being not only “chestnuts," but fruit of a very hollow kind. For example, there is the story about a ferocious attack upon a child by a tiger, and a still more wonderful exhibition of bravery by Jamrach in securing the beast and rescuing the innocent. No doubt the tiger did take hold of the shoulders of a child, and Mr. Jamrach had to pay £200 to avoid heavy law proceedings and the probable verdict, of a serious kind, from a British jury, who are never very tender-hearted towards foreigners. The monster, however, was a tiger cub, no bigger than a small Newfoundland dog, which had been a sort of pet in the yard for long time, and on this occasion developed his first taste for blood.
MR CORNISH’S ACCOUNT The New York Times, 27th December 1894
Mr. Cornish tells about it in an interesting manner. Once a tiger, after months of captivity in India, and hauling and banging about, and being lowered into a ship and hoisted on to a quay, was landed at Jamrach’s. The tiger escaped, and “picked up the first, nice little boy it met after months of freedom [surely he meant months of captivity!] and trotted off to make a meal of him in a city of four millions of people.”
This was not to be the only tiger that escaped from Jamrach, although this next one occurred while a tiger was in transit by rail. The dealer in Liverpool is probably Mr. Cross.
MR. JAMRACH'S TIGER, AND WHAT CAME OF IT. East London Observer, 14th July 1877
On Monday night Mr. Jamrach, of Ratcliff-highway, consigned a fine tiger to a dealer in Liverpool. The animal was dispatched in a "low-sided junction waggon" by the twenty minutes past eight London and North-Western train from Broad-street Station, and upon the arrival of the train at Rugby it was discovered that the tiger had contrived to make its escape from the train while in motion. Recourse was had immediately to the telegraph in search of information as to the whereabouts of the animal, and it was subsequently ascertained that the beast had been seen prowling about in the neighbourhood of Weedon, and had contrived to kill partly devour a couple of sheep. Mr. Jamrach was communicated with, and he sent down a man by an early train on Tuesday morning with instructions to shoot the tiger. Meanwhile the inhabitants of Weedon had been thrown into a state of excitement by the intelligence that a tiger was at large in some fields about three miles distant. A party from the garrison, consisting of Dr. Dallas Edge, Mr. Douglas, and a sergeant, proceeded, in company with the railway station master and Mr. N. Watson, to endeavour to effect a capture. They were not long in coming upon the animal in some fields near to Buckby Locks, and after several shots had been fired the beast was sufficiently disabled allow them to get into close quarters, when a well directed shot from a breech-loader finished his career.
Another correspondent writes:—" The somewhat novel mode of hunting a tiger with a railway engine was witnessed near Rugby yesterday. It appears that tigress was despatched from London to Liverpool by the quarter to nine train on Monday via the London and North-Western Railway. On the train passing Wolverton the truck in which the animal was confined was observed to be all right, but on the train arriving at Rugby it was discovered that the truck had been broken open, and on further investigation it was found that the tigress had made its escape. This instantly spread consternation amongst the employes of the company, and Mr. Allmett, station master at Weedon, was telegraphed to to take steps to find where the animal was. He in turn communicated with Lieutenant Douglas and Surgeon-Major Edge, of the 106th regiment, stationed at Weedon Barracks, and who are old Indian officers, and it was on their advice that he took immediate steps to destroy the brute. A firing party, under the command of the first-named officer, was procured from the barracks, and they were conveyed down the line on a pilot engine. On nearing a place known as Buckby Bank the tigress was observed some distance off in a field, and several shots at long ranges were fired at her. These had the effect of driving the beast into a corner of the field, and in its putting its head through the hedge, Sergeant Francis fired at it from the engine, and inflicted a severe wound. He caused the brute to bound several feet into the air, and it then fell to the ground, where it began to growl furiously. The ammunition of the firing party, which, by-the-bye, was very limited, had now completely failed, when a Mr. Judkins, who lives close at hand, came out with a rifle and several more shots were fired at the beast, one of which last took effect in his throat. The carcase was then removed to Weedon station on the engine and was subsequently sent to Euston."
ESCAPE OF A TIGER FROM A TRAIN. Pontypool Free Press, 14th July 1877
A telegram which was received in London on Tuesday morning by the authorities of the London and North-Western Railway at Broad-street, states "that the tiger which escaped last night from a railway train has been pursued and shot." The animal in question, which is said to have been a fine specimen of its species, belonged to Mr. Jamrach, of Ratcliff-highway. On Monday night it was consigned to a dealer in Liverpool, and was despatched by the 8.20 train from Broad-street, in what is technically known as a "low-sided junction waggon." Upon the arrival of the train at Rugby, it was discovered that the tiger had contrived to make its escape from the train while in motion. The wire was at once set going in search of information as to the whereabouts of the delinquent, and it was subsequently ascertained the beast had been seen prowling about in the neighbourhood of Weedon, and had contrived in the course of its reconnoitring expedition to kill and partly devour a couple of sheep. Mr. Jamrach was communicated with, and he sent down a man by an early train this morning with instructions to shoot the tiger. Upon his arrival at Weedon a party of two or three men armed with rifles went in search of the beast, and succeeded after a short pursuit in finding the lair of their unsuspecting victim where- upon, according to the telegrams received, they successfully brought their weapons into use, and thus allayed the excitement and terror of the inhabitants of Weedon.
Finally, years after the event, Jamrach wrote his own account of the Ratcliff Highway tiger incident. The tiger has changed gender, but that is forgivable as such animals were usually written of as “he.” He also downplayed the boy’s injuries and wrote that he offered the boy £50 in damages rather than the £10 he had really offered!
MY STRUGGLE WITH. A TIGER. By Charles Jamrach, St. George's - In - The - East.
From "The Boy's Own Paper", Vol. I, no. 3 (February 1st 1879)
It is now a good many years ago, when one morning a van-load of wild beasts, which I had bought the previous day from a captain in the London Docks, who brought them from the East Indies, arrived at my repository in Bett Street, St. George's in-the-East. I myself superintended the unloading of the animals, and had given directions to my men to place a den containing a very ferocious full-grown Bengal tiger, with its iron-barred front close against the wall.
They were proceeding to take down a den with leopards, when all of a sudden I heard a crash, and to my horror found the big tiger had pushed out the back part of his den with his hind-quarters, and was walking down the yard into the street, which was then full of people watching the arrival of this curious merchandise. The tiger, in putting his forepaws against the iron bars in front of the den, had exerted his full strength to push with his back against the boards behind, and had thus succeeded in gaining his liberty. As soon as he got into the street, a boy of about nine years of age put out his hand to stroke the beast's back, when the tiger seized him by the shoulder and run down the street with the lad hanging in his jaws. This was done in less time than it takes me to relate ; but when I saw the boy being carried off in this manner, and witnessed the panic that had seized hold of the people, without further thought I dashed after the brute, and got hold of him by the loose skin of the back of his neck. I was then of a more vigorous frame than now, and had plenty of pluck and dash in me.
Wrestling a tiger I tried thus to stop his further progress, but he was too strong for me, and dragged me, too, along with him. I then succeeded in putting my leg under his hind legs, tripping him up, so to say, and he fell in consequence on his knees. I now, with all my strength and weight, knelt on him, and releasing the loose skin I had hold of, I pushed my thumbs with all my strength behind his ears, trying to strangulate him thus. All this time the beast held fast to the boy. My men had been seized with the same panic as the bystanders, but now I discovered one lurking round a corner, so I shouted to him to come with a crowbar ; he fetched one, and hit the tiger three tremendous blows over the eyes.
It was only now he released the boy. His jaws opened and his tongue protruded about seven inches. I thought the brute was dead or dying, and let go of him, but no sooner had I done so than he jumped up again. In the same moment I seized the crowbar myself, and gave him, with all the strength I had left, a blow over his head. He seemed to be quite cowed, and, turning tail, went back towards the stables, which fortunately were open. I drove him into the yard, and closed the doors at once. Looking round for my tiger, I found he had sneaked into a large empty den that stood open at the bottom of the yard. Two of my men, who had jumped on to an elephant's box, now descended, and pushed down the iron-barred sliding-door of the den; and so my tiger was safe again under lock and key.
The boy was taken to the hospital, but with the exception of a fright and a scratch, was very little hurt. I lost no time in making inquiry about him, and finding where his father was, I offered him £50 as some compensation for the alarm he had sustained. Nevertheless, the father, a tailor, brought an action against me for damages, and I had to pay £300, of which he had £60, and the lawyers the remaining £240. Of two counsel I employed, only one appeared ; the other, however, stuck to his fee right enough. At the trial the judge sympathised very much with me, saying that, instead of being made to pay, I ought to have been rewarded for saving the life of the boy, and perhaps that of a lot of other people. He, however, had to administer the law as he found it, and I was responsible for any dangerous consequences brought about in my business. He suggested, however, as there was not much hurt done to the boy, to put down the damages as low as possible. The jury named £50, the sum I had originally offered to the boy's father of my own good will. The costs were four times that amount. I was fortunate, however, to find a purchaser for my tiger a few days after the accident ; for Mr. Edmonds, proprietor of Wombwell's Menagerie, having read the report in the papers, came up to town post haste, and paid me £300 for the tiger. He exhibited him as the tiger that swallowed the child, and by all accounts made a small fortune with him.
LION LOOSE IN BIRMINGHAM.
Another briefly famous escaped big cat was the young lioness that escaped from a travelling menagerie and took refuge in a sewer in Aston, Birmingham. Although the reports describe it as a brute and “excited by the chase” it was a confused and frightened lioness, unused to large crowds, and it ignored people as it sought a place to hide. A few reports described it as black, but that was an error because in this context the “Nubian” referred to its subspecies, not its colour, although the males had very black manes. Some reports and sketches depicted a maned (male) lion rather than a maneless lioness. No-one was hurt in the incident, but the thrilling lion(ess) hunt in the sewer was sensational news for a while.
LIONESS AT LARGE IN BIRMINGHAM. EXTRAORDINARY SCENES. Glasgow Evening Citizen - Friday 27 September 1889
This morning a young African lioness, which had just arrived from abroad, was being taken to a wild beast show in Birmingham at the Onion Fair, when it suddenly escaped from the van and bolted among the people. There was excitement and a panic, but no one was injured, although the brute made a dash at a man who stood in its road. It was chased a considerable distance when it ran up the main sewer. At the present moment all efforts to dislodge it have failed, and the show people are at their wits’ end. At two o'clock the lion had not been found, and the panic in the neighbourhood is something extraordinary. People are locking themselves up in their houses, and man are going about with pitchforks, revolvers, and shot guns. The lion is supposed to be still in the main sewer, but he may have made his escape by one of outlets.
ESCAPE, OF A LION IN BIRMINGHAM. EXCITING CHASE AND CAPTURE IN A SEWER. Leeds Mercury, 28th September 1889
Great excitement was created in Aston, bordering on Birmingham, yesterday by the escape of a lion, a black Nubian animal [it wasn’t black, the reporter misinterpreted the term “Nubian”], from Messrs. Wombwell's Menagerie, which had arrived in the city in connection with the Onion Fair. Whilst the cage was being cleaned about mid-day the lion took advantage of the gate being open and leaped out between the caravans. There was a large number of persons in the vicinity, and these fled at the unexpected sight of the lion, which, however, took no heed of them, and dashed across the vacant land in the direction of the Aston brook. The keepers rushed in pursuit, and the chase was taken up by men armed with guns. The brute, excited by the chase, sprang into the brook, and for a moment took refuge under a bridge, but on the appearance of its pursuers it leaped into a sewer-hole. The negro trainer jumped into the brook and called to the beast, but it was not amenable to the well-known voice. A boar hound [Great Dane] was lowered into the, sewer with a rope to drive the beast out, but after a fierce conflict was compelled to retreat. For some hours all efforts to drive out the king of beasts failed; but at length men armed with guns, and led by Marcus Olenzo, the lion tamer, entered the sewer at the opposite end, and, terrified by the discharge of their weapons, the lion rushed out into a cage that had been placed at the aperture. The capture of the brute was hailed with acclamation by an enormous crowd that had collected.
A LION AT LARGE IN BIRMINGHAM. EXCITING SCENES. St. James’s Gazette, 28 September 1889
The eastern suburb of Birmingham was yesterday, as we briefly reported last night, the scene of a protracted and excited lion-hunt, which resulted happily without serious casualty in the recapture of the runaway animal. In connection with the local celebration of the Michaelmas fair, Messrs. Wombwell had established their well-known menagerie on a piece of waste ground known as the Old Peck, at Aston, where the caravans were drawn up in a hollow square. One of the cages contained a young black-maned Nubian lion about tour years old, which had arrived in Birmingham from Liverpool only that morning about midday. The keeper entered the den to clean it out, and whilst engaged in this duty his attention was momentarily diverted by fight between an ostrich and a deer. When he looked round he found the cage empty, the lion apparently having slipped out through an opening in the side of the den caused by the displacement of a moveable wooden shutter. The fastening of the latter, it seems, had been withdrawn by an elephant in the adjoining den.
The Escape. The lion, having passed unobserved under the caravans, presently found itself on the fair ground. At first the animal seemed quite bewildered with the noise of the people, the blare of the steam trumpets, the clashing of the cymbals, and the bellowing of the organs, and it remained for some time rooted to the spot. The people were too busy to observe it until the alarm was given by Wombwell’s men, who hurried to the spot armed with ropes and iron bars, when a scene of wild confusion ensued. Men, women, and children scampered off in all directions as the lion dashed across the ground, hotly pursued by the men from Wombwell’s. A group of children were in its path, but it cleared them at a bound and made straight for the neighbouring brook. After wading up the stream for about fifty yards the panic-stricken animal, seeing its pursuers close at hand, appears to have crept into an open sewer, where it temporarily disappeared from view.
The Chase. The drains to the right of the brook had been explored for several hundred yards in every direction without any success, when Marcus Orenzo, the chief lion tamer, heard the fugitive lion roar. He traced the sound with difficulty to the channel lead.ng from the manhole at the junction of the road to the outlet in the brook where the lion first entered, and he at once arranged to crawl through the drain in pursuit of the beast. A transfer cage was obtained and taken to the brook, when the drop door was lifted and the mouth of the cage placed against the opening of the drain. By this time Orenzo had changed his clothes, and, armed with a heavy revolver and accompanied by a boarhound, he descended through the manhole into the sewer. Twice in quick succession revolver shots echoed through the underground passages, and to the daring explorer the animal’s roar showed that he was on the right track.
The Capture. Crawling along, Orenzo at length caught sight of the animal, which at first turned to bay, but quickly fled at the discharge of the revolver and made towards the cage at the other end of the sewer. The lion tamer crawled after it with all haste, and the faithful boarhound kept close at hand. When the mouth of the cage came in view the dog was sent to the front, and at the word of command gave vent to a deafening bark ; almost simultaneously there was a scrambling noise in the underground channels, and in another instant the lion bounded into the trap set for him and was promptly caged and carted back to the menagerie.
The account given in the Nottingham Evening Post, evidently drawn from several sources, was more balanced than most.
A LION HUNT IN BIRMINGHAM. EXCITING SCENES. Nottingham Evening Post , 28th September 1889
Yesterday forenoon an exciting chase after lion took place on the Old Park, at Aston. It is a Nubian lion of the black mane species, and is the property of Messrs. Wombwell's well-known menagerie. Its proper location is a cage in the square formed by caravans, where was confined, together with two other lions of similar breed. It would appear that the lion only arrived in Birmingham yesterday morning. It came encased in an ironbound box from Liverpool railway, and was safely delivered at the menagerie during the forenoon. Accounts vary as to how it made its escape. On one hand, it said that the lion, while being transferred from the box to the cage in which it was to remain while on exhibition, managed to drop to the ground, and seeing an opening in the woodwork below the cage escaped into the fair ground. The other version of the lion's exit from the show is that while the cage, into which it had been safely stored, was being cleaned, it managed, through the accident of one of the cleaners, to leave by the open door.
However it escaped from the menagerie, sure enough it made its appearance in the fair ground, which was in a most crowded state. At first the animal seemed bewildered. The clashing of cymbals; the noise of steam trumpets, the bellowing of the organs, and the cries of the showmen were not familiar to it, and for a second or two it stood quite still, perhaps silently contemplating the scene that loomed around it. Several persons observed the peculiar-looking beast, and asked each other, with a certain tremor of the voice, what it was. Some of them had a suspicion that “it looked like a lion," but if it was one, how came it to be wandering about at large? They had not long to wait for answer. A loud shout from the front entrance of Wombwell's show, and the appearance of a number of men armed with iron bars and carrying ropes, at once placed beyond doubt in the minds of the spectators what had occurred.
When was fully realised that a lion had ventured on a morning stroll without leave, a pretty scene took place the ground. Men, whose faces were white with fear, flew about in all women screamed and children tumbled head over heels their anxiety to get clear of the brute. The lion was quite alarmed as the spectators. It was wholly unused to public appearance on so large a scale, and it immediately scampered off in the direction Aston Brook, which runs one side of the fair ground. The keepers from the menagerie set off in hot pursuit. The lion was fleetest of foot. It cleared the ground quickly, jumping over a child that fell directly in its path, evidently intent on no more fell purpose than that of getting out of the way as quickly and expeditiously as possible. It ran into the brook, and waded the stream for 50 yards, splashing the water about with a great noise. The menagerie men showed no fear of the animal, and it must be said that at this point they did their best to recapture it. One of them actually seized the lion by the tail and hit it with much force across the hips, bruising the skin severely, but with a terrifying howl the brute leaped into the air, causing the man to loose hold of its tail. The lion then turned about, splashed down the brook again, and entered sewer which discharges itself into the stream. For a time it stood at the mouth the sewer, evidently afraid to venture into the darkness which lay in front of him. The lion tamer of the establishment, a negro, by name Orenzo, approached as near where the lion stood as was possible, by reason of the flow of water, and whistling and speaking to it endeavoured to secure its return. But the lion was unused to the seductive wiles of the negro, and it heeded not. Presently a boarhound of unusual proportions and large strength, belonging to the menagerie, was brought, and a long rope having been attached to its neck, it was urged to pursue the lion. That would appear to have been a mistake of much seriousness. The lion no sooner saw the boarhound than it bounded up the sewer.
Of course, the search after the lion was very exciting, and came as a relief to the dull monotony of the fair. Every other amusement was abandoned in favour of the exciting hunt. Men with pitchforks and shot guns went roaming about peering down sewer gratings for a sign of the brute, or listening intently for the faintest semblance of a lion's cry of distress. Occasionally respectable and imaginative looking persons came forward and averred that the growling or groaning of the lion had been heard by them proceeding from one the gratings of the sewer. Instantly thee was a rush made to the point, the grating was opened, pitchforks were thrust in, and an impressive silence fell upon the crowd surrounding the operator as the lion's reply was awaited. But it never come, and the result was that for a long time no one knew where the animal had gone or whether was likely to make his reappearance, dead or alive. The lion-tamer's reputation was at stake. He wandered up and down the roadways where the sewer runs, sweating a great deal, and inhaling, in his descent into the sewers, more poisonous gases than is likely to agree with him, but his only thought was the recapture of the lion. There was another of the menagerie men moving about with a lighted naphtha lamp. He appeared highly impressed with the importance of the occasion, and at various periods shook his head and murmured, “He have it." And the crowd intimated themselves as highly satisfied with his intentions. But it was due to one the Corporation officials that this particular menagerie man did not have something else. It was pointed out him that lowering a naked light into the sewer where foul gases had accumulated might be productive of a sensation as great as that to be found in hunting for a lion, and the man was induced to abandon his lamp.
In the meantime Wombwell's was closed ; the entire staff, armed to the teeth, was engaged in the hunt, accompanied by considerably over a thousand persons, who alternately crowded round the sewer openings and rushed away from them according to the nature of the information forthcoming with regard to the lion. The capture of the animal alive was declared to be within the remote possibilities, but it was said to be more likely to be washed out dead at one of the outlets – there are three or four from the sewer. Shortly before the hour of four o'clock, however, the lion was captured. The man and dog eventually succeeded in driving the lion to the outlet, where a cage had the meantime been placed, and into this it was driven and secured, and taken back to the menagerie.
THE ESCAPED LIONS AT BIRMINGHAM. ANOTHER HUNT. - EXTRAORDINARY SCENES. St James's Gazette - Monday 30 September 1889
In the small hours of Sunday morning a second desperate lion-hunt was conducted through the sewers of Aston, but this time without the knowledge or presence of the general public It seems that the Nubian lion which was recaptured at the sewer outlet Aston Brook on Friday afternoon was not the only one that escaped on that day from Wombwell’s Menagerie, but the proprietors of the show thought it inadvisable to take the public into their confidence on this subject, and they took measures privately to intercept and recapture the runaway animal. Beyond placing a watch at the sewer outlet, however, nothing was done until a late hour on Saturday night, when, the assistance of the police having been obtained, active operations were begun for recovering the lost lion.
In the first place, the fair ground near the sewer outlet was cleared of people shortly after midnight, and a trap-cage was placed over the outlet. The manager of the expedition then proceeded to the nearest man-hole. As the negro lion-tamer Orenzo did not care to repeat his daring exploit of the previous Friday, two young men belonging to the working staff of the menagerie volunteered to descend into the sewer, which they did, armed each of them with a six-barrel revolver and a policeman s lantern. Traces of the lion were soon found, and his roar was distinctly heard, but a distance further up the sewer. The young men then re-ascended, and the party proceeded to a man-hole further inland; but here again they were on the wrong side of the lion, and it was not until they came to the junction of the sewers in Bracebridge-street, that they got fairly on its track. It was then determined to trap it on the spot instead of driving it to the outlet, and with this object the manager of the party lowered a stout looped rope with a slip-knot in such manner that the lion, in issuing from the neighbouring sewer, would inevitably run into it. Then the two young men descended the next manhole and proceeded to drive the lion through the narrow pipe towards the looped rope.
This was not accomplished until they had discharged ail their ammunition, and had been compelled to take off a boot with which to strike the sides of the sewer and frighten the animal in the direction required. Presently a prolonged howl informed them of the success of their tactics. The lion had stepped into the noose, which fairly encircled his loins. In the meantime the people at the top of the opening pulled at the rope until the animal was raised nearly to the level of the road, when trap-cage was placed over the man-hole, and the lion, more dead than alive, was pulled body first into it. Unluckily the cage proved too small, and the lion, still roaring lustily, lay for some time in the road with the cage held over it by ten men, but with its head outside. By this time a crowd of people had assembled, but soon as the brute was seen struggling on the road they fled in all directions. Some climbed lamp-posts, and others begged beseechingly to householders to admit them. The policemen not actually engaged in the fray stood their ground, but many of them were armed with revolvers, and others had drawn their staffs. After a delay of about ten minutes another and larger cage was obtained, and into this the poor brute was eventually dragged and forced, by the application of many blows with iron rods, and carted off to the menagerie.
During the gale which visited Birmingham on Saturday the menagerie was partially overthrown by a sudden gust that tore the canvas tents from their fastenings, and threw down several caravans. Those containing the lions, tigers, and bears remained standing ; but those holding the reptiles, monkeys, and birds were upset, creating great excitement and confusion. With the exception of a snake, however, none of the living contents were fatally injured, following upon the recent escape of the lion, this event is commented on in the district as suggestive of the danger attending these itinerant exhibitions of wild beasts.
THE ESCAPED LION AT BIRMINGHAM. EXCITING HUNT. Nottingham Evening Post - Monday 30 September 1889
The announcement that the lion which escaped from Bostock's menagerie Aston, Friday, had been recaptured the same night turns out have been only feint intended to allay public excitement, which effectually hindered the attempts to dislodge the runaway from the sewers, where he wandered about till 4.30 a.m. on Sunday morning. On Saturday afternoon a conference took place between the menagerie manager and the police, with the result that it was agreed that at two o'clock Sunday morning the fairground should be cleared of people who might be making a prolonged visit to the shows, and that when this had been done the dislodging operation should be commenced.
At two o'clock the fairground was cleared, and when all was quiet Mr. Bostock, with a dozen of his men, superintended the work of barring the outlet into the Alton brook with the trap cage. A move was then made to a manhole at the corner of Aston Brook-street, and then the question arose as to who should venture to dispute the lion's possession. He had then been at liberty for thirty-six hours, and Marcus Orenzo, his keeper, who knew his habits, and who, it will be remembered, was stated to have had a sensational fight with him on the Friday, expressed his disinclination to make the descent. Two young men, one eighteen and the other nineteen years of age, employees at the menagerie, volunteered their services, and armed with a policeman's lantern, and a loaded six-chambered revolver each, and with instructions from Mr. Bostock "not to spare the ammunition," they descended the manhole.
The sewer was almost dry, and there was plenty of evidence that the lion had been about. Before very long a growl was heard further up the pipe, and the men climbed to the road again. They then went to the manhole at the corner of Bracebridge-street and Elkington-street, but from there it was found that they were still behind the runaway. The next move was to the manhole in Miller-street, but no clue could be obtained from there, and the company went to a manhole at the back of St. Stephen’s Church. One of the men, known as “Dick" - we have not been able to ascertain the surnames of either of the plucky fellows - called out that they had headed him, and that he had gone off in the direction of Bracebridge-street. At this point several sewers converge, and the bottom of the manhole there has a large circumference. Mr. Bostock resolved to try the experiment of entrapping him there, and after calling the men not to start upon their hazardous journey until they received a signal, ran off to the Bracebridge-street opening. Here he obtained a strong rope, noosed it at the end, and let it into the manhole until the slipknot covered the mouth of the Bracebridge-street sewer.
The signal was now given to the two men to start; but before this the lion had made an attempt to return, and would have done so had not "Dick" came up, fired one of the chambers his revolver at him, and this sent him howling down the sewer again. With some difficulty the two men - ''Dick" first and his companion behind - squeezed themselves into the 2ft. 6in. pipe, and amidst the shouts of “Good luck you" from the men above ground, disappeared. Meanwhile, Mr. Bostock sat with his legs down the manhole, and with a tight grip on the rope, waiting for the first movement from below. It was some time before this came. The lion disputed his ground, and time after time turned in the sewer and came towards his pursuers. One barrel after another was fired at him, until at last the 12 chambers of the two revolvers had been emptied. The men had then followed him nearly 200 yards, and were nearly at the Bracebridge-street outlet, where they were aware that they could obtain a fresh supply of ammunition, even supposing the trap which had been laid was not successful.
"Dick," who, as already stated, was leading, asked his companion to pull off one of his boots, and this having been done and handed to him, be banged it backwards and forwards against the sides of the piping, and, shouting and waving their lamps, they crawled a little further. One of the men stated that the lion, before emerging from the pipe, turned round and fought at them with one of his paws, but that he appeared to be afraid of the light. Presently a loud and continuous howl told them that had been caught in the trap laid for him, and they lay quiet awaiting the signal that all was safe. It was now the turn of the people above ground. As the lion stepped out of the sewer into the bottom of the manhole Mr. Bostock gave his rope a sharp pull, the noose tightened around the animal's loins, and steady pulling he was soon brought within sight. The excitement amongst the small body of captors became intense. The question arose to how he was to be secured. It was decided place a trap-cage over the top of the manhole and run the rope through a hole in the top and pull him into it.
Had the cage been large enough this piece of strategy might have worked very well; but it was not, and the lion could not be got into it. The cage had been pulled from over the manhole, and the lion lay upon the road, his body, with the rope still firmly round it, being underneath and his head outside. The animal, whose head was wedged closely between the edge of the box and the road, roared and fought desperately, and it required the most determined exertion of many as ten men to keep the cage upon him. By this time a crowd of people had assembled, but as soon as the brute was seen struggling on the road they fled in all directions. Some climbed lamp posts, and others begged beseechingly to householders to admit them. The policemen not actually engaged in the fray stood their ground, but many of them were armed with revolvers, and others had drawn their staffs. After a delay of about ten minutes - which most of those who stood near said seemed nearly an hour - and as the cage showed signs of giving way a large den was brought from the menagerie. This was placed over the top the cage, and the lion and the cage pulled into it and the door secured.
The proceedings from start to finish occupied two hours and a half. The two men who had all this time remained in the sewer were called out, and as they stepped into the road everyone present cheered lustily. Mr. Bostock was particularly warm in his congratulations, and presented each man with a sovereign. The den containing the recaptured lion was subsequently dragged on to the fair-ground, and early yesterday morning the menagerie left the town.
LION LOOSE IN WALSALL
Compared to the accounts above, this one from 1932 is reported in a sober and sedate manner with no heroic acts or dramatic chases. Pluto the African lion proved to be curious and docile rather than vicious. Perhaps this reflected a better standard of care, or he was captive-born, and familiar with people. On the evening of Saturday 6th February, 1932, Pluto escaped from his travelling cage on Pat Collins’ showground (Wakes Ground) in Bloxwich when a cage door was not secured after feeding time. He decided to explore the surrounding area, while his mate remained behind.
Mrs Amy O’Connor of 120, Field Road, was visiting her father-in-law’s house in Church Street. As she arrived in his back yard, she saw a shadowy figure which she thought was a man approaching her. She took hold of the figure’s head and was startled to discover she was holding onto a lion. Shocked, she got indoors, followed by Pluto who evidently found nothing of interest as he walked back out again and Mrs O’Connor slammed the door shut behind him. When she recovered her composure she ran out of the front door to Bloxwich Police Station, in the Public Buildings on Elmore Green Road, to report the incident. She then reported it to the fairground. They hadn’t even realised a lion had gone walkabout. The young German lion tamer returned to Church Street with Mrs O’Connor, but Pluto had already moved on to the back yard of 36 Church Street, the home of Mr and Mrs James W. Parsons (who feature in the national news reports).
ESCAPED LION IN A HOUSE. WOMAN MISTAKES IT FOR LITTLE GIRL. Leeds Mercury, 8th February 1932 (and various others)
WALSALL, Sunday. A lion which escaped from its cage on the fairground at Bloxwich, suburb of Walsall (Stafford) last night, climbed a wall into the garden of a house, and when the back door was opened coolly walked in and stalked through to the scullery. Apparently the door of its cage had been insecurely fastened, and its escape was not noticed. Between six and seven o'clock Mrs. Parsons, who lives in Church Street, which adjoins the fair ground, went into her garden to empty a teapot. She saw an object which she thought was a little girl who visits the house. She walked up and touched it, but feeling an animal's coat, she became alarmed and walked back to the house. The lion followed her, and when it walked into the light and Mrs. Parsons saw what it was, she screamed and ran into the front room. The lion coolly walked through the back door into the scullery. Mrs. Parsons’ husband slammed the door, and they both dashed through the front room to the street and notified the police. The owner of the lion, a travelling showman, Robert Meard, was fetched. He got the assistance of a professional trainer, and after barricading the window of the scullery, they went back the fairground to fetch the lion’s cage into which the animal walked quite tamely.
WOMAN AND ESCAPED LION AN ALARMING EPISODE. Edinburgh Evening News, 8th February 1932
Between six and seven o'clock on Saturday night Mrs Parsons, who lives in Church Street, Bloxwich, a suburb of Walsall, Stafford, went into her garden to empty a teapot. She saw an object, and walked up and touched it, but feeling an animal's coat she became alarmed and walked back the house. The animal was a lion which followed Mrs Parsons back to the house, and when it walked into the light and she saw what it was she screamed and ran into the front room. The lion coolly walked through the back door and into the scullery. Mrs Parsons' husband slammed the door, and they both dashed through the front room to the street and notified the police. The lion had escaped from its cage on a fairground at Bloxwich, climbed a wall into the garden of the house. The door of the animal's cage had apparently not been securely fastened and its escape was not noticed.
The owner of the lion, a travelling showman, was fetched to the house. He secured the assistance of a professional trainer, and after they had barricaded the window of the scullery they went back to the fairground to fetch the lion's cage. In the cage was a full-grown lioness, which had not attempted to walk out of the open door. The cage with the lioness in it was taken into Church Street, and backed against the front door of Mrs Parsons’ house. In the meantime the lion had got out of the scullery, and was roaming about the house. When the front door was opened, however, the lion tamely walked into its cage, apparently glad to rejoin its mate. It had made no attempt to be violent, and apart from clawing the woman's fur necklet, which had been lying on a chair in the scullery, and breaking a small vase and the glass in the picture on the wall, it had done no damage.
LION'S ESCAPE. WOMAN WHO WENT TO SHAKE HANDS. Western Morning News, 8th February 1932
News that a lion had escaped from a fair ground caused consternation at Bloxwich, Walsall, on Saturday night. The animal was at liberty for about two hours. About 7 o'clock a Mrs. Parsons, who lives in Church-street, happened to go into the yard at the back of her house, and perceived some figure in the darkness. She was expecting a little girl to call for some eggs, and, thinking it was the child, put out her hand to greet her. To her horror she felt some coarse hair, and there was a low growl. She rushed back the house, and, looking over her shoulder, was terrified to see a huge lion following her. She screamed to her husband, and they dashed out of the front door, locking the lion in the house. The lion appeared to be quite content with its new quarters and made no attempt to get out of the house. The animal's German trainer was contacted, and a cage containing a lioness was brought from the fair ground and backed against the front door, which was then cautiously opened, and the lion calmly walked out into the cage and joined its mate. The lion is said to one of the largest on exhibition in this country.
More is reported in local publications. Mr Parsons quickly got help from his neighbours, Sam Heeley, J. Rowe and Jack Russell, who helped him secure the back door – leaving them out in the cold and dark while Pluto walked to and fro between the sitting room and the furniture-filled parlour, or rested on the hearth rug in front of the fire like a domestic cat. Eventually Pluto walked into the parlour, partly closing the door after him with his tail, and the men ran in and shut the parlour door.
Jack Russell secured the parlour door with a rope and hung onto the rope to prevent the lion escaping. Parsons and Heeley barricaded the front window using Mr Parsons’ coal-shed door. Naturally all the activity attracted dozens of curious local people. Inside the parlour, Pluto was savaging Mrs Parsons’ fur necklet and the fur trim on her coats, which were hanging on the back of the door, tearing off the coat hook in the process. He also left his paw print on the sideboard mirror and, perhaps disconcerted by his reflection, he put some deep scratches on the sideboard. Apart from that Pluto remained calm. The local police then arrived and, according to the Express & Star, “people had assembled in the street, and, probably frightened by their noise, the beast roared, and [Mr Parsons] could hear the sound of breaking glass in the room. It took the police all their time to hold the huge crowd back.”
Pluto’s owner and trainer, Herr Robert Lier, who was working for Pat Collins at the Bloxwich showground, then organised the recapture of his lion. Pluto’s travelling cage – containing his mate - was fetched from the fairground on a lorry, and was backed right up to the Parsons’ front door. The grille at the end of the cage was raised and the front door of the house was forced open. Pluto walked docilely into the cage and the grille was lowered behind him. He turned to look curiously at the gathered crowd as though it was nothing more than an evening performance at the Pat Collins Lion Show.
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