The Tiger that Briefly Terrorized 19th Century London

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On October 26, 1857, a Bengal tiger escaped from its cage in the backyard of a menagerie in London's East End. Snatching a young boy in its jaws, it ran off down the street. Astonishingly, the boy survived. So did the tiger—and, even more astoundingly, so did the man who wrestled the boy from the tiger’s jaws.

The boy’s rescuer was also the tiger’s owner. Born in Hamburg, Germany, in 1815, Charles Christian Jamrach was a dealer in wild and exotic animals and birds, who, with the help of his father, established a vast business trading and supplying wildlife to zoos, menageries, circuses, and museums across 19th century Europe. (Even Dante Gabriel Rossetti was a customer, purchasing his beloved wombat from Jamrach.)

After his father’s death in 1840, Jamrach moved to London to take over the British arm of the business. There, he opened an exotic pet store and museum of natural history—“Jamrach’s Animal Emporium”—on St. George Street, as well as a menagerie on Bett Street. In 1891, the Spectator described the emporium as "an exciting place to visit," going on to note:

"The passages between the two storeys of cages were narrow, and to walk down them was occasionally like running the gauntlet. Furtive paws were darted out between the bars, and made grabs at the passer-by, and one might find one’s coat-tails being 'hung on to' by a playful puma while turning round to ask a question."

With an ever-growing list of A-list customers and contacts (including the London Natural History Museum and the recently opened London Zoo), Jamrach’s company was becoming more successful—and it was at that point when, in 1857, he acquired what was to be a star attraction: a fully grown Bengal tiger, shipped to England from the East Indies.

On the morning of October 26, the tiger (along with a delivery of several other big cats) arrived at the Bett Street menagerie. It was held in a large crate, which had three solid wood sides and thick iron bars across the front. Jamrach himself had decided to oversee the tricky procedure of moving the tiger from its transport crate and into its enclosure, and asked that the crate be positioned so that the open iron bars were placed against the wall of the yard while the tiger’s enclosure was being prepared.

That might have sounded like safest option at the time, but Jamrach had seemingly underestimated just how powerful a fully grown tiger is. "They were proceeding to take down a den with leopards, when all of a sudden I heard a crash," Jamrach later recalled in The Boy’s Own Paper, "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 if that wasn't disastrous enough, the situation quickly went from bad to worse when the tiger spotted a 9-year-old boy, who had reportedly put his hand out to stroke its back as it strode past, and snatched him up in its jaws. "The tiger seized him by the shoulder and ran down the street with the lad hanging in his jaws," Jamrach said. "This was done in less time than it takes me to relate." Without a moment’s hesitation, Jamrach took off after it:

"[W]hen 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 … I was then of a more vigorous frame than now, and had plenty of pluck and dash in me."

Amid crowds of pedestrians fleeing for their lives, Jamrach quickly caught up with the tiger and, throwing himself onto its back, grabbed it by the scruff of its neck, to little avail. It was still too strong, and as it tossed Jamrach to the ground and dragged him along the street, it still kept the boy in its jaws. Jamrach tried a second time to stop the tiger, this time by tripping it up, and as it finally fell to the ground, Jamrach knelt on its back and forced his hands around its neck in an attempt to strangle it. As he subdued it, one of the workers from his yard ran over and struck it over the head with a crowbar.

Dazed, the tiger dropped the boy from its jaws—and promptly went to turn on Jamrach:

"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 rushed to a nearby hospital where, despite his ordeal, it was discovered that he had suffered little more than a few scratches.

In the aftermath of the escape, the boy’s father sued Jamrach, who was forced to pay £60 compensation and legal costs of £240 (about $7000 and $28,500 today, respectively). The judge in the trial, although aware he had to pass down a harsh sentence for such a potentially dangerous accident, reportedly sympathized with Jamrach and commented that he “ought to have been rewarded for saving the life of the boy, and perhaps that of a lot of other people.”

As for the tiger, he was later sold to George Wombwell, the owner of a famous Victorian travelling menagerie, who reportedly cashed in on the entire affair by exhibiting the creature as “the tiger that swallowed the boy.”

Jamrach, meanwhile, continued to expand both his collection and his client list, and in 1864 helped the legendary showman P.T. Barnum restock his circus after a devastating fire.

Jamrach's tiger at Tobacco Dock in London
Matt Brown, Flickr //CC BY 2.0

Yet by the time of Jamrach's death in 1891, the trade and public interest in exotic animals was beginning to wane. The business was taken over by his son Albert after his death, but when the outbreak of World War I made the international trade of animals nearly impossible, the company folded. Nevertheless, today a statue commemorates Jamrach’s contribution to Victorian culture and his selfless rescue of the unnamed boy—an extraordinary 7-foot-tall bronze tiger now stands in the entrance to Tobacco Dock, close to where the incident took place.

Celebrate the Encyclopedia Britannica's 250th Birthday by Checking Out Its First Edition Online

Encyclopedia Britannica volumes on display at the New York Public Library
Encyclopedia Britannica volumes on display at the New York Public Library
Mario Tama/Getty Images

While those gold-embossed, multi-volume sets of the Encyclopedia Britannica were a feature of many an American childhood, the origins of the venerable reference work actually lie in Scotland. Two hundred and fifty years ago—on December 10, 1768—the first pages of the Britannica were published in Edinburgh. To celebrate the anniversary, the National Library of Scotland has put a rare first edition of the encyclopedia online.

The first edition was the brainchild of printer Colin Macfarquhar, engraver Andrew Bell, and the editor William Smellie. It was published in 100 weekly sections over three volumes (completed in 1771), but explicit engravings of midwifery scandalized some subscribers, and were ripped out on the orders of the Crown. The entries of the first edition—some of which ran to hundreds of pages—reflect the biases and preoccupations of their time: woman is defined as "the female of a man," while there are 39 pages devoted to horse diseases. Nevertheless, the work was a significant accomplishment that drew on at least 150 sources, from essays by famous philosophers to newspaper articles. It also featured 160 copperplate engravings by Bell.

The title page on the first edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica
The title page on the first edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica

In a statement from the National Library of Scotland, Rare Books Curator Robert Betteridge said, "By the 20th century Britannica was a household name throughout the English-speaking world, and what is especially interesting about this publication was that it had a distinctly Scottish viewpoint. The first edition emphasized two themes—modern science and Scottish identity, including ground-breaking and controversial articles on anatomy and Scots Law."

The first edition (which includes those ripped-out midwifery pages) will appear as part of an exhibit on the Scottish Enlightenment at the National Library of Scotland this summer. For now, you can view all three volumes of the first edition, from "A—the name of several rivers" to Zygophyllum, a genus in botany—online here.

[h/t American Libraries]

The Time German and Russian WWI Soldiers Banded Together to Fight Wolves

iStock.com/567185
iStock.com/567185

During the winter of 1917, Russian and German soldiers fighting in the dreary trenches of the Great War’s Eastern Front had a lot to fear: enemy bullets, trench foot, frostbite, countless diseases, shrapnel, bayonets, tanks, sniper fire. Oh, and wolves.

In February of that year, a dispatch from Berlin noted that large packs of wolves were creeping from the forests of Lithuania and Volhynia into the interior of the German Empire, not far from the front lines. Like so many living creatures, the animals had been driven from their homes by the war and were now simply looking for something to eat. “As the beasts are very hungry, they penetrate into the villages and kill calves, sheep, goats, and other livestock,” the report, which appeared in the El Paso Herald, says. “In two cases children have been attacked by them.”

According to another dispatch out of St. Petersburg, the wolves were such a nuisance on the battlefield that they were one of the few things that could bring soldiers from both sides together. “Parties of Russian and German scouts met recently and were hotly engaged in a skirmish when a large pack of wolves dashed on the scene and attacked the wounded,” the report says, according to the Oklahoma City Times. “Hostilities were at once suspended and Germans and Russians instinctively attacked the pack, killing about 50 wolves.” It was an unspoken agreement among snipers that, if the Russians and Germans decided to engage in a collective wolf-hunt, all firing would cease.

Take this July 1917 New York Times report describing how soldiers in the Kovno-Wilna Minsk district (near modern Vilnius, Lithuania) decided to cease hostilities to fight this furry common enemy:

"Poison, rifle fire, hand grenades, and even machine guns were successively tried in attempts to eradicate the nuisance. But all to no avail. The wolves—nowhere to be found quite so large and powerful as in Russia—were desperate in their hunger and regardless of danger. Fresh packs would appear in place of those that were killed by the Russian and German troops.

"As a last resort, the two adversaries, with the consent of their commanders, entered into negotiations for an armistice and joined forces to overcome the wolf plague. For a short time there was peace. And in no haphazard fashion was the task of vanquishing the mutual foe undertaken. The wolves were gradually rounded up, and eventually several hundred of them were killed. The others fled in all directions, making their escape from carnage the like of which they had never encountered."

Afterward, the soldiers presumably returned to their posts and resumed pointing their rifles at a more violent and dangerous enemy—each other.

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