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.

Soon You'll Be Able to Book a Night Inside the Palace of Versailles

The exterior of the Palace of Versailles
The exterior of the Palace of Versailles
mtnmichelle/iStock via Getty Images

Beginning next spring, interested tourists can say au revoir to more traditional lodging in favor of spending the night inside the Palace of Versailles, as Thrillist reports.

Back in 2015, the palace’s management announced it was looking for an outside partner to convert three of the palace’s buildings into guest accommodations. That outside partner turned out to be Airelles, a luxury hospitality group with three other properties in France.

In 2020, the company will begin accepting bookings for Le Grand Contrôle, a 14-room hotel located in the palace’s south wing. The hotel will also feature a new restaurant from famed French chef Alain Ducasse, the second-most decorated Michelin star chef in the world.

Tourists beware, though: A single night at the company’s other properties generally cost upwards of $500 per night, so a stay at Le Grand Contrôle is unlikely to be cheap. But visitors who want to shell out the money for a room can look forward to an unbeatable location, first-class dining, and the joy of relaxing while telling others to “let them eat cake” (which Marie Antoinette never said, but it's befitting nonetheless).

[h/t Thrillist]

Further Reading: Books About (And By) Theodore Roosevelt

Alexander Lambert // Library of Congress
Alexander Lambert // Library of Congress

If you're enjoying what you're learning on History Vs. Theodore Roosevelt, we suggest checking out these books about—and a few of them by—our 26th president. Make sure to subscribe to the podcast here!

The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt by Edmund Morris

The first book in Morris’s trilogy covers TR’s years from birth to the vice presidency.

Theodore Rex by Edmund Morris

The second book in Morris’s trilogy covers TR’s seven years in the White House.

Colonel Roosevelt by Edmund Morris

The final book in the trilogy focuses on Roosevelt’s post-presidential years.

Theodore Roosevelt: A Strenuous Life by Kathleen Dalton

A fascinating one-volume biography of Roosevelt.

The Wars of the Roosevelts: The Ruthless Rise of America’s Greatest Political Family by William J. Mann

In addition to covering the big three Roosevelts—TR, FDR, and Eleanor—this must-read book features the Roosevelt siblings and cousins, revealing secrets and feuds within this famous family.

Theodore Roosevelt's Ghost: The History and Memory of an American Icon by Michael Cullinane

An analysis of Roosevelt’s legacy.

The Wilderness Warrior: Theodore Roosevelt and the Crusade for America by Douglas Brinkley

A look at TR’s life from a naturalist perspective.

Island of Vice: Theodore Roosevelt’s Doomed Quest to Clean up Sin-Loving New York by Richard Zacks

A look at TR’s time as police commissioner of New York.

Theodore Roosevelt for the Defense: The Courtroom Battle to Save His Legacy by Dan Abrams and David Fisher

This book covers when Roosevelt was accused of libel, and took the stand in his own defense.

Guest of Honor: Booker T. Washington, Theodore Roosevelt, and the White House Dinner That Shocked a Nation by Deborah Davis

An account of the lives of Roosevelt and Booker T. Washington, and their relationship—including their dinner, which made history.

Theodore Roosevelt in the Badlands: A Young Politician's Quest for Recovery in the American West by Roger L. Di Silvestro

Di Silvestro’s book covers TR’s time as a rancher in the Dakotas, where he retreated after the deaths of his wife and mother and a rough end to his career as an assemblyman.

Mornings on Horseback: The Story of an Extraordinary Family, a Vanished Way of Life, and the Unique Child Who Became Theodore Roosevelt by David McCullough

This National Book Award–winning biography takes on TR’s early years.

The River of Doubt: Theodore Roosevelt’s Darkest Journey by Candice Millard

An account of Roosevelt’s journey down an uncharted tributary of the Amazon—during which he almost died.

The Bully Pulpit: Theodore Roosevelt, William Howard Taft, and the Golden Age of Journalism by Doris Kearns Goodwin

A look at the relationship between Roosevelt and his successor, Taft, a one-time friend who became an enemy.

A Passion to Lead: Theodore Roosevelt in His Own Words by Edited by Laura Ross

Selections from Roosevelt’s writings accompanied by gorgeous photographs.

Hunting Trips of a Ranchman by Theodore Roosevelt

Roosevelt on hunting.

Ranch Life and the Hunting Trail by Theodore Roosevelt

Roosevelt on his time as a rancher in the Dakotas.

Theodore Roosevelt: An Autobiography by Theodore Roosevelt

This book, published in 1913, is Roosevelt's life in his own words.

Theodore Roosevelt: Letters and Speeches

This book features four famous speeches and more than 350 letters written by TR to family, friends, and diplomats between 1881 and 1919.

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