The Tiger that Briefly Terrorized 19th Century London

iStock
iStock

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.

10 Products for a Better Night's Sleep

Amazon/Comfort Spaces
Amazon/Comfort Spaces

Getting a full eight hours of sleep can be tough these days. If you’re having trouble catching enough Zzzs, consider giving these highly rated and recommended products a try.

1. Everlasting Comfort Pure Memory Foam Knee Pillow; $25

Everlasting Comfort Knee Pillow
Everlasting Comfort/Amazon

For side sleepers, keeping the spine, hips, and legs aligned is key to a good night’s rest—and a pain-free morning after. Everlasting Comfort’s memory foam knee pillow is ergonomically designed to fit between the knees or thighs to ensure proper alignment. One simple but game-changing feature is the removable strap, which you can fasten around one leg; this keeps the pillow in place even as you roll at night, meaning you don’t have to wake up to adjust it (or pick it up from your floor). Reviewers call the pillow “life-changing” and “the best knee pillow I’ve found.” Plus, it comes with two pairs of ear plugs.

Buy it: Amazon

2. Letsfit White Noise Machine; $21

Letsfit White Noise Machine
Letsfit/Amazon

White noise machines: They’re not just for babies! This Letsfit model—which is rated 4.7 out of five with nearly 3500 reviews—has 14 potential sleep soundtracks, including three white noise tracks, to better block out everything from sirens to birds that chirp enthusiastically at dawn (although there’s also a birds track, if that’s your thing). It also has a timer function and a night light.

Buy it: Amazon

3. ECLIPSE Blackout Curtains; $16

Eclipse Black Out Curtains
Eclipse/Amazon

According to the National Sleep Foundation, too much light in a room when you’re trying to snooze is a recipe for sleep disaster. These understated polyester curtains from ECLIPSE block 99 percent of light and reduce noise—plus, they’ll help you save on energy costs. "Our neighbor leaves their backyard light on all night with what I can only guess is the same kind of bulb they use on a train headlight. It shines across their yard, through ours, straight at our bedroom window," one Amazon reviewer who purchased the curtains in black wrote. "These drapes block the light completely."

Buy it: Amazon

4. JALL Wake Up Light Sunrise Alarm Clock; $38

JALL Wake Up Light Sunrise Alarm Clock
JALL/Amazon

Being jarred awake by a blaring alarm clock can set the wrong mood for the rest of your day. Wake up in a more pleasant way with this clock, which gradually lights up between 10 percent and 100 percent in the 30 minutes before your alarm. You can choose between seven different colors and several natural sounds as well as a regular alarm beep, but why would you ever use that? “Since getting this clock my sleep has been much better,” one reviewer reported. “I wake up not feeling tired but refreshed.”

Buy it: Amazon

5. Philips SmartSleep Wake-Up Light; $200

Philips SmartSleep Wake-Up Light
Philips/Amazon

If you’re looking for an alarm clock with even more features, Philips’s SmartSleep Wake-Up Light is smartphone-enabled and equipped with an AmbiTrack sensor, which tracks things like bedroom temperature, humidity, and light levels, then gives recommendations for how you can get a better night’s rest.

Buy it: Amazon

6. Slumber Cloud Stratus Sheet Set; $159

Stratus sheets from Slumber Cloud.
Slumber Cloud

Being too hot or too cold can kill a good night’s sleep. The Good Housekeeping Institute rated these sheets—which are made with Outlast fibers engineered by NASA—as 2020’s best temperature-regulating sheets.

Buy it: SlumberCloud

7. Comfort Space Coolmax Sheet Set; $29-$40

Comfort Spaces Coolmax Sheets
Comfort Spaces/Amazon

If $159 sheets are out of your price range, the GHI recommends these sheets from Comfort Spaces, which are made with moisture-wicking Coolmax microfiber. Depending on the size you need, they range in price from $29 to $40.

Buy it: Amazon

8. Coop Home Goods Eden Memory Foam Pillow; $80

Coop Eden Pillow
Coop Home Goods/Amazon

This pillow—which has a 4.5-star rating on Amazon—is filled with memory foam scraps and microfiber, and comes with an extra half-pound of fill so you can add, or subtract, the amount in the pillow for ultimate comfort. As a bonus, the pillows are hypoallergenic, mite-resistant, and washable.

Buy it: Amazon

9. Baloo Weighted Blanket; $149-$169

Baloo Weighted Blanket
Baloo/Amazon

Though the science is still out on weighted blankets, some people swear by them. Wirecutter named this Baloo blanket the best, not in small part because, unlike many weighted blankets, it’s machine-washable and -dryable. It’s currently available in 12-pound ($149) twin size and 20-pound ($169) queen size. It’s rated 4.7 out of five stars on Amazon, with one reviewer reporting that “when it's spread out over you it just feels like a comfy, snuggly hug for your whole body … I've found it super relaxing for falling asleep the last few nights, and it looks nice on the end of the bed, too.” 

Buy it: Amazon 

10. Philips Smartsleep Snoring Relief Band; $200

Philips SmartSleep Snoring Relief Band
Philips/Amazon

Few things can disturb your slumber—and that of the ones you love—like loudly sawing logs. Philips’s Smartsleep Snoring Relief Band is designed for people who snore when they’re sleeping on their backs, and according to the company, 86 percent of people who used the band reported reduced snoring after a month. The device wraps around the torso and is equipped with a sensor that delivers vibrations if it detects you moving to sleep on your back; those vibrations stop when you roll onto your side. The next day, you can see how many hours you spent in bed, how many of those hours you spent on your back, and your response rate to the vibrations. The sensor has an algorithm that notes your response rate and tweaks the intensity of vibrations based on that. “This device works exactly as advertised,” one Amazon reviewer wrote. “I’d say it’s perfect.”

Buy it: Amazon

This article contains affiliate links to products selected by our editors. Mental Floss may receive a commission for purchases made through these links.

Newly Discovered Letter From Frederick Douglass Discusses the Need for Better Monuments

"What I want to see before I die is a monument representing the negro, not couchant on his knees like a four-footed animal, but erect on his feet like a man," Frederick Douglass wrote in response to this memorial in 1876.
"What I want to see before I die is a monument representing the negro, not couchant on his knees like a four-footed animal, but erect on his feet like a man," Frederick Douglass wrote in response to this memorial in 1876.
Carol M. Highsmith Archive, Library of Congress Photographs and Prints Division // No Known Restrictions on Publication

The removal of Confederate monuments across the country has prompted debates about other statues that misrepresent Civil War history. One of these is Washington, D.C.’s Emancipation Memorial, or Freedman’s Memorial, which depicts a shirtless Black man in broken shackles crouching in front of Abraham Lincoln.

As historians Jonathan W. White and Scott Sandage report for Smithsonian.com, a formerly enslaved Virginian named Charlotte Scott came up with the idea for a monument dedicated to Lincoln after hearing of his assassination in April 1865. She started a memorial fund with $5 of her own, and the rest of the money was donated by other emancipated people.

Sculptor Thomas Ball based the kneeling “freedman” on a photograph of a real person: Archer Alexander, an enslaved Missourian who had been captured in 1863 under the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850. Ball intended the sculpture to depict Alexander breaking his chains and rising from his knees, symbolizing the agency and strength of emancipated people.

But in a newly unearthed letter, Frederick Douglass acknowledged the shortcomings of the scene and even offered a suggestion for improving Lincoln Park, where the statue stands. According to The Guardian, Sandage came across the letter in a search on Newspapers.com that included the word couchant—an adjective that Douglass used often.

“The negro here, though rising, is still on his knees and nude. What I want to see before I die is a monument representing the negro, not couchant on his knees like a four-footed animal, but erect on his feet like a man,” Douglass wrote to the editor of the National Republican in 1876. “There is room in Lincoln park [sic] for another monument, and I throw out this suggestion to the end that it may be taken up and acted upon.”

In 1974, another monument did join the park: a statue of Mary McLeod Bethune, a civil rights activist and teacher who founded the Daytona Normal and Industrial Institute (later Bethune-Cookman College) and the National Council of Negro Women. The Emancipation Memorial was even turned around so the monuments could face each other, though they’re located at opposite ends of the park.

mary mcleod bethune monument
Mary McLeod Bethune depicted with a couple young students in Lincoln Park.
Library of Congress, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

The new addition might be a much better representation of Black agency and power than Ball’s was, but it doesn’t exactly solve the issue of promoting Lincoln as the one true emancipator—a point Douglass made both in the letter and in the address he gave at the Emancipation Memorial’s dedication ceremony in 1876.

“He was ready and willing at any time during the first years of his administration to deny, postpone, and sacrifice the rights of humanity in the colored people to promote the welfare of the white people of this country,” Douglass said in his speech. In other words, while Lincoln definitely played a critical role in abolishing slavery, that goal also took a back seat to his priority of keeping the country united. Furthermore, it wasn't until after Lincoln's death that Black people were actually granted citizenship.

The rediscovered letter to the editor reinforces Douglass’s opinions on Lincoln’s legacy and the complexity of Civil War history, and it can also be read as a broader warning against accepting a monument as an accurate portrait of any person or event.

“Admirable as is the monument by Mr. Ball in Lincoln park [sic], it does not, as it seems to me, tell the whole truth, and perhaps no one monument could be made to tell the whole truth of any subject which it might be designed to illustrate,” Douglass wrote.

[h/t Smithsonian.com]