February 8, 2015

James Crockett (1831/32-1865), English lion tamer, billed in the early 1860s as the ‘Lion Conquerer’; identity of the clown unknown.
(photo, from a stereoscopic card: Alfred Cailliez, Paris, 1863)

James Crockett’s parents were James Crockett, an itinerant musician (later publican), and his wife Ann (née Cross) who, at 6 ft. 8 or 9 in. tall, was a noted sideshow giantess, said to have been from Nottingham but who, according to the 1851 Census (2 Halfmoon Passage, St. Bartholomew the Great, London) was born in the London area. They were married at St. Peter, Liverpool, on 6 February 1831, and their son’s birthday is said to have been 9 May. The year of his birth, which took place at Presteigne, Radnorshire, south Wales, is not certain, but may have been in either 1831 or 1832 although one authority suggests 1835. He had two younger sisters, Sarah Ann, born Doncaster, Yorkshire, 1838, and Elizabeth (Eliza) Ann, born Ripley, Surrey, 1843, who were both living at the time of his death from sunstroke on 6 July 1865 at Cincinnati, Ohio. He was buried there in Spring Grove Cemetery the following day.

* * * * *

Cirque Napoleon, Paris, March and April 1863
‘All the Parisians are flocking nightly to the Cirque to see the lion tamer Crockett, with his cage full of lions, whom he orders about as imperiously as Omphale ordered Hercules. Mr. Crockett issued a challenge to all comers, offering a wager 500£. that no one will enter the cage with him. The challenge has been accepted by one Herbert [from Brussels], a retired lion-tamer. Mr. Crockett will, of course, insist upon the stakes being deposited before the trial of strength, as M. Herbert may not be in a position to play after the experiment.’
(Reynolds’s Newspaper, London, Sunday, 15 March 1863, p. 8a)

‘THE DRAMA IN PARIS… PARIS, April 4 [1863]…
‘Immense crowds go to the Cirque nightly to witness the admirable management of the celebrated English lion tamer, called in the journals “Sir Crockett, Esq.” He has obtained immortal glory by plunging his head into the lion’s mouth, a feat which has never been considered by the keepers of wild beasts as anything very extraordinary, as it is reported that such is the expansion of the mouth, and the position of the teeth, that no accident could occur. This is is a point no doubt for the naturalist to decide, but certain it is that the sight is one that afford infinite pleasure to the Parisian.’
(The Morning Post, London, Monday, 6 April 1863, p. 3c)

‘During the performances of Crockett, the lion tamer, at the Cirque Napoleon, Paris, some nights back, an incident occurred which caused some excitement among the spectators. Crockett, having made one of the largest lions lie down, had stepped on its back, but his foot slipped towards the neck. The lion, probably being hurt, gave a savage growl, and seized the foot with its teeth, all present expecting to see the animal crush it between its powerful jaws. Crockett, however, did not lose his presence of mind, but by a word and a blow with his whip he made the lion loose its hold. He then went on with his performance as usual.’
(The Huddersfield Chronicle and West Yorkshire Advertiser, Huddersfield, West Yorkshire, Saturday, 11 April 1863, p. 3f)

* * * * *

‘Death of James Crockett, the Lion Tamer.
‘James Crockett, recently attached to Howe’s European Circus, and well known both in this country and Europe as a tamer of wild beasts, died yesterday afternoon, about four o’clock, in the dressing-room of the above-named circus, which was being exhibited at the time to an immense audience, that was waiting impatiently to witness his exploits with the animals under his management. Mr. Crockett enjoyed his usual health during the day, and had been driven through the streets in company with his lions, which fact, taken in connection with the excessive heat of the sun, seems to give the best and most rational clue to the solution of the mystery of his death. The deceased was a native of English, unmarried, and perhaps forty-five years of ate. At the time of his demise Mr. Crockett was costumed for the ring, and was able to appear before the audience. We believe that he was on his way from the dressing-room for this purpose, when he staggered, fell, and almost immediately expired. Coroner Carey held an inquest upon the body, but the verdict has not yet been made known. His loss to the establishment to which he was attached will be irreparable. – Cincinnati Gazette, July 7 [1865].
’(Mr. James Crockett was a native of Preston, Lancashire [sic], where he was born May 9th, 1835, and where his father was employed as a musician in one of the noted circus companies of the day. The purchase by Messrs. Sanger of six lions gave young Crockett the opportunity he sought of displaying his daring, and the animals were soon under his complete control. About six years ago it will be remembered that Crockett and his lions ere engaged at Astley’s Amphitheatre, when a lamentable accident occurred, resulting in the death of a poor fellow named Smith, who was one of the attendants. The lions escaped from the den, but owing to the courage of Crockett, who entered the circus when the beats were roaming at will, further mischief was prevented. From Astley’s Mr. Crockett went to the Islington Agricultural Hall, and then to the Cirque Napoleon, Paris, and thence to the chief capitals of Europe, returning to England in 1863. He then formed an engagement to travel through America with Howe’s Mammoth Circus, and was thus pursing his daring career when hie death occurred at Cincinnati.)’
(The Era, London, Sunday, 30 July 1865, p. 10a)

‘The Late Lion-Tamer, James Crockett.
‘To the Editor of The Era.
‘Sir, – Perhaps it would be interesting to yourself and the public to know something authentic relative to the life of the much-lamented James Crockett, a young man who had earned for himself a world-wide reputation. He was one of the family of “Old Travellers;” his grandfather figures largely at Bartholomew Fair with Richardson, Wombwell, Sanders, Clarke, and many others. His father married a Miss Cross, of Nottingham, whose height was six feet eight inches; she was not only tall, but stout, and had more than an ordinary share of beauty. This formed the chief magnet for an exhibition in a travelling caravan, Crockett’s father being the proprietor. They soon accumulated large sums of money. Becoming tired of travelling they entered into business as Licensed Victuallers. The son James, still having a desire for travelling, left home under the guardianship of |Messrs. John and George Sanger, with whom he used to play the cornet in the band connected with their exhibition. Shortly after which, complaining of the instrument affecting his constitution, he discontinued playing and took the office of equestrian director, and in the year 1857 commenced his occupation as trainer of lions, &c. He was a man possessing great nerve and determination. His birthplace was Prestyn [sic], Radnorshire, South Wales. Mr. Crockett was a man who must have possesses a moderate sum of money. Perhaps it would be as well for those who have possession of what did belong to him to remember that he was two young sisters living – one emigrated to Australia about two years since, and the other living near Nottingham – who are the only survivors of the family. – JOHN and GEORGE SANGERS [sic], Circus Proprietors.’
(The Era, London, Sunday, 6 August 1865, p. 11d)


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