"...we should pass over all biographies of 'the good and the great,' while we search carefully the slight records of wretches who died in prison, in Bedlam, or upon the gallows."
~Edgar Allan Poe

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Newspaper Clipping of the Day

"I must not only punish but punish with impunity. A wrong is unredressed when retribution overtakes its redresser. It is equally unredressed when the avenger fails to make himself felt as such to him who has done the wrong."
~ Edgar Allan Poe, "The Cask of Amontillado"

via British Newspaper Archive

This Poe-like tale of an abused elephant's long-delayed but fatal revenge appeared in the "Illustrated Police News" on January 23, 1897. It is one more piece of evidence for what I have felt to be true for as long as I can remember: Animals have hearts, minds, souls--and memories--that are at least equal to our own.

A man named Alan Alfred Baker, who was formerly connected with Mr. George Sanger's travelling circus, whilst on a visit to the stables on Sunday afternoon, was attacked and killed by one of the performing elephants. From the circumstances surrounding the affair, it would seem that the creature had a grudge of old standing against Baker, for the instant the poor fellow appeared the elephant lunged at him, and pinned his victim against a brick wall, inflicting wounds that were speedily fatal. Indeed, when the keeper and trainer Mr. John Tottenham, or "Killinbach," who was present at the moment, feeding the animals, intervened to drag the unfortunate man beyond the animal's reach, the elephant strained upon the shackles to again transfix his victim.

The stables referred to, where Mr. Sanger keeps a portion of his menagerie, are in a building in Bentley Street, off Kingsland Road, Dalston. Baker, who was a tall, handsome man, of about twenty-seven years of age, and a native of Hastings, was conveyed upon an ambulance to the Metropolitan Hospital, where he died shortly after being admitted. The case was pronounced hopeless from the first by the police-surgeon of the district, Dr. Jackman, who was called into the stables. The elephant had driven his right tusk into poor Baker's head, causing the brain to protrude. The man never regained consciousness, though it is stated he tried to speak when a friend named Mr. Catling saw him immediately after the occurrence.

For some weeks Mr. George Sanger's menagerie and circus has been attracting overflowing houses in a turning off Dalston Lane. near the railway station. Baker, who like most sawdust-ring showmen, had a nom de guerre, or nickname, was known among his friends as "Belgium." Others there are of the craft dignified by the less complimentary names of "Moucher," "Tea Leaves," "Short Pipe," &c. Baker practically learned his business at Sanger's, beginning as a stable-hand, and rising through the grades of performer to trainer. It is said he was at times brusque in manner to the animals under his care, and that he lacked the patience and perseverance in kindness so indispensable in dealing with dumb brutes. However that may be, he was discharged from Sanger's last March, when they were at Bedford. After filling a somewhat similar situation elsewhere, he applied for a re-engagement with Mr. Sanger, and on Sunday last was told that he could start at his old job on Monday, there being a temporary vacancy. Later in the day Baker proceeded to the stables to call on Tottenham, who was an old acquaintance and a fellow-lodger, to go with him and have tea. In this wintry weather, three elephants belonging to the menagerie and several camels are stalled in part of a stout brick building used as workshops, whilst the other animals needing quarters snugger than under canvas are bestowed in the neighbourhood in like manner. According to "Killinbach," otherwise Tottenham, he was carrying hay to the elephants and spreading it out for them--for "Charlie, "Mary," and "Jenny" when "Belgium" entered by the small wicket door, and sauntering up with his hands in his overcoat pocket, called to him, "Ain't you coming to tea?" Before Tottenham had time to reply, the elephant "Charlie," apparently recognising Baker by the sound of his voice, for it was nearly dusk in the stable, thrust forward violently at his old keeper. Baker must have been taken unawares, for, fettered as the animal was to a strong peg driven into the ground, he could only lean far enough forward by straining upon the few links of chain to get at the wall where his victim stood unconscious of danger. The walls are about 11ft apart in the building, and Baker was standing nearly opposite, whilst Tottenham was bending down close to the animal's feet. Seeing his comrade fall, Tottenham realised in a moment what had happened. He sprang and grabbed Baker away, at the same time roaring "Get back, Charlie." He placed the wounded trainer upon a truss of hay, but even then the elephant tried to reach him, and Tottenham seized a spade and drove the brute back to his place. The other two elephants kept quiet, Tottenham says, but "Charlie" trumpeted angrily. As for "Mary," who is nearer sixty than fifty years of age, and therefore no lamb, at the sight of the blood on Baker's face and body, she looked, and then turned her head away.

Everybody at Singer's gives ''Charlie" a good character. Never, they aver, was there a quieter or more tractable animal, except, perhaps, "Mary." He has never hurt anyone before. The animal was bought about thirty-one years ago, when a nine-year-old baby, being part of a batch of Indian elephants which at that period were sent over in large numbers. Tottenham believes the animal must have had an idea of paying back old scores, and Mr. Sanger, Mr. Olliver, the manager, and Mr. J. D. Humphreys, an old showman and trainer, all of whom have known ''Charlie" from his babyhood, hold to the same opinion. After his bloodthirsty outbreak of passion "Charlie" sulked, and refused to eat until late the following day. A representative of the Daily Telegraph saw the animal in the course of the day, patted him, and examined his tusks. Certainly the creature at that time seemed docile and tractable enough. "Charlie," although twenty-eight years old, is said to be not quite full-grown yet. He weighs over three tons, stands about 11ft in height, and yet has only short tusks, not much more than a foot in length. In a chat with Mr. Humphries, that gentleman said there were no trade secrets about training. He had taken in hand the education of all sorts of animals, domestic and wild horses, elephants, lions and tigers, and monkeys, which are troublesome. Now he was an advance agent, but he had a kindly feeling for all his dumb-brute pupils still, and sometimes went and called on old elephant friends. They always knew him, recognising his voice when he called. them, though they might not be in a position when at the moment they could not see him. Whatever an animal was, a quiet runner or a bolter, it would yield to treatment. The trainer had to know himself, and be firm, steadfast, patient, and kind. "Why," said Mr. Humphreys, "here's my secret as far as elephants and horses go. A little bit of carrot and more carrot, a pat and a pat and a 'bravo.' when they do their business correctly and show sense. Bless you, it's wonderful how they work to please you for these nice, well-washed carrots," and Mr. Humphreys produced an edible and tempting specimen of that humble root. "I trained 'Charlie' on them, and never had any trouble with him. Oh no, he is not in any state of must, and his temper all through has been as good as gold. Carrots and kindness is the way. But the trouble is, some keepers are rough and hasty, and try and drive them too hard. Now, I have noticed a dumb brute never forgets an injury, and keepers sometimes see too many friends lose their heads a bit, and, trying to show off, do things the poor creatures remember against them. 'Belgium' was away from us ten months, but there's lots of cases stranger than his. There was the elephant, 'Blind Bill,' that in Myers's Circus at the Alexandra Palace, fourteen years ago, killed his keeper, whom the brute had not seen for seven years previously. Then there was something of the sort happened with 'Big Jenny,' who died at Boulogne."

The deceased man was unmarried. Quite recently he was an inmate of St. Thomas's Hospital, where he was attended for an injury to the head, caused, as stated originally, from the kick of a horse. The deceased's parents are in poor circumstances. Mr. George Sanger has kindly notified that he will defray the necessary funeral expenses. Baker's father is a working coachsmith at Hastings, and is naturally terribly distressed at his son's death.

The inquiry into the circumstances attending the death of Alan Alfred Baker, aged twenty-seven years, an elephant trainer, late of Kingsland Road, was held by Dr. Wynn Westcott at the Hackney Coroner's Courts. The deceased, it will be remembered, was gored to death on Sunday evening last by an elephant named "Charlie," belonging to Sanger's Circus, now at Dalston.

John Killinbach, known as "Tottenham," an elephant trainer at the circus, stated that he had only held the position for the past ten months, having succeeded the deceased, who had had charge of "Charlie" and other elephants for some years. The animals were stabled in Bentley Road, Kingsland, and were there on the day of the occurrence. "Charlie" all the time he had been under the care of witness had been a very quiet and docile elephant. On Sunday. between five and six o'clock in the evening, witness was feeding the animals. He threw a quantity of hay to "Charlie," who was chained by two legs, when Baker entered the stable. He said to witness "Are you coming to tea? " and no sooner had he spoken than the animal rushed at him and jammed him against the wall with his tusks, one of which seemed to enter the head, near the ear.

The Coroner: How do you account for this sudden attack?

Witness: I am of opinion that the elephant recognised the voice of his old keeper, and having a grudge against him for some cruelty, gored him. Baker had not seen "Charlie" for ten months.

Have you ever heard that the elephant had attacked anyone else?--No, never; he was as quiet as a child.

"Lord " George Sanger, the proprietor of the circus, said that he had had the elephant for thirty-one years. He was of the Indian species, and was about nine years old when imported. The deceased had had charge of the elephants for about four years, and "Charlie" was one of the quietest animals ever shown. Witness agreed with the first witness as to the act being the result of antagonism.

The Coroner: Was the animal generally considered to be a good one, quiet and peaceable?--Witness: None better. Witness added that Baker got into the hands of the police at Bedford, and that was the reason he left the circus. Witness had promised to employ the deceased, but stipulated that he should have nothing to do with the elephants.

The Coroner: Do you think, then, that elephants remember how they are treated?

Witness: Most certainly, and I speak from forty-five years' experience. The animal was not properly treated by Baker, but I don't want to say any more of that. Elephants always remember kindness. I recollect once meeting an elephant I had not seen for about two years, and the animal was so pleased and affected that tears actually ran down its face. On one occasion my little nephew was playing round "Charlie's" legs, when the animal took him up with his trunk, shook him gently and then set him down. "Charlie" has been in five Lord Mayor shows, and was for years at the old Ampitheatre, Westminster Bridge Road, but has never before shown any bad temper.

In answer to the Coroner, the witness said that he could not remember an elephant being born in England, not even at the Zoo.

Without calling further evidence, the jury returned a verdict of death from misadventure.

The Coroner asked whether the jury wished to add any rider or recommendation to the verdict.

The Foreman: We do not think it is necessary.

In pace requiescat!


  1. I should note that there is tragic postscript to this story: Although Charlie remained in Sanger's circus, three years later, in February 1900, there was an eerily similar incident where he killed another worker who had maltreated him. Although another keeper testified that the dead man "had only got what he deserved," poor Charlie was put to death.

    Stories like this really make me hate circuses.

  2. I can only agree with you. The Illustrated Police News was full of animal stories like this one. Interesting also to note that the coroner was a founding member of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn.

  3. It sounds like that court gave Charlie more of a chance than they do nowadays when provoked animals attack their tormentors. A tragic story all around, though.


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