THE TRAGIC DEATH OF THE BALDWIN PONY - SHEFFIELD 1889

CRUELTY AT THE CIRCUS

To provide the background to this article, I located the following section in the on-line edition of the 1911 Britannica Encyclopaedia

"JOHN SANGER (1816-1889), English circus proprietor, was born at Chew Magna, Somerset, in 1816, the son of an old sailor who had turned showman. In 1845 he started with his brother George a conjuring exhibition at Birmingham. The venture was successful, and the brothers, who had been interested spectators of the equestrian performances at Astley's Amphitheatre, London then started touring the country with a circus entertainment consisting of a horse and pony and three or four human performers. This enterprise was a success from the beginning, and in due course John and George Sanger became lessees of the Agricultural Hall, London, and there produced a large number of elaborate spectacles. In 1871 the Sangers' leased Astley's where they gave an equestrian pantomime every winter, touring in the summer with a large circus. Subsequently the partnership was dissolved, each brother producing his own show. John Sanger died while touring, at Ipswich on the 22nd of August 1889, the business being continued by his son."

There are other online sources which go into far greater detail about the Sangers, their family and of course the circus. 

The first mention I found, was a letter to The London Times dated 4th February 1889

THE BALDWIN PONY.-" J. C." writes, Feb. 3 --" Happening last evening to visit the circus at Covent-Garden. I was so unfortunate as to witness the first production of an attraction, which is called in the programme 'the Baldwin Pony.' A very pretty pony of about nine hands was led into the arena and was lifted bodily by six men into a large basket, despite the violent resistance by which the poor little thing plainly showed its painful recollection of previous rehearsals. In this basket the pony was hauled up to the centre of the proscenium, where it was attached, by means of a girth-strap, to a ring connecting the cords of a small parachute. At a signal the pony was allowed to fall from the roof of the building to the arena, where. despite the retarding influence of the parachute, the little 'animal fell with considerable violence upon its quarters, and rolled over on to its back. As soon as it had recovered from the shock of its fall, the violent struggling of the pony to escape from the neighbourhood of the apparatus, made it almost impossible to bold this little animal until it was allowed to escape from the arena. I am glad to say that this clumsy and brutal exhibition was received with loud and prolonged marks of disapprobation by a large proportion of the audience. The chief interest of the performances of the well-trained horses and other animals at the circus lies in the evident zest and intelligence of the dumb actors, but the spectacle above described was merely the employment of manual strength and mechanical appliances to inflict considerable pain and great mental distress upon the graceful little creature whose unlucky fate it was to sustain the fall of 'Baldwin Pony. I venture to solicit your powerful assistance in calling attention to this brutalizing exhibition in order that, should Mr. Sangar think fit to disregard the severe condemnation expressed by his audience on Saturday night, I may invoke the aid of intelligent public opinion to expunge this item from his programme."

Obviously Mr Sangar, was not putt off by the "loud and prolonged marks of disapprobation" because just over a month later I found the following court report in The Times dated March 8th 1889.

THE BALDWIN PONY. - At the Sheffield Police-Court

THE BALDWIN PONY. - At the Sheffield Police court, yesterday morning, John and George Sanger, proprietors of a circus in Sheffield, were summoned for cruelty to the Baldwin pony. The prosecution was instituted by the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, and evidence adduced by them showed that the pony was placed in a basket and hoisted to the roof of the circus. It was then taken out and let down by wires. When 20ft. from the ground one of the wires snapped and the pony was so injured by the fall that it had eventually to be shot. The prosecution admitted that the pony's death was the result of an accident, but it was held that it suffered great terror and pain while suspended 30ft. from the ground, and also while being let down. This was the cruelty alleged, and to support this witnesses stated that the pony was seen to quiver and look frightened. For the defence two veterinary surgeons and other witnesses were called to prove that the pony was not afraid, that it was securely fastened by girths, and that it was quite calm and comfortable until the accident happened. The magistrates, although disapproving of the performance, did not think the defendants had been guilty of cruelty. The defence had shown that two previous ascents and descents were made successfully. The case would, therefore, be dismissed. It was stated on behalf of the defendants that under no circumstances would such a performance be repeated.

From the evidence and the eyewitnesses that both sides produced it is not possible to reach a definite conclusion on the charge of cruelty. In these more enlightened times, the mere thought of suspending a horse thirty feet in the air in front of a paying audience would provoke public outrage, and a custodial sentence. But by the standards of the time, this was the norm. The defence stressed that "two previous ascents and descents were made successfully" and it was this statement that probably gave the benefit of the doubt to the Sangers.

I do wonder though if the court knew of the "parachute" descent that was employed a month earlier in Covent Garden. If they did they may not have been as lenient.

The one matter that still puzzles me is why it was called "The Baldwin Pony". I have not got a clue and so if anyone can help me, please contact me

One explanation was sent to me in September 2017

"You were left with the question of his name, "The Baldwin Pony" and I believe it had something to do with:

In the 1880s a fellow named Baldwin of Quincy, Illinois, perfected a parachute. The balloon ascension was then revived by circuses with the added thrill of the aeronaut �bailing out� in a parachute. This, however, left the balloon un-manned, so the shows generally returned to the original hot air balloon so the liberated bags would return to earth before going too far from the showgrounds.

This came from this site, circushistory.org and the quote is in the first article a little over halfway down."

I would also like to know where the circus took place in Sheffield. From the information I have it looks as though it was a travelling circus. There is an old photograph in the Sheffield archives dated 1880 that shows the Sanger's circus on Pinstone, Street with the now demolished St. Paul's Church, in background.  

Whilst researching this article I also came across the following snippet on the Old Heeley website.
 

ELEPHANTS ON THE LOOSE IN WOODSEATS!
by Alan Montgomery

The BIG TREE HOTEL was originally called MASONSí ARMS, although the customers preferred to call it BIG TREE.

 

One day SANGERís CIRCUS passed through and stopped for rest and refreshment at the Hote1. Some elephants which were tethered to the tree broke loose, and dragging away many of the branches. Although the tree survived this ordea1for some time, it was eventual1y replaced thanks to loca1 benefactor.

It must have been quite a sight  - elephants rampaging through Woodseats!

Sources

Wikipedia

The Times, Mar 08, 1889; pg 5; Issue 32641; col D

1881 Census

Old Heeley website

1911 Britannica Encyclopaedia

Return To Main Homepage

This page was last updated on 12/09/17 16:50