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Thursday, 26 July 2012

"And Finally..." Or: The Joy of Old Newspapers:

One of my hobbies – much to the chagrin of Miss Amateur Casual – is collecting Victorian newspapers. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not a crazed hoarder; I don’t have piles and piles of mouldy old papers lying around, I have twenty or thirty Victorian papers (and I do keep them filed in nice folders!) and enjoy taking them out every so often to thumb through the pages and see what was happening in the news at the time of publication.

This, I find, is an excellent way of picking up the minutiae of an era. Little stories that faded away with the passing of not-very-much time at all can sometimes say more about the feelings of an age than the big events that still echo down through history today; and even if they don’t – it can still be very interesting to read stories and snippets that have been long forgotten.

(Incidentally, there is an excellent – but I fear now derelict – blog that scoured old newspapers for just these types of story, ‘An Extraordinary Incident’ found here is well-worth thirty minutes of anybody’s internet browsing time.)
But clearly I have mentioned my interest in such things out-loud, as it was detected by Thomas Walker over at the excelent who furnished me with three wonderfully presented copies of Victorian newspapers from which I have gleaned the following stories. The first concerns an Elephant. (Not for the first time in these parts; this post from almost two years ago about a runaway elephant in 1860’s Swindon was, I recall, quite popular when I originally published it, and is exactly the kind of wonderful story that I was talking about in my opening paragraphs. You can read it here: here )

And now onto our second elephant story:

Jumbo and his Friends
The large male African elephant at the zoological society's Gardens in Regent's Park has gained weekly and daily in popularity, since his refusal to go to the docks and embark for America, in accordance with the bargain for his sale to Mr. P. T Barnum and others at New York. Never were such crowds of visitors to the Gardens at this early period of the season, all thronging to the elephant house, or watching the huge animal in his customary promenade, in another part of the grounds, and offering him an unusual quantity and variety of eatables, while the eagerness of children and young girls to ride on his back is beyond all precedent. The number of people at the Gardens last Monday was twenty-four thousand; on Saturday, nearly seven thousand. There were 43,653 admissions last week

Engraving from the ILN taken from a photo by messrs. Briggs and son.
The newly constructed box, or van, in which it is hoped Jumbo will soon be removed to the docks at Millwall, if he can once be confined in it, is a massive vehicle, of the dimensions necessary for an elephant that stands eleven feet high, and that weighs between five and six tons. The frame of the van is composed of solid balks, morticed, bolted, and over all heavily clamped with iron. The flooring is of three-inch planks, and the sides and roof are lined with inch-and-a-half deal. The van is of such strength as is calculated to resist twice or thrice the force that even this powerful brute could possibly bring to bear against it. Important changes have been made in its formation, and still more in the trolley upon which it is fixed; so that, instead of being four feet above the ground, the floor of the van will only be raised about eight inches. It is, for the present, sunk to the level of the ground, which has been dug out for the purpose, and the floor covered with gravel. Axles of enormous strength have been fitted with special boxes and wheels, the width of the lower structure being governed by that of the gateway through which the van is to leave the Gardens. In the mean time, it is arranged as a kind of trap, with both ends left open, and being placed opposite the door of Jumbo's house, on the way to his exercise-ground and bathing-pool, he is becoming accustomed to walk through it, which he did for the first time on Saturday. The doors of the van will be suddenly closed upon him, at some convenient opportunity, when he is in chains, and the chains will be attached to the strong rings fixed inside the van, after which, it is thought, he cannot make any further resistance. The weight of elephant and van together will be about ten tons, which must be drawn by horses six miles through the streets from Camden Town to Millwall. Having reached the docks, a steam-crane will be employed to hoist up Jumbo in his box, and to put him into the ship which is to carry him to New York.

In the Chancery Division of the High Court of Justice last week Mr. Justice Chitty refused to grant an injunction restraining the Council of the Zoological Society from selling this elephant and Mr. Barnum's agent from removing him to America. The injunction was applied for by Mr. Berkeley Hill, one of the Fellows of the society, whose counsel argued that it was not legally in the power of the Council so to dispose of animals valuable for the study of natural history. Dr. P.L Sclater, the secretary of the Gardens, and Mr. A.B Bartlett, superintendent of the Gardens, were called as witnesses to state that it would be inconvenient, and perhaps dangerous, to keep Jumbo there till the age when he would become liable to certain fits of rage. The application was, therefore, dismissed by the court. 
 - Illustrated London News March 18 1882

The story of Jumbo was very popular with the press and the public. The elephant had resided at London Zoo for seventeen years, until, in 1882, an offer wad received for him from the American circus, Barnum’s. The press was awash with stories of the cruelty of the zoo, who were tearing Jumbo away from his home and lifelong mate for the sake of money.
The truth of the matter was that Jumbo, in his old age, had become quite temperamental, and was prone to fits of violence. The zoo was faced with two choices; sell him, or put him down. Eventually he was sold to Barnum’s, and saw out his days in the circus.

From a light-hearted story to one that is anything but; I have had this article written for a couple of months now, but haven’t got around to posting it, and so I thought I would use it now as an example of an event or piece of news from the Victorian era that some people may not have heard of, and could have easily been forgotten. For a number of reasons this event was significant, not least for the tragedy of it, but also for the advances in the fields of forensic science and health and safety that came out of it.

Over the last few months, to coincide with the Diamond Jubilee I’ve written a lot of posts about various aspects of the first ever Diamond Jubilee – that of Queen Victoria in 1897. This article, however, concerns another event that occurred in the Diamond Jubilee year, but one that could not be further from the celebrations seen on the shores of Great Britain.

This event took place, not in England, but France, specifically Paris, and was a disaster that evoked sympathy from all over the globe.

The Bazar de la Charite was a fundraising event held annually at various locations from 1885. The event was organized by the aristocracy, and was attended by the upper classes of France. The 1897 event was held within a stones-throw of the Champs Elysees and Le Grand Palais at Rue Jean Goujon in Paris. The venue was a large shed made of wood – extremely large, at over eighty metres long and thirteen wide – within which was a faux medieval street as part of the entertainment. A piece of more modern entertainment was situated close by; in a room was a Lumiere Brothers’ cinematograph.

The cinematograph had been invented in the early 1890’s, and the inventor is unclear. The device was developed and improved throughout the decade until finally the Lumiere brothers, Auguste and louis patented it. They made their first film, Sortie de L’usine Lumiere de Lyon (Workers Leaving the Lumiere factory in Lyon) in 1894, and this was played to the French public at L’Eden Cinema. The following year, in 1895, the brothers organized the first public screenings of cinematograph films in Paris, and two years later their films were the star attraction at the Bazar de la Charite.

On the 4th of May – the second day of the Bazar – the equipment used by the projectionist of these films caught fire (rather than electricity, it had been powered by oxygen and ether) and, with the scenery being made from materials such as cloth, papier mache and wood, it did not take long for the fire to spread. 126 mostly upper class or aristocratic people died in the blaze, and around two hundred more were injured. In the following days, newspapers began to report the grim outcome, detailing how the disaster affected not only the lives of the dead and injured, but also the lives of local people and those connected with the charitable event:

Le Petit Journal depicts the fire
PARIS, May 7.

The all-absorbing topic here is the catastrophe at the Bazar de la Charite. Many funerals took place today, and nearly all the remainder will take place tomorrow, most of the victims being interred in the country. Tomorrow's ceremony at the Cathedral of Notre Dame will be most imposing. Cardinal Richard, Archbishop of Paris, will preside, and the church will be decorated in the same way as it was for the obsequies of the late President Carnot. President Faure, attended by his military household, will be present, as well as several members of the Cabinet and the Diplomatic Corps. The soli will be sung by MM. Dilmas and Alvarez, of the Opera.

The consequences of the disaster to the poor are far-reaching, as many charities depended absolutely on the Bazaar for existence. The Gaulois suggests a national lottery as the best means of raising funds for the institutions in question; while the Figaro, at the suggestion of Princesse de Wagram, has already opened a public subscription.

The charitable institutions are not the only losers. The Paris season is practically over. Dinner parties and so forth are being cancelled and marriages postponed, and many people will shortly leave for the country, the exodus probably commencing in about a fortnight. The great millinery and dress-making establishments are preparing to dismiss workpeople. A leading dressmaker told me that at least 2,000 families must be in mourning, and that since the catastrophe business has come to a standstill in the middle of the season. Over 100 orders for new dresses had been cancelled.

The impression is the same throughout the Rue de la Paix. Apart from the people who will be thrown out of work and the charitable institutions, there are many other sufferers. Thus, for instance, Madame Hoskier, the wife of the banker, and her daughter, Madame Roland Gosselin, each supported 15 poor families, paying their rents and educating their children. Since the fire there has been a perfect procession of poor to 18, Avenue Friedland, to inquire if their benefactresses were really dead, and there has been but one cry, "What a misfortune; We are lost." I related at the time that the Duchesse d'Uzes had saved the life of one of the female attendants by dragging her along in her flight. The woman did not know who the Duchesse was until she read the incident in the papers, when she called yesterday to thank her rescuer.

In spite of all efforts it has been impossible to discover any traces of the body of the Comte de Luppe, whose husband's despair is painful to see. For two days the Comte de Luppe has scarcely left the Palais de l'lndustrie, where he kept bending over the bodies one after another, only to rise again and say in despairing tones, "No, no, it is not her." Some 24 persons who were supposed to have gone to the Bazaar are missing, and it is considered probable that the bodies of these persons have been completely consumed. An arresting scene took place yesterday on the ground where the Bazaar stood. A closed carriage driven by a coachman with crape-bound hat stopped at the line of policemen who are still keeping back the crowd. The police were ordering the driver to go back, but one of the doors of the carriage opened and a white-haired lady in deep mourning stepped out and approached the officer on duty. "Sir, I have a request to make to you," she said. “My daughter died in this charnel-house. Allow me to enter and pray only for an instant." The officer bowed and ordered the municipal guardsmen to let her pass. When the lady reached the centre of the space she knelt down, the soldiers instinctively presenting arms until she rose a few moments later. After making the sign of the Cross, the bereaved mother then returned to her carriage, the spectators respectfully removing their hats and making way for her.

It appears now to be thoroughly recognised that M. Lupine, the Prefect of Police, had no right to interfere in the affairs of the Bazar de la Charite, but there is a feeling that it is time the police had power to see to the protection of public safety in such cases. A judicial inquiry has been begun, but up to the present, beyond establishing the fact that the fire was caused by the cinematograph, the Magistrate in charge of it has only collected a list of the names of the organisers of the various stalls, and of the persons involved to come to the Bazaar.

Next week he will take the evidence of persons who were in the building when the fire broke out.

PARIS, May 7, Later. All those persons whose disappearance was reported to the police have now been found except six, and as there only remain six unidentified bodies, it is believed they are those of the missing persons. Their names are Countess de Luppe, Mesdames Filon, Jauffred, and Bouvier, and Mesdlles. Chabod and Moret.
- Morning Post - Saturday 08 May 1897

One of the victims of the terrible tragedy was Sophie Charlotte of Bavaria. Also known as the Duchess of Alcenon, she was the sister of Empress Elisabeth, or Sisi as she was affectionately known (Empress of Austria and Queen of Hungary from 1854 – 1898) Sophie Charlotte and her husband, Prince Ferdinand Phillipe, actually lived in Teddington, London for a while in the late 1860’s, and had their first child together there, Louise d’Orleans, who was born at Bushy House.
Sophie Charlotte

Sophie Charlotte was fifty years of age in 1897, and during the fire at Bazar de la Charite, had repeatedly refused any attempt to rescue her, insisting that the workers all be saved first. By the time it was her turn to be pulled from the inferno she was dead.

One notable outcome for good from the fire was the advance of forensic science. With so many bodies being badly burned and unidentifiable, this was believed to be the first time that dental records were used to identify victims.

Whilst this event is not widely known of, fifteen years previously in Nice, France, a terrible fire broke out in a theatre. The Municipal Theatre had already had a long history of entertainment prior to the disaster, and had been a location for theatrical entertainment since 1776. The story that caught my attention was in one of my old newspapers:

Burning of a theatre at Nice.
A terrible disaster, which has caused the loss of nearly a hundred lives, took place at Nice on the Wednesday night of last week. The Municipal Theatre, at the opera representation of "Lucia di Lammermoor," by a special company of performers from Italy, with Signora Bianca Donadio for "prima donna," was occupied by a large audience. It was the first day of the regatta at Nice, which had brought a great many visitors to the town.
- Illustrated London News, April 1881

Had it not been for thumbing through my old papers, this is an event I would, in all likeliness, never have known about. The fire was caused by a gas explosion (in those days theatre’s would have been lit by gas. Actress Ellen terry mentions in her memoirs that when theatre’s changed from gas lighting to electric the light was not very flattering, and she much preferred the soft and dramatic glow of gas.) After the theatre burned down, it was decided that a replacement should be built. The man charged with this task was Francois Aune, who had studied under Gustave Eiffel.
Fire at The Municipal Theatre in Nice

The new theatre – which incidentally is still standing today – opened in 1885 with a performance of Verdi’s Aida, which seems to be a popular choice of first show for theatre’s reopening after fires; The Royal Opera house in Malta reopened in 1877 with a performance of Aida after burning down in 1873.

And finally…

The above stories are, whilst not being of common knowledge, fairly medium-to-large-scale events. But the real joy of reading old newspapers comes from tiny stories, which have become buried like fossils by the weight of time and which, when revealed, tell little stories which would have affected people’s lives when they occurred.

An inquiry was held at Sheffield to-day relative to the death of Michael Moran, aged twenty-seven, a retired champion boxer. While taking part in a boxing-match last week with a man named Maurier he slipped, and his opponent falling upon him caused internal injuries which rendered an operation necessary. Peritonitis, however, supervened, and death ensued. Before his death Moran said that no one was to blame, and a verdict of "accidental death" was returned. A sequel to the international football contest between England and Scotland was enacted in the Glasgow police-courts yesterday. Of those who sung "Scots wha hae," and who cheered the "conquering heroes" on Saturday, no fewer than 252 appeared before the magistrates in the rather undignified role of "drunks."

Some things never change.

If you have an interest in history then I really can recommend getting hold of a newspaper from the past (preferably an original) Even if you’re not interested in the stories, the adverts and correspondence can be fascinating. They can also make wonderful birthday gifts, if you can 

manage to find a newspaper that was published on the day of the person's birth.

If that is an idea that interests you, I can recommend the work of very highly, having sampled some of their super work myself!

1 comment:

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