Home Site Map Back
Source: The Illustrated London News, Jan. 12, 1861, p.35
On Monday morning a terrible encounter took place at Astley's Amphitheatre. An under groom, named Smith, but who was generally known by the nickname of Jarvey, was throttled to death by one of the lions which play so prominent a part in the holiday entertainments at that place of amusement. The lions, three in number, are confined in a cage at the back of the stage. When the night watchman left the theatre on Monday morning, a few minutes before seven, he reported "all right." Shortly afterwards, Smith entered the place and found the lions prowling about. They had torn off a heavy-iron bar which crossed the front of their cage, and then burst open the door. Smith was alone, and, not being familiar with the animals, he attempted to escape into an adjoining stable-yard. One of the animals—that which is known by the name of Havelock—instantly sprang upon him. It seized him by the haunches, pulled him to the ground, and then fixed its teeth in his throat. Death must have been almost instantaneous, but, as Smith was found a good deal cut and bruised at the back of the head, it is supposed that the lion, after burying its fangs in his throat, dragged him about, and dashed his head against the ground. It seems, in fact, to have worried him, though the wounds inflicted by the brute are neither so numerous nor so severe as might have been expected. There were no cries for help, but a sort of shuffling noise was heard by a man in the stable-yard, who gave the alarm, and in a few minutes was joined by several grooms and others connected with the theatre. They were all, however, too much afraid, to enter the place; and nothing was done to ascertain the fate of Smith unil the arrival of Crockett, the Lion Conqueror, to whom the animals belong. As soon as he reached the spot he passed through the door alone, none of the others daring to follow. The body of Smith was lying face upwards a few feet from the door, and Havelock was crouching over it as a hungry dog hangs over a piece of meat. Crockett immediately threw the animal off, and dragged the body into the yard. The lions allowed Crockett to capture them easily enough. Even Havelock did not offer any resistance; and the other two, which had taken no part in the terrible scene, seemed rather afraid than otherwise. In a few minutes all three were back in their cage again, and on Monday night they went through their usual performances before a crowded house.
The following is another version of the shocking occurrence:-"On the arrival of Mr. Crockett he rushed on to the stage where the lion was running about with Jarvey (Smith) in his mouth, to all appearance dead.—Mr. Crockett instantly seized a stable fork, and dealt the lion a heavy blow on the side of the head, which caused it to let the man go; but, instead of running away, he turned round and seemed inclined to spring upon his master. Another powerful blow, however, made the enraged animal run away. After the body of Jarvey had been removed Mr. Crockett went in search of the three lions which were now roaming about the theatre. One was seen running about at a remote corner of the stage, another was in the arena, and the other could not be seen. The lioness was the first that was attempted to be secured, but this was a work of extreme danger and difficulty, as the assistants were all afraid of even approaching the beast. On seeing Mr. Crockett the lioness made a dash through the pit saloon, whence she rushed up the box staircase and entered one of the private boxes and took up a most threatening attitude. Nothing daunted Mr. Crockett entered the box, placed a leathern collar round her neck. and having secured her head, she was hauled out of the place, by ropes and finally placed in security. From the private box Mr. Crockett saw another of the animals playing on the stage with a quantity of ribbons and stage properties, and with comparatively little difficulty it was placed again in the cage, and after a few minutes' search the third was recaptured."
The inquest on the body of the poor fellow was opened on Tuesday. The unfortunate man was dreadfully mutilated; the lion, in the words of an eyewitness, having held him in his mouth, and shaken him as though he were a rat. The inquest was adjourned until Monday next, with a view to obtain further evidence.
The inquest on the body of the unfortunate fellow was opened on Tuesday. Thomas Grimes, head groom of the establishment, stated that, hearing a noise, he thought the stag belonging to the theatre had broken loose, and was pinning a man against the wall. In that belief, and unable to see clearly in the dark, he sprang forward, and raised his foot to kick the supposed stag in the stomach. At this moment he saw nothing but two feet encased in wooden shoes. Just as he was about delivering a vigorous kick he heard a slight noise behind him, and, turning round, saw a lion approaching him in a menacing manner. It was loose in the Ride, and had approached within a yard of him, when he rushed back into the stable, and closed the door in the face of the ferocious animal. Another groom deposed that he saw Smith endeavouring to pass through the doorway, but before be could do so a lion leaped upon him, and tore him back into the Ride. The door closed with a spring, and shortly afterwards, in peeping through a door, he saw the lion with Smith in its mouth, shaking him as a dog would a rat. The animal had hold of him by the stomach, and Smith appeared to be dead. The inquest was adjourned until Monday next, with a view to obtain further evidence.