Three books on the Lockhart elephants

 

Grey Titan: The Book of Elephants, by George Lockhart and W G Bosworth (London: Burns Oates & Washbourne, 1938).

Elephants in Royal Leamington Spa, by Janet Storrie (Leamington Spa: Weir Books, 1990).

The Legend of Salt and Sauce: The Amazing Story of Britain’s Most Famous Elephants, by Jamie Clubb with Jim Clubb (Aardvark Publishing, 2008)

 

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Grey Titan: The Book of Elephants, by George Lockhart and W G Bosworth

Firstly I should declare an interest: George Samuel Claude Lockhart (1885-1979) was my first cousin twice removed, though I never met him.  The Lockharts were a well-known family of elephant trainers and heavily interconnected with other families in the circus business.  George’s father (also George, 1849-1904) and George Snr’s brothers Sam (1851-1933) and my great-grandfather Harry (1861-1905) all worked with elephants, but Grey Titan, where it deals with the family, mainly concerns George Snr’s career, with only a passing reference to Sam and none at all to Harry.  George Jnr’s Uncle Sam’s single mention relates the habit one of his elephants had of trying to whack a mouse with its trunk as the rodent emerged from a hole, and even trying to suck it out.

The early chapters cover basic facts about elephants: evolution, geographical spread, and how they have been used by humans in war and peace.  Information includes how to shoot an elephant efficiently (advice George Orwell might have found useful when in Burma, as recounted in his essay ‘Shooting an Elephant’ which was published two years before Grey Titan).  Reassuringly Lockhart notes that ‘Nowadays the elephant is not hunted so ruthlessly for its tusks and for sport as in the past’, instead enjoying the protection of ‘vast reserves’ where they could only be hunted with special permission.  Those were the days.  Another chapter details the lives of working elephants which naturally involves a discussion of capture, domestication and training.

Eventually the narrative moves on to an account of George Snr’s career, the person his son says a newspaper referred to as ‘the greatest elephant trainer of the century’.  He had two sets of elephants.  The first comprised Boney, Molly and Waddy, and George Jnr grew up with them – his prologue begins ‘I was brought up amongst elephants.  As a boy I played with three of them, two huge grey beasts and one smaller, as other boys played with rabbits and white mice.’  He stresses how strong were his circus roots, and the Lockharts were indeed part of a remarkable circus dynasty.

Boney was George Snr’s first acquisition, bought for £37 in Singapore, an (alleged) orphan only six months old.  She was from Borneo so that was her original name, but it became shortened.  Then later he decided to buy two more in order to form an act, purchasing Irrawaddy and Moulmain (soon shortened to Waddy and Molly respectively) in Rangoon for £250.  The three females formed a strong bond and were quick to learn, such as holding each other’s tails when on the move, Boney the smallest leading.  Boney learned to operate mouth and hand organs and to cycle.  The three played skittles and did a variety of other tricks, including acting out a scene in a cafe and another as bandsmen.  The animals had a good rapport and worked together well, touring extensively in Europe, the United States (a tour lasting almost three years that young George missed as he was at school in England) and the Far East.  They were such a regular fixture at Crystal Palace during the summer that they were nicknamed ‘The Crystal Palace Elephants’.

Boney, Molly and Waddy were sold to William Orford in 1901, and Orford eventually sold them to the zoo in Boston, USA, to live out their retirement.  If George Snr had plans himself to retire they were short-lived because before long he was the owner of an even more famous set of elephants, collectively known as ‘Lockhart’s Cruet’.  The original four delivered to the family home in Brighton – Elephanta Lodge – were Salt, Pepper, Mustard and Sauce, though George Jnr says his father later dropped the cruet tag in favour simply of ‘Lockhart’s elephants’.  The neighbours being none too happy at the animals being housed behind a suburban house, the elephants were moved to a warehouse for their training.  Unfortunately when they were ready to perform, Mustard died of ‘dropsy’, later referred to as an unspecified parasite, to be replaced by Vinegar.  Then Pepper fell ill with the same complaint and later died.

To add to the family’s dismay the Cruet were not nearly as amenable to performing as the original trio had been, having a marked tendency to bolt and being generally less manageable.  It may have increased their fame, but that must have been offset by the repair bills George Jnr says his father incurred.  Then came the afternoon in January 1904 when George Snr was killed by one of the elephants during a stampede at Walthamstow (carelessly George Jnr has 1905, an error some later accounts have perpetuated) after the elephants had travelled from Norwich.  Despite the horror of the death, the 18-year old son and the employees had to take care of the elephants.  George Jnr states that they were not allowed back in the Walthamstow yard so had to be walked to Stratford, with a man pushing a wheelbarrow full of loaves to pacify them.  According to his account, his mother sold the elephants shortly afterwards. George Jnr became a famous ringmaster with circuses at Belle Vue, Manchester and Blackpool.

The chapters devoted to the Lockhart elephants are full of colour as the author recounts the adventures and misadventures of the animals, particularly the Cruet.  He is not above a little snobbery, noting the odd aristocratic visitor and a very strange encounter between his mother and the future King Edward VII, with his mother dressed as a boy at the time.  Edward must have remembered the occasion because later he gave way to the elephants in traffic when they were crossing Shaftesbury Avenue, reportedly with the words ‘Let Lockhart go through, we must not keep the elephants waiting!’  So George Jnr says anyway.  It is noteworthy how much time these huge creatures seemed to spend on the public highway, an activity health and safety would rightly frown on now.  What comes across strongly is how intelligent, resourceful, mischievous and unpredictable ‘tame’ elephants can be: one chapter is titled ‘Four tons of tricks’.  George Jnr is emphatic about the need for wariness around them.

After the sections on George Snr’s career the rest of the book consists of anecdotes about various elephants, dealing with such matters as their guile, what a problem toothache is, and stories of famous elephants, such as P T Barnum and others attempting to purchase rare albino ones in Siam and the lengths some unscrupulous showmen went to, including the liberal use of whitewash.  The final chapter is devoted to ‘Mighty Jumbo! The Most famous Elephant of All!’  W G Bosworth’s role the book’s composition is not clear.  He was a journalist on trade paper The World’s Fair, and the title page describes him as the ‘Author of “Tent Town” etc.’, so it is likely that he, as an authority on circus life, interviewed Lockhart and did the writing.  The result is a breezy, but not deep, ramble through George’s experiences in the family business with a lot of miscellaneous elephant lore to bring it up to book length.

 

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Elephants in Royal Leamington Spa, by Janet Storrie

Janet Storrie’s delightful children’s book, profusely illustrated with line drawings by Sue Hitchmough, recounts, albeit in simple terms, the Lockhart link with Royal Leamington Spa.  While George Snr elephants were based in Brighton, those in Leamington belonged to younger brother Sam.  Storrie recounts the brothers’ circus origins (including the diminutive Sam being shot from a cannon, possibly the first person to perform this feat), and how in Ceylon he bought elephants, teaching them circus tricks.

There is not much on Sam’s various elephants other than‘The Three Graces’, Wilhelmina, Trilby and Haddie (Wilhelmina was a middle name of Daisy Lockhart, Sam’s niece and my great-aunt; Trilby capitalised on the ‘Trilby-mania’ following publication of George Du Maurier’s novel in 1894; and Haddie was Sam’s wife Harriet’s nickname).  George Snr is given a few pages, and George Jnr’s three rules from Grey Titan are included: not to interfere with an elephant, nor to tease it, and never to stand between an elephant and a wall.

Leamington places associated with Sam are noted, such as buildings where the elephants appeared and the walkway down to the river where they went to bathe.  Storrie even managed to track down a couple of elderly residents who remembered Sam himself and includes a couple of anecdotes from them, as well as one from Sam’s niece-by-marriage Dorothy.

The book concludes with a fold-out map which allows the visitor to follow Sam’s footsteps: houses he lived in, where he had his moustache trimmed and his suits made, where the elephants performed, trained and bathed, and where he is buried.  It’s difficult to imagine kids asking their parents to show them where Sam bought his suits (a solicitor’s in 1990), but for anyone interested in the Lockhart family it is a useful guide.  The elephant connection is a source of pride in the town, and Storrie’s book is an endearing celebration of it.

 

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The Legend of Salt and Sauce: The Amazing Story of Britain’s Most Famous Elephants, by Jamie Clubb with Jim Clubb

[N.B this is the first edition; a second was produced and both are now out of print]

As the title and subtitle suggest, the focus of this study is on two of George Lockhart Snr’s elephants.  It is astonishing how indelibly Salt and Sauce became associated with George Lockhart Snr, despite his ownership lasting less than two years, and their later careers stretching into the 1950s, long after his death.  The project came about when Jamie’s father, a wild animal trainer and circus historian, received an enquiry about the Cruet and the search for information to fulfil the request proved so fascinating that father and son decided to produce their own work rather than hand the results to someone else, though Jamie did the actual writing.  He draws on a variety of sources accompanied by a large number of illustrations, some in colour, and the text is fully referenced.  He notes that ‘The Lockhart’s circus legacy is as shrouded in myth, speculation and downright inaccuracy as any famous historical tale’.

Clubb begins with a retelling of the Walthamstow tragedy drawing on Grey Titan plus a radio play and magazine article by George Jnr.  He briefly discusses the trade in elephants leading from India to Europe before examining the life and career of George Snr and Sam (but not Harry, who is almost as absent from this history as he is from Grey Titan) and the family business in the circus.  Excitingly Clubb suggests that their grandfather was possibly a slaver who was killed by one of his slaves!  More prosaically, the gentleman in question, Samuel Locker, died in Worcestershire in 1873. (Their father, yet another Samuel, had changed his name to Lockhart at the urging of his wife as she thought it sounded better, perhaps less like a piece of furniture.)

George Jnr maintained that when stampedes occurred it was Salt who always bolted first, her companions following her, which leads one to wonder why his father did not get rid of her; the group might have been calmer without her negative influence.  However, there is confusion surrounding the events at Walthamstow.  That includes the precise actions of each elephant, none of which was named at the inquest.  George Jnr blamed Sauce as the animal which killed his father, but later commentators fingered Salt as the culprit.  Clubb concludes that on the balance of probabilities it was Sauce who crushed George Snr.

He goes back to the original documents, notably the inquest report, to cut through the confusion that has surrounded the tragedy in its various retellings and lays out a plausible narrative.  The way George Jnr tells it, he and his father were alone in trying to manage the situation, but it is clear from the inquest that as well as a groom, a cousin of George Jnr’s was present, though not named in any of George Jnr’s various accounts, and his identity is at present a mystery.  Even more telling, a local newspaper notes that the elephants remained in Walthamstow for several days following the death, so the story of the immediate trek to Stratford following a wheelbarrow full of loaves looks like fiction.

A key question is the influence George Snr had on the elephants.  As he owned the Cruet for less than two years, Clubb asks whether he was ‘the greatest elephant trainer who ever lived’, as George Jnr claimed, or rather was his death an act of vengeance for ill-treatment, a possibility raised by his grandson James Pinder.  To a large extent the image of a kindly likable man stems from the positive press George Snr received during his lifetime, further promoted by his son.  Clubb cites negative comments from Pinder, and Lockhart descendants, which suggest he was not the lovable and compassionate chap as depicted; however, in addition to contemporary accounts which specifically noted his gentle stage manner, he did not have such problems with Boney, Molly and Waddy.

It seems most likely that his death was the result of an unfortunate accident caused by the elephants’ lack of cooperativeness rather than some form of revenge.  This is supported by Clubb’s suggestion that George was driven to succeed, and the problems controlling the animals stemmed from his ‘rash’ hurry in training them.  Clubb discusses the theory that George was motivated by sibling rivalry, as Sam was already successful with his elephant act.  He feels that George’s obsession, as symbolised by Elephanta Lodge with its elephant-inspired furniture and decor, went beyond rivalry with his brother.  Even so, there is some plausibility in the suggestion that he felt he needed to prove himself to Sam, who had trained more than one set of elephants, hence going back into the business with the Cruet, significantly with more animals than Sam would have had at any one time.

Clubb uses Grey Titan as a primary source, but has drawn on a wide range of accounts, including others by George Jnr not in the book, plus personal interviews, unpublished material from Janet Storrie, and trade press reports.  He scrutinises and amplifies George Jnr’s accounts, which may have on occasion sacrificed strict accuracy to a good yarn.  On the repeated stampedes undertaken by the Cruet, he cites young George’s daughter Nina, who pointed out that for much of the time her father was away at college, and Clubb says that the inquest into George Snr’s death indicated that George Jnr’s cousin had been more actively involved in the management of the elephants than he had; possibly some of the accounts George Jnr produced were actually based on stories told to him, rather than first-hand experiences.  It is significant that the repeated and astonishingly destructive stampedes described in Grey Titan attracted so little attention in the local press.  George Jnr’s book does, it seems, need to be taken with a pinch of ‘salt’.  Clubb also identifies the disease which afflicted Mustard and Pepper – ‘dropsy’ being merely a description of symptoms – as probably caused by liver flukes, common in other captive elephants.

Clubb follows the story on to subsequent owners following George Snr’s death, first ‘Captain’ Joe Taylor, during whose ownership first Mustard and then Vinegar disappeared from the act and from the record.  Taylor sold Sauce and Salt to John ‘Broncho Billy’ Swallow in 1922 but the Depression hit Swallow’s show and he auctioned it in 1930.  The elephants were left unsold and essentially became freelancers to others’ circuses, Swallow providing elephants and his management expertise in exchange for a generous cut of the profits, most notably with the Rosaires and from 1939 also with Paulo’s.  During this period Salt killed one of the grooms, William Aslett, and was lucky not to be put down.  It is testament to the indelible association with George Lockhart, despite its brevity, that throughout this period the elephants were sometimes billed as ‘Lockhart’s elephants’ though his ownership had ended decades previously.

Following Swallow’s death in 1945, the elephants were given by his son to Dudley Zoo on the understanding that they would not perform for the public.  This undertaking notwithstanding, the zoo’s intention had been to use the elephants for rides, but the pair proved difficult to manage and gained a reputation for being dangerous – perhaps because of boredom.  As a result they were sold to Tom Fossett a couple of years later and performed at  Ringlands Circus and elsewhere (Swallow’s son’s view of this development is not recorded).  Sadly Salt died in 1952 from pneumonia after falling in a lake just outside Canterbury, her body cut up and taken to a glue factory.  In 1954 Sauce was sold to Cody’s Circus where she performed as Jumbo until 1957.  Her final home was Butlin’s camp at Skegness, an attraction for the holiday makers as one of ‘Butlin’s Elephants’.  She died in obscure circumstances in 1960, the last of George Lockhart’s famous ‘Cruet’.

The book has been a labour of love for Clubb father and son and it is an invaluable resource for Lockharts and those interested in circus history alike.  It would have benefited from a family tree to assist the reader keep track of an extensive cast sharing a limited number of names, and further copy-editing to make the narrative clearer in places.  On the other hand there is a handy timeline and an appendix detailing the life of George’s brother Sam, plus a postscript with further information on some of the dramatis personae, and an excellent colour section and an index round the package off.  There is more that could be researched, such as performance information buried in local newspapers, but The Legend of Salt and Sauce will remain a key text in the story of these remarkable creatures.  One aspect notable by the paucity of available information is the forgotten brother Harry, my great-grandfather, who died in Mexico City in January 1905, a year after the death of George.  There must be a story there to allow Harry to stand alongside his more famous brothers.

Sadly Clubb’s book is out of print at the moment and the possibility of a third edition never materialised.  There must be a case for making it available once more, perhaps as an ebook.  The book may concern a ’legend’, as the title has it, but it cuts through the accretion of tales to bring the story to life.  Contrasting the numbers of elephants used for entertainment purposes up to the 1960s compared to their total absence now, Clubb demonstrates how attitudes to these amazing creatures have changed for the better, and in so doing presents an important snapshot of social history during the first half of the twentieth century.

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