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A Lion-Tamer Killed by Lions


The "Wounded McCarte Lion" - Modelled by Rowland Ward in 1874.

The McCarte Lion

Considerable interest had been aroused by the death in Manders’ travelling menagerie of Thomas McCarthy, an Irishman professionally known as Massarti, a famous one-armed lion tamer, who was performing on January 3rd, 1872, at Bolton with five lions in one cage, when he was attacked by the animals and killed.
McCarthy had been bitten on three occasions previously to the catastrophe at Bolton. The first time was in 1862, when he lost his left arm, as already related; the second while performing at Edinburgh in 1871, when one of the lions made a snap at his arm, but only slightly grazed it. The third occasion was only a few days before the accident which terminated his career and his life, when one of the lions bit him slightly on the wrist. The fatal struggle at Bolton was preceded by a trifling accident, which may perhaps have done something to lessen the never remarkable steadiness of the man's nerves.
One of the lions, the Silver Mane, or African Lion, died a natural death in January, 1874. The McCarte lion, as it has been called, had been artistically treated by Rowland Ward of Piccadilly as 'A Wounded Lion', all conventionalism being discarded, showing the sound work of an experienced craftsman and the evident result of poetic study. The mighty beast appears in quite a dramatic striking attitude, representing a lion that has been struck by a bullet behind the shoulder, and he sits howling with rage and agony, to send fiery glances at his supposed enemy. It was placed on view in the window of Ward and Co.’s establishment in Piccadilly, where it attracted a great deal of attention.
The "McCarte Lion" - Front and Side view of the head.
Rowland Ward regarded the “McCarte Lion” as one of his most successful pieces of lion work. It was absolutely true to the nature of all measurements, for he kept the flesh beast in the position he wanted it for his work until its condition was such that he could keep it no longer. He has done justice to the scientific and artistic truth of reproductions of animal forms by a correct anatomical use of their outer natural covering, which is not stuffed, but placed on a cast moulded to show the muscles in action.

The Illustrated Sporting and Dramatic News

The Illustrated Sporting and Dramatic News, Nov. 28, 1874.
We this week give an illustration of the head of the silver mane or African lion which killed M 'Carte, the celebrated lion tamer at Mander's Menagerie, in the year 1872, and which on its death, which occurred last January, was stuffed by Messrs. Ward and Co., the eminent taxidermists, of 158, Piccadilly, where it may now be seen.
The M 'Carte lion, as it has been called, is certainly one of the most remarkable specimens of the art of preserving animals that it has ever been our good fortune to examine. It has been treated from a wholly unconventional point of view, as "A Wounded Lion". A bullet is supposed to have struck the beast behind the shoulder, and sinking on his haunches, he is roaring impotently at his foe with mingled rage and pain.
We need not go into the details of the interior setting-up, beyond stating that the animal to be so treated is first skinned, and then the exterior muscles are separately worked into relief, according to the action to be represented. This will show how much study and knowledge of anatomy are required. A cast is then made, that is modeled again, and so on, until finally a hollow, light and practically indestructible object d'art is produced, entirely removed from the common category of conventional preserving.
No bones have been used except the teeth, the skeleton itself having been bleached and put together separately. The eye is specially worthy of remark; unlike the ordinary glass eye hitherto in use in taxidermy, it seems instinct with life, and stamps Messrs. Ward and Co.'s production as one of the highest merit, which all lovers of natural history would do well to take an early opportunity of visiting.

The Illustrated London News

The Illustrated London News, [Nov. 28, 1874], presented an illustration of THE MACCARTE LION. This is the young African lion of Manders' menagerie, which killed his unfortunate keeper Thomas McCarte.
The Illustrated London News, Nov. 28, 1874.

Death of Massarti, the Lion-tamer.
Horrible Scene

The Illustrated Police News - Terrible scene at Manders 1872.
A correspondent of the Sheffield Independent gives the following harrowing details of the shocking death of Massarti, the lion tamer, at Manders' Circus, in Bolton. [Queanbeyan Age, Thursday 21 March 1872]
A terrible scene occurred in Manders’ Menagerie, at Bolton, about half-past 10 o'clock on Wednesday night, January 3rd, Massarti, the lion tamer, being attacked by the lions, as he was giving the last performance in their den, and so frightfully torn and lacerated that his death resulted a few minutes after he was extricated.
The menagerie had been in the town since the previous Friday, and the daring feats of Massarti, the lion tamer, caused no little sensation amongst those who flocked to witness the collection. This was doubtless attributable to some extent to the fact that Massarti had only one arm, his left arm having been torn off by a lion at the circus of Messrs Bell and Myers, in Liverpool, nine or ten years ago.
On the death of Maccomo, the African lion tamer in January last [11 January 1871], he was, by his courageous conduct, selected for the position of 'lion tamer' by Mr. Manders, and he at once essayed to rival his predecessor in his exploits in the lions' den. Being comparatively new to the menagerie Masssarti had not yet been allowed to perform amongst the tigers, but from the very period of Maccomo's death he had entered the lions' cage, and put the animals through their performances. He had been bitten on two occasions whilst in Mr Manders' service. The first time was whilst performing at Edinburgh, when one of the lions made a snap at his right arm, but only slightly grazed it. The next occasion was on Monday last, when one of the black-mane animals, known as the Asiatic lion, bit him slightly on the wrist and finger.
Unlike his predecessor Massarti frequently turned his back, on the lions, and had been repeatedly cautioned against the continuance of this dangerous practice. It is believed that utter disregard of this warning has been the cause of his death.
At the time of his death. At the time of the accident the menagerie was moderately well filled with people, it being computed that about 500 persons were present. Massarti had concluded his descriptive lecture of the animals, and had entered the lions' den for the purpose of giving his final performance. In driving the animals from one end of the cage to the other, one of them ran accidentally against his legs, throwing him down. Massarti, however, soon regained his feet, drove the animals into the corner of the den. He then walked to the centre of the cage, and whilst stamping with he feet upon the floor to compel the lions to run past him, the African lion which is conspicuous for the absence of the mane, crept stealthily out from the group, and sprung towards him, seizing him by the right hip, and throwing him on his side. For a moment the spectators imagined it was part of the performance, but soon the agonized features of Massarti indicated that he was being attacked in reality.
Immediately a scene of wild and terrible confusion ensued. Women screamed, and men ran for pitch forks, brooms, or any weapons they could lay their hand upon. In the meantime, three other lions had lept upon Massarti, who was vainly endeavouring to regain his feet. He was lying upon his side, his head partly raised, and his body resting upon the stump of his left arm, while with his right arm he was making desperate lunges amongst the now wild and infuriated animals with his sword. At length the Asiatic or black mane lion seized the poor fellow's arm, tearing the flesh and fracturing the bones in one or two places, and the sword then dropped from his hand. Several men now came forward with forks scrapers, and other weapons, and essayed to beat the lions off, Massarti encouraging them in their efforts as well as he was able. A slide was inserted between the bars of the cage, and after repeated blows, two of the lions were beaten off, and attempts were made to drive them behind the partition. This was a task, however, of considerable difficulty, for as one animal was compelled to relinquish his hold, another occupied its place, and from the thighs of poor Massarti piece after piece of flesh was torn away, saturating the floor of the den with blood.
A butcher thrust at the lions with a pitchfork forcing the prongs up to the hilt in the neck of one and causing it to yell with pain and turn its attention to its own safety; another he endeavoured a stab to the heart, but the prongs glanced off at the shoulder-bone; while a third received sundry wounds about the face. One man inserted a broom into the cage and another a ladder; but the black-maned lion, with a single wrench, tore the broom-head from off the handle and leapt over the ladder with it. After some difficulty the revolver of Massarti was drawn out of the case, and fired at noses of the lions; but they only relinquished their hold for a moment.
The conflict was renewed again and again and several times Massarti was dragged up and down the cage, one lion seizing him by the head, the others by the legs. Eventually the irons were heated, and by their aid, and the discharge of blank cartridges, four of the animals were driven behind the partition. Massarti then lay in the centre of the cage, with the maneless lion that had first attacked him, still engaged in worrying him. A second partition was inserted, but was found to be too large, and then one of the circus men directed the first slide to be drawn out a little, with the view of driving the fifth lion amongst the rest. More shots were fired, but it was not until the heated bars were applied to the nose of the savage animal that it loosed its hold of Massarti's body, and ran behind the slide. Even then the conflict was not over. Before the partition could be closed, the lion ran partly out again, seized Massarti by the foot, and dragged him into the corner, where four of the animals again: fell upon him with savage fury.
A quarter of an hour elapsed from the time of the attack before Massarti could be extricated, and as the lions were then all caged in the corner near to the entrance, the door at the opposite end of the cage had to be broken open ere he could be lifted out. He was still conscious, and as he was being borne to the infirmary he exclaimed, "I'm done for." He died in a quarter of an hour.
An examination of the body revealed the most frightful injuries. The scalp, from the crown to the neck had been torn away; all the flesh had been torn off both thighs, from the hips nearly to the knees, the right arm was fractured in two places, as well as badly lacerated; and there were also serious injuries to the chest.

Terrible Death of a Lion-tamer.
Bolton Evening News

The gruesome report from the Bolton Evening News, April 13, 1872, is available on Papers Past.
  • Rowland Ward, A Naturalist's Life Study in the Art of Taxidermy, London: Rowland Ward, 1913.
  • The Illustrated London News, The Maccarte Lion, Nov. 28, 1874.
  • The Illustrated Sporting and Dramatic News, The M'Carte Lion, Nov. 28, 1874, p.209.
  • Queanbeyan Age, DEATH OF MASSARTI, THE LION TAMER, HORRIBLE SCENE. March 21, 1872, p.3.
  • Bolton Evening News, TERRIBLE DEATH OF A LION TAMER, April 13, 1872, p.20.