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Thursday, 24 January 2008

The Death of George William Lockhart, Elephant Trainer

One hundred and four years to this very day a terrible accident in the circus world decided three different fates. For one individual it brought an end to an exciting, prosperous and famous life. To another it prompted a new career path that would see him become the "Doyen of Ringmasters", the first circus compare to wear the top hat and "pink" huntsman tails that would be associated with his profession up until the present day. And to two elephants in particular it would mark them in infamy for the remaining five more decades of their lives and make become a part of circus folklore as they passed through the hands of some of the most famous elephant trainers and circus impresarios in history.

On the morning of 24th January 1904 the famous elephant trainer George William Lockhart arrived at Hoe Street Station Walthamstow with his four elephants, "The Cruet", "Salt", "Sauce", "Vinegar" and "Mustard". He had previously been engaged at a venue in Norwich and was now booked at the local "Palace of Varities" for a week. The engagement was not to be. After unloading the elephants the group would stampede down the station goods yard and George William Lockhart, the toast of Victorian Music Hall entertainment and internationally famous elephant trainer, would be dead. The details of his death would be obscured through the constant re-telling of the story and the blame that would be placed on one elephant would often be shifted to another: was it Salt or was it Sauce? A single fact would remain unchanged, George William Lockhart was crushed against some rolling stock when the elephant he was trying to control ran down a narrow channel between stationary vehicles.

George's son, George Claude Lockhart was assisting his father on the day and witnessed the tragedy unfold. Over the next fifty years he would re-tell the story on radio broadcasts, in newspapers and even in his own book "Grey Titan". The information would change, which would add to the folklore that would forever surround the elephants, Salt and Sauce. Meanwhile George Jnr would pursure a career that would see become the world's most famous ringmaster. On the instructions of the great Bertram Mills he presented their famous circus at Olympia wearing a costume that would become the standard uniform of the traditional ringmaster. Lockhart's lengthy career would see him become a celebrity at Belle Vue in Manchester and at Blackpool Tower before his retirement in 1970. He died in 1979.

As for "The Cruet" and the fates of the elephants, Salt and Sauce, their careers too were only just beginning. My book "The Legend of Salt and Sauce" gives the full facts regarding the elephants' career with the Lockharts, including the revelation of who killed George Lockhart, and their long and exciting life afterwards. The book is due out in March. Please check this blog's side bar for ordering information.