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Thursday, 2 August 2012

Death of a Lion "tamer" on Ringland's Circus 1950

Seems like an age since I last posted on here. An email came in from my cousin Jim Stockley recently regarding some circus history relating to the elephants Salt and Sauce. He forwarded us this enquiry left on the Circus History website.

 Lion tamer 1960s, 01 Aug 2012 - I am trying to trace the name and date of death of a lion tamer that was killed in the ring in a circus in the United Kingdom in the sixties. The details I have are vague, but there is a background and a reason for trying to find out. My mother recently passed away and I know that although she got engaged to my father in 1964, they had unknowingly been at the same circus performance a few years earlier where the lion-tamer had got killed. I do not know the exact year - I guess it must have been after 1960 - and it would have been in the Midlands of the UK, probably Birmingham or Wolverhampton. Any ideas? Can you help from such vague information?



This prompted my father (my main researcher on my book "The Legend of Salt and Sauce") to reply.

The trainer in question was “Captain” Nayara Swami – “the world’s only Negro lion tamer” – an Indian from Madaras who normally did a whip-cracking called “Swami and Sheila”. He was aged 36 when he was killed at Abbey Park, Evesham in 1950. The act consisted of a male lion, Leo, and two lionesses. The animals belonged to “Sister” Jeanette Fossett, the wife of Claude Fossett and the mother of Jessie. The show was Ringland’s Circus run by her father, “Long” Tom Fossett. This lion had already injured another trainer, but we don't have those details at present. Jessie told me that she was there and saw it happen. The lions were kept in shifting boxes, pushed up to the cage with no tunnel. It was reported in the Evesham Journal that “he was dragged out of the cage by a group of clowns”. This wasn’t the case. The lions had left the ring, but the tunnel gate hadn’t been closed properly and as Swami took his call, Leo came back in, grabbed him and pulled him in the shifting box. They got the lion off and Swami was still alive, but he later died at Evesham Hospital. 

The details of the story came via Dennis Fossett, the son of Tom, who was present on the show and Jessie Fossett, who was previously mentioned. Both stories married up with no contradictions. It attracted my interest because Salt and Sauce were owned by Tom at the time and would have been present on the show. Both Tom and Salt would die two years later. Salt's death, as recorded in the book, was a major local incident resulting from her getting stuck in Vauxhall Lake, Canterbury for seven hours. If you enjoy this blog please support it by purchasing a copy of the book "The Legend of Salt and Sauce". A limited supply of signed first editions are currently available. Or purchase a second edition via this link to Amazon:

Jamie Clubb's other blogs: www.beelzebubsbroker.blogspot.com www.clubbchimera.com
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13 comments:

Wade G. Burck said...

Jamie,
Great stuff. Your father is indeed a "national treasure" when it comes to history. Drug into the shift cage, while you are in the midst of your "moment of glory" is sure not a pleasant way to go, for sure, but enlisting the services of a "whip cracker" to present your known dangerous animals, seems to make the outcome, inevitable.

Wade Burck

Jamie Clubb said...

Dad says "Trainers were far cheaper than lions in those days". The shows used to look out for a lion that had injured someone because they knew they could buy it cheap.

Paul Swami said...

Hi, I am the grandson of the Lion Tamer "Swami". Many thanks for the interesting info.

Jamie Clubb said...

Great to hear from someone directly connected to this incident. My father is a great circus historian when it comes to wild animal acts. He said to me he has no pictures of your grandfather with the lions. Do you have any he could copy? If so, I will send you his email address.

Paul said...

Hi, I will certainly look to see if there are any with him and the lions and get back to you.

Jamie Clubb said...

Thanks Paul. I look forward to seeing if you come up with anything.

Christa Wieland said...

Just in case anyone is interested, My aunt Margaret (Maggie) was Swami's assistant when he was knife throwing. I have an article and photo about it. She later left the circus and married and now is in her 80's and living in Australia. Apparently, I not only look like Maggie but am very like her. According to my late Father who would yell with exasperation "You're just like our bloody Maggie!" when I had done something a bit wild.

Christa Wieland said...

Just in case anyone is interested,when Swami was a knife thrower, my aunt Margaret (Maggie Thompson) was his assistant.Apparently Swami took up lion taming when she left the circus to get married. I have an article and photograph.

Jamie Clubb said...

Brilliant. Thank you Christa. By all means, please send the article.

Emma Haynes said...

do you have an email - I have found a picture

Emma Haynes said...

do you have an email? i've found a photo

Emma Haynes said...

http://trove.nla.gov.au/ndp/del/article/42662221

Jamie Clubb said...

Thank Emma. That's great.