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Wombwell's Menagerie
Dates: Founded 1810
Biographical Account: George Wombwell was born in Wendon Lofts, Essex in 1777.  He began buying and exhibiting exotic animals in the early 19th century.  By 1810, he had founded Wombwell's Travelling Menagery and begun to tour the fairs of Britain.  By 1839, his menagery contained dozens of animals including big cats, monkeys and rhinos.  Wombwell bred and raised many animals himself, including the first lion to be bred in Britain.  Animal welfare during the 19th century was not what it is today and the menagery participated in activities that would be considered illegal today.  Lion bating in particular was popular, which would often result in the death of any dogs put in the ring with the lion.  The cold climate also resulted in the death of many of the animals, but Wombwell, ever the entrepeneur, would often sell the corpses to local taxidermists or medical schools.  On one occasion, he is even known to have exhibited a recently deceased elephant with the slogan 'the only dead elephant at the fair.'  Wombwell became a celebrity in his time, attending Queen Victoria's court on several occasions.  On one occasion, Prince Albert asked if Wombwell would like a gift.  Wombwell responded, 'what can you give the man who has everything?'  Prince Albert presented Wombwell an oak coffin by way of reply.  However, Wombwell got the last laugh as he exhibited the coffin, charging a small fee.  George Wombwell died in 1850 and is buried in Highgate Cemetry, London, beneath a statue of his most famous lion, Nero.  The fifteen menageries he founded continued throughout the 19th century, although some of them changed their names and ownership.  Perhaps the most famous of these was Bostock's Jungle, which exhibited in New York, although in later years as menageries became less popular, even Bostock renamed his company, Bostock and Wombwell's Menagery to take advantage of the Wombwell name.
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