1862: Assault on Acrobat and a Newspaper’s Victorian Response

A newspaper's less than sympathetic (racist) take, on an attack on a circus worker at Bridgnorth.

Sanger's Circus was probably Britain's most famous circus during the Victorian Period. Set up by Englishman 'Lord' George Sanger in 1854 with his brother John, they toured the UK and Europe for years. George built a reputation for flair and showmanship making the circus part of mass entertainment culture.

In August 1862 he brought the circus to perform in Shropshire, at Shrewsbury, Wellington, Ellesmere and Bridgnorth before moving on to Kidderminster.

sangers advert Eddowes's Journal, and General Advertiser for Shropshire, and the Principality of Wales - Wednesday 30 July 1862

But while in Bridgnorth Anthony Powell, who was part of the equestrian team, attacked Ali Abdallah at the town's post office.

Racism and sexism still exist in 21st Century society all over the globe, but in Victorian times it was rife and certainly by the majority of people it wasn't seen as a bad thing. In fact it was perpetuated by beliefs that there was a natural order of things, and Darwin's theory of evolution (published in 1859 in On The Origin of Species) was wrongly used as evidence by people who wanted to perpetuate that idea.

Anthony Powell was summoned to the court in Bridgnorth – and the subsequent report in the Wellington Journal makes for shocking reading.

Arab assault Wellington Journal - Saturday 16 August 1862


Whether Mr Powell's reasons for the assault were one of racism, offence at Abdallah's use of a swear word, a previous clash, another reason, or maybe all of them, we can only speculate.

However, with the newspaper's references to Abdallah being a "child of the desert", being hit on his "copper coloured probiscis [Definition: the nose of a mammal, especially when it is long and mobile such as the trunk of an elephant or the snout of a tapir]" and his "impertinent manner" it's clear from reading the article where the reporter's sympathies lie, and it's not with the victim. The magistrates saw fit to fine Powell but clearly the popular press had some way to go before its views on race would change.

Sanger's Amphitheatre Poster


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