Last week I had the huge privilege of meeting various Pinder/Sanger relatives on a pilgrimage to see family graves at West Norwood and Brockley cemeteries in south London, including that of my great-great-grandparents, Samuel Lockhart (1825-1894) and Hannah Lockhart, née Pinder (1826-1910). As a result of the meeting I became aware of the book A Ticket to the Circus: A Pictorial History of the Incredible Ringlings, by Charles Philip Fox, published by Branhall House, New York, in 1959. As the subtitle suggests, this is a history of the Ringling Brothers’ Circus. It contains a couple of references to Sam and Hannah’s son, and my great-grandfather, Henry James Lockhart, generally known as Harry, who had worked for the Ringlings. On p. 145 we learn that Harry was a believer in phrenologising elephants:
‘Professor Lockhart, an Englishman who had a trained elephant act on the show in the 1890's wrote:- “Elephants are selected for training when young. The bumps on their heads are taken into consideration, for the phrenology of the elephant head is a sure index to character. A flat, low narrow head belongs to a vicious low-bred dangerous elephant. On the other hand, well rounded bumps over the eyes, a high forehead, and straight well-set eyes indicate intelligence and docility. Educating an elephant is like educating a child. You must begin training in childhood if you want them to be perfect at maturity. Patience, perseverance, and pluck are needed to train elephants.”’
Harry had been characterised as a great joker by a journalist on the El Paso Herald, so the suspicion naturally arises that he was having a bit of fun by espousing the application of phrenology to elephants, though they certainly have enough bumps to read. Unfortunately no source for the quotation is given, so we don’t know where or when he wrote it. The reference to patience, perseverance and pluck though was probably said in all sincerity because Harry would have been conscious of the risks involved in training elephants; his brother George was killed in January 1904, crushed by an elephant at Walthamstow, a year before Harry’s own death.
The book also contains a rather wonderful photograph of Harry dwarfed by five elephants standing on barrels, captioned ‘Prof. Lockhart, an Englishman, had a great elephant act on the show in 1897.’ It’s not to everyone’s taste these days but it must have been a remarkable spectacle.