Martini Maccomo (1835/18361871), by Henry Greenwood
Maccomo, Martini (1835/18361871), lion tamer, was said to have been born in Angola, though it has also been suggested that he was a sailor born in Liverpool, or that he was Arthur Williams, a West Indian. He was recruited into British fairground life by William Manders, whose Grand National Mammoth Menagerie featured him from late 1857. He was billed as the African lion hunter when in Newcastle in January 1858 (Newcastle Courant, 1 Jan 1858) and as that Daring and Romantic Adventurer in Edinburgh in March (Caledonian Mercury, 1 March 1858). The Caledonian Mercury's review of his Edinburgh performance praised the act and his bravery (8 March 1858). In Forfar his act was clever and daring (Dundee Courier, 22 Sept 1858). When he made his first appearance in Liverpool he was described as the sable Maccomo (Liverpool Mercury, 10 Jan 1859). He faced twenty lions and tigers. As the menagerie (now with a chimpanzee) toured the country it was Maccomo's performance that was singled out for praise. In Norwich in late 1859 the fight was thought to be a sham, but at two performances one lion attacked him (Bury and Norwich Post, 10 Jan 1860). He was described as a Zulu while in Birmingham (Birmingham Daily Post, 10 Jan 1860). At the end of January in Great Yarmouth wadding from Maccomo's pistol injured a spectator, who was awarded £150. In his testimony in a very intelligent manner speaking good English, Maccomo stated that he had never had such an accident during the four [sic] years he had worked for Manders (York Herald, 4 August 1860). Perhaps he had recently assumed the style Maccomo. The London-based entertainment weekly Era reported this incident, placing his name in quotes and calling him a negro (Era, 5 August 1860).
In July 1860 Manders' Royal Menagerie (as it was now called) was in Leeds and its advertising proclaimed that Maccomo the African Lion Hunter, Tiger Tamer and Serpent Charmer would deal with twenty lions and four Bengal tigers. One tiger attacked him in Liverpool, and he was such a professional that it was at first thought to be part of the act. He was freed (a heated iron was used on the tiger's tooth) after four minutes standing with his hand in her mouth (Glasgow Herald, 15 Jan 1861). His act consisted of chasing an assortment of tigers and lions round the ring with his whip, while firing guns, which appeared to make the animals furious. He got them into a corner, but then relaxed so much that they all played with him. A young lion in Norwich in January 1862 seized Maccomo by the hand and he had to take to his bed. The Norfolk Chronicle, copied by the Essex Standard, Colchester (8 Jan 1862), questioned the sense of the performance, praised the menagerie, but suggested that Maccomo should have a less dangerous act. The Standard's editor opined that the matter should be referred to the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.
Manders' Menagerie brought exotic animals to audiences all over Britain, with elephants, ostriches, elks, monkeys, camels, and exotic birds, as well as a band and superb horses. That the African lion tamer might be attacked attracted many. The Dundee Courier (4 July 1863) commented that there seemed to be an impression that one of the large lions is only waiting a favourable opportunity to pay back the numerous blows it receives by making a meal of Maccomo. Often billed as the African lion tamer, Maccomo was reported to use pistols, knuckle dusters, and sharp iron bars to control the beasts (Liverpool Mercury, 26 June 1866). Nevertheless other observers believed that Maccomo's control of the animals was more benign. At the beginning of October 1865 the menagerie was at the Nottingham Goose Fair when Maccomo's mastery over the animals was said to be complete. One man in a cage with seven lions and lionesses was surpassed by his tiger act, caressing them as if they were household tabbies, showing a fondness that if not real is wonderfully like it (Nottinghamshire Guardian, 6 Oct 1865).
British newspapers carried reports of attacks on Maccomo, but menageries were part of the travelling fair culture of Britain and outside the standard theatrical-entertainment sphere, and were therefore infrequently recorded. Nevertheless the impression is that Maccomo was known by name to thousands of Britons, and certainly the throngs at fairs and race meetings who paid to see the menagerie were in part drawn to see its lion tamer. Berrow's Worcester Journal (3 July 1869) reported on the race meeting and the sideshows, and said that Maccomo had been twelve years in the profession. The 1861 census listed him in the Manders' wagon near Bath (and noted his birth place as Angola). He died in the Palatine Hotel, Sunderland, on 11 January 1871, from rheumatic fever. The death certificate recorded his first name as Martino and his age at death as thirty-five. The death notice in the York Herald (14 Jan 1871) said he was thirty-one, and from Angola. The Era (15 Jan 1871) had similar details. Maccomo's extremely successful performances led to many other black entertainers working as animal trainers, although he was not the firsthaving replaced Billy Strand, from Manchester.
Newcastle Courant (1 Jan 1858) · Caledonian Mercury (1 March 1858); (8 March 1858) · Dundee Courier (22 Sept 1858); (4 July 1863) · Liverpool Mercury (10 Jan 1859); (26 June 1866) · Bury and Norwich Post (10 Jan 1860) · Birmingham Daily Post (10 Jan 1860) · York Herald (4 Aug 1860); (14 Jan 1871) · Era (5 Aug 1860); (15 Jan 1871) · Glasgow Herald (15 Jan 1861) · Essex Standard [Colchester] (8 Jan 1862) · Nottinghamshire Guardian (6 Oct 1865) · Berrow's Worcester Journal (3 July 1869) · E. Stevenson, Illustrated and descriptive catalogue of Manders' Grand National Star Menagerie, with life and adventures of Martini Maccomo, the African lion king (1870?) · K. Scrivens and S. Smith, Manders shows and menageries (Fairground Society, Newcastle under Lyme, 2006) · d. cert.
H. Greenwood, portrait, line engraving, priv. coll.; repro. in Scrivens and Smith, Manders shows and menageries, 5 [see illus.]