William Wombwell

From the list of elephant persons Family: Wombwell

William Wombwell
William  Wombwell
The grave of William Wombwell, who in 1849 was killed by an elephant in Coventry.
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Personal details
Country United Kingdom

Title assistant director -1849
Location at Wombwells Travelling Menagerie in United Kingdom

Biography details

William Wombwell , circus assistant director in United Kingdom

dead 1849-06-12 .

There was a tragical accident on 12 June 1849, when the elephant bull "Old Jimmy" killed George Wombwells nephew William Wombwell, during tour in Coventry. William Wombwell married Hannah Gibson. Their daughter Emma Wombwell (1834-1904) married James Bostock.

Transcript of the news from the Coventry Herald in 1849
Fatal accident at Mr. Wombwell's Menagerie.

A most unfortunate occurrence took place on Sunday last, at Mr. Wombwell’s menagerie, in this City, which has proved fatal to a young married man, William Wombwell, nephew to the proprietor; and who has fallen a victim to the momentary anger of one of the elephants. An Inquest was held on the body before E. H. Jackson, Esq., Deputy Coroner, on Tuesday evening last, at Mr. Johnson’s, the Railway Tavern, Hertford-street, when the following evidence was taken :-

Mr. George Wombwell, being examined, said – I am the proprietor of the menagerie now at Coventry. When in London, I live in the Commercial-road. We came into Coventry on Sunday morning last. Deceased William Wombwell was keeper of the lions, but not of the elephants. He was about 25 years of age. He used to tell then names of the animals to the company. I saw the accident, which occurred last Sunday afternoon, between three and four o’clock; he was sitting on some straw, in the booth, when we heard the elephants Fighting. Only myself and another man, besides the deceased, were there.

He was scraping his shoes with a knife in his hand, and it is my belief he went into the den with the knife in his hand. They were two male elephants; one was larger than the other, and both are in the same den. I believe he went to prick him with the knife as keepers sometimes do, when I heard him knocked down, and the elephant had taken his knife from him and crushed it to pieces.

The elephant had got him up in the corner of the den, and was boring at him with its Tusks, and I cried out immediately, “for God’s sake come, for he is killing William,” and deceased at the same time was crying for help. The young man and I got a ladder, which had spikes at the bottom, put it into the den, and poked the elephant with it so as to get him away . -[The knife which had been picked up in the den, was here produced. It was a good-sized pocket knife, but the bone had been torn from the handle, the casing bent, the spring broken, and it was rendered entirely useless.]-From the time that deceased went into the den till we got him away, it was not more than three minutes.

He could just walk out, but I saw he was bleeding very much, and we were obliged to carry him immediately. It is usually a very quiet and tractable creature, and walked last year in the procession at Coventry; it has also performed at Astley’s; it is nearly seven Feet high. The deceased has known it for six years, and has always shown it, and been in the habit of giving him his bread at night; but on this occasion I don’t think the elephant knew him when he first entered the den, which he did through a small door, and not by the way it usually entered.

I never had any accident with this elephant before. There is one particular season in the year, which lasts for about six weeks, when they are more prone to quarrel than at any other time, and it is the season now. The man whose particular duty it is to look after the elephants was lying drunk in another carriage. At the time when I cried out, and we went to rescue deceased, the elephant was just going to kneel on him; and had he done so he must have crushed him immediately.

Mr. Laxom, surgeon, was then examined – Being sent for to see the deceased on Sunday afternoon, between three and four o’clock, I went and found him in the caravan where he lived. On seeing the nature of the wound, I recommended that he should be taken to the Hospital, or to private lodgings; and deceased preferring the latter, he was brought to Mt. Johnson’s.

The principal wound was in the left groin. The tusk of the elephant (which was somewhat blunted and rough, from having been broken,) had penetrated through the thigh, separating the muscles, and exposing the large arteries. There was also extensive laceration, (too shocking to describe,) and the other thigh was wounded, though less severely.

I attended him up to the time of his death; he was much bruised about the thighs, but there was no apparent wound on the body, though probably the bowels might have been injured. Assisted by Mr. Barton and Mr. Dewes, I dressed, and to some extent sewed up the wounds; but deceased never rallied in the slightest degree from the first moment, and died about one o’clock this morning, (Tuesday,) of the wounds I have described.

The Jury, of course, returned a verdict of "Accidental Death."


Total: 1 children

  1. Emma Wombwell. Born: 1835. Dead: † 1904-12-14

Reference list


Koehl, Dan, (2024). assistant director William Wombwell in United Kingdom. Elephant Encyclopedia, available online retrieved 14 April 2024 at https://www.elephant.se/person.php?id=1494. (archived at the Wayback machine)

Sources used for this article is among others:

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Categories assistant director | circus | Wombwells Travelling Menagerie | Wombwell family | Dead 1849 | People from United Kingdom

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