089: The Great Hindu Snake Charmer, 1879-1885

Information on entertainers should never be taken at face value as claims of success were often made to attract audiences and bookers. The story of Munshee Sheikh Gheesa has been recovered from British newspapers.
An Aberdeen music hall advertised ‘the Great Hindoo Snake Charmer, M. S. Gheesa’ at the beginning of 1879 and the entertainment weekly Era noted (5 January 1879) he was a snake charmer and juggler. He moved on to Dundee where his ‘very clever sleight of hand tricks’ were praised. In August he was in Lancaster and in September he was at the Queen’s Hall in Birkenhead. In February 1880 he advertised in the Era that he had performed before royalty, and had worked at the Crystal Palace (London) entertainment centre as well as Brighton.
In 1882 in south London Gheesa married Alice Ann Ribchester. They had a son (Ernest: 1882) and a daughter (Amina Murium: 1883) both in London. His London agent said he was ‘a serpent charmer’ (Era March 1882). He again worked at the Crystal Palace (August 1882). He advertised in the London Morning Post for work at parties and Christmas shows and said he was from Lucknow. His contact address was 10 Bloomfield Place, Pimlico Road, London. In January 1884 he was still seeking work as a party entertainer and in April 1884 he worked at New Brighton, a Merseyside resort.
A spell of unemployment took him and the family to Alice Gheesa’s parental home in Torresholme near Lancaster. He found work in Morecambe’s Winter Gardens but on 12 July 1884 his life took an unexpected turn. Alice insulted him (he was ‘a low-caste black nigger’ was one comment) and he attacked her with a razor, chasing her in the street. He was arrested and locked up in Lancaster castle, and held until Alice slowly recovered from the cuts to her neck and face. A relief fund was started to give him support.
His defence lawyer said he should be charged with unlawful wounding. He was 32, had a limited education, and the marriage had not been happy according to newspaper reports. Reynold’s Newspaper (London) noted the ‘murderous outrage by a Hindoo conjurer’ and said he had been greatly aggravated. Gheesa was sentenced to ten years. The Lancaster Gazette 5 and 8 November 1884, and London’s Illustrated Police News (8 November) reported on the trial.
Alice Gheesa remarried in 1901, and their son Ernest married in West Derby, Merseyside, in 1921. Ernest died in Essex in the winter of 1931, aged 49.
The fate of his father is not known.


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