229 : Showman and theatre manager, London 1850

Urban entertainments were to be found in halls and adapted buildings in Victorian Britain, and show audiences had opportunities to purchase drinks and food. Controlling the crowds was a major problem, of course. From time to time Victorian newspapers reported incidents, as can be seen in the Sun (London) of 30 April 1850. The report followed an appearance at Bow Street’s magistrates court.

“A nigger, a well-known character about town, and one who for many years past has been a most troublesome customer to the police, was this morning placed at the bar before Mr. Jardine, charged with the following brutal assault at the Holborn Wax-work Exhibition, formerly kept by Mr. Fergusson”. The admission fee was one penny.

The prisoner was known as the Black Bungeree, and played various theatrical roles including “the African Roscius, the Nigger Melodist, the Banjo-player, the Indian juggler, and [was] the preserver of peace in the saloon while the performances in which he is not engaged are going on”. He punched a customer in the face, and the victim needed the attention of a doctor. Several witnesses “proved the unprovoked assault” and the fellow (whose name is not mentioned) was find thirty shillings (that is, £1.50 or more than 300 times the hall’s admission feed) or two weeks imprisonment.

For another mid-19th century black theatrical personality see this website’s page 182.

Bungaree was an Australian name.

I am indebted to Bernth Lindfors, biographer of dramatic actor Ira Aldridge (who was known as the African Roscius) for a copy of the article in the Sun.


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