Tiger King made it the best wedding ever

Back in the 19th century when William Lancaster of Ipswich in Queensland enjoyed a night out, he always had the best stories to tell. He was a coal miner who lived at Tivoli, and his life was full of adventure. I told a version of this story on West Bremer Radio.

William was a veteran of ships that went to the Crimean War and the Indian Mutiny. He sailed with Lord Roberts of Kandahar, the Victoria Cross recipient who was the most famous military commander of his time. William was twice shipwrecked, once off the coast of Newfoundland and once off England.

He went to live in Ipswich in 1869. It took thirty years, but he eventually met his match as a storyteller. It happened when his daughter Jane Lancaster married William Spendelove at Southport in 1899.

William Spendelove and Jane Lancaster

William impressed his daughter’s new family with his adventure stories. But Jane’s new brother-in-law Valentine Spendelove told a tale that topped them all.

On the morning of Wednesday the 21st of November 1888, Valentine was walking down George Street in Brisbane when he noticed a man being mauled by a tiger.

Just as one person stuck his arm down the tiger’s throat, Valentine rushed over and pulled the man being mauled to safety. Valentine was a hero and was offered a bravery medal by the Royal Humane Society, but he declined.

Even William Lancaster, the father of the bride, couldn’t help but be impressed.

Valentine Spendelove

But the whole story started in August of 1888 when the Irishman George Higgins (top picture) brought his collection of wild animals from the Brisbane suburb of Toombul and set up a menagerie in the city on the corner of George and Turbot Streets.

This included five tigers, a cheetah, a panther, five dingoes, several monkeys, and a number of snakes. Higgins had long been a lover of exotic animals and had even donated a large iguana to the Queensland Museum.

One of the employees at the menagerie was Peter Bertram who was variously described a half-witted German, Austrian, Russian, and Pole.

On the morning in question, Higgins went into the cage to wash two of his tigers called Jimmy and Sammy. That’s when Bertram fiddled with the cage door and Jimmy the tiger escaped.

Bertram started running down George Street with the tiger after him but was caught by the legs. Bertram got up and ran away again, this time the tiger knocked him down and started mauling on his head. His scalp was torn away and the brain exposed, although later it was found to have remained largely intact.

By this time Higgins was grappling with the tiger, and Valentine Spendelove joined the fight to drag Bertram to safety.

Charles Higgins and Valentine Spendelove depicted in the dramatic rescue

A week later with Higgins and Bertram both in hospital, another employee was left in charge. He got drunk and allowed a dingo to escape. He then threatened to release the fiercer animals much to the terror of the neighbouring residents.

That’s when the locals took out court injunctions and demanded that the menagerie be closed.

In January 1889, the menagerie was supposedly sold to the well-known theatrical agent Monty Browne for his aquarium at Bondi in Sydney. But it remained on George Street for some months before relocating to the Queensport Aquarium at Hemmant in east Brisbane.

In 1891, three years after the incident, Bertram shot and killed a young lad on Higgins’ property but was acquitted of murder probably because he was brain-damaged by the tiger.

In 1894, six years after the mauling, Charles Higgins was killed on Ipswich Road at Annerley when his horse bolted and his cart overturned.

In 1904, Valentine Spendelove was also killed in an accident just five years after telling the story at his brother’s wedding.

William Lancaster, the father of the bride, died at his home at Tivoli in Ipswich in 1914.

And Peter Bertram, the victim of the mauling, he outlived them all.

By the way, sitting and listening quietly at the wedding was Jane Lancaster’s nine-year-old nephew Ralph Spendelove. Sixteen years later he enlisted for the First World War and earned not one, but two Military Medals for bravery.


Photo credits:
Charles Higgins’ tiger menagerie at Toombul c1888 – State Library of Queensland
William and Jane Spendelove – TonyWalsh009 originally shared this on 8th April 2012 on Ancestry
Valentine Edward Spendelove – TonyWalsh009 originally shared this on 27th December 2014 on Ancestry
Tiger Fight in George Street – Queensland Figaro and Punch, Brisbane, 1st December 1888, page 1

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