Tuesday 21 May 2013

Harvey Leach, the Gnome Fly or Monkey Man

Occasionally a character emerges in the archives which one has to follow through ... one such is Harvey Leach, an irascible dwarf comedian of the early Victorian period, best remembered as the 'Gnome Fly:


A curious performance was attempted last night at this theatre. Mr. Yates, in his constant search after novelty, has availed himself of the services of a Milanese dwarf, and as the little man's personal merits are not much ibn his favour, he has presented him successively in the shape of a baboon and a bluebottle fly. Signor HERVIO NANO acquits himself to admiration in both characters, and it is a question whether his mischievous tricks ni the form of the ape, or his agile flight in the personification of the fly, are most amusing. The audience were equally delighted with both, and every chattering of the brute and flutter of the insect brought down thunders of applause. For the purpose of making the doctrine of the transmigration of souls on which the piece turns well understood by the gallery, Signor HERVIO first appears in his proper shape as Alnain, the King of the Gnomes. He then for the purposes of serving his friend, the son of the Grand Mogul, shoots his soul into the body of the King's baboon, and in that disguise performs every trick that a baboon can be guilty of, with a fidelity to nature that shows how closely man and the monkey are allied. Though he looks and acts becomingly in the character he is compelled to abandon it, because the Queen of the Peris counteracts his plans, and causes the Princess, whom he wishes to disenchant, to be locked up in a dreadful tower. He transfuses his spirit into the body of a fly, and buzzes about in the best bluebottle fashion. He flies on invisible wires from the stage to the lofty turret where the Princess is encased, delivers her from the enchantment, and then to prove that he is no impostor, runs up the side pillars of the stage, crosses the ceiling feet up, and descends at the other side. The Queen of the Peris cannot withstand such devotion - the lovers are united and the fly reassumes human shape. The performances are, in fact, very extraordinary. MAZURIER himself could not play the ape with more agility, and as to the fly, the personifcation was so perfect that if it were summer the flies themselves might mistake him for one of their companions.

The Morning Post, Thursday, February 01, 1838


Last night the theatre was in a state of considerable excitement, in consequence of Hervio Nano (better known as Harvey Leach), the dwarf, not appearing to sustain the character he was announced for in the bills of the day, in a new piece called the Demon Dwarf. Mr. Simpson, the stage manager, explained to the audiecne the cuase of Mr. Leech's refusal to perform, stating that he claimed unjustly 10l. which had been deducted from the receipts of the previous Saturday, as Mr. Yates' share of extra supernumeraries, &c, Leach being engaged by Yates to perform. Mr. Hooper (of the Theatre Royal, Drury-lane, who is also engaged by Mr. Yates) stepped forward, corroborated the stage-manager's explanation, and censured Mr. Leach for his conduct. The Demon Dwarf, however, declared that he would not stir until he got the 10l. and used sundry "demoniacal" expressions, such as liar, &c., jumped on the edge of the lower box circle and addressed the gallery with much emphasis. This procured him considerable applause, which was followed out by the gods, upwards of 1000 in number, tearing up the benches and hurling them into the pit (first having given notice to the pittites who scrambled into the boxes). The work of devastation then began in real earnest. Chandeliers, forms, &c. were a complete wreck; fortunately no person was injured. After some resistance the little man was taken into custody, and now remains in durance vile till responsible bail is given for his liberation.

The Standard, Thursday, October 04, 1838


Harvey Leach, the 'Gnome Fly' , was brought up on a warrant by Herdsfield, charged with having assaulted a young man, named John Williams, residing in Water-lane. The complainant stated that as he was ridign a valuable pony down Ludgate-hill, on the 15th of November, he overtook the defendant who was driving a lady in a chaise, nad seeing an opportunity to pass, he attempted to do so. This gave offence to Mr. Leach who swerved from the [illegible] to throw him down on the pavement, and did so. The pony's hock was cut. He went up to the chaise, to ask why he had served him so, and immediately received a cut from the defendant's whip, which laid his cheek open. He approached him again, and received a cut over the hand which drew blood; and, on going to stop the defendant's horse, till he got his address, the defendant cut him round the neck, and pulled him off the pony. Two gentlemen had given him their cards, but neither of them was able to attend that morning.
    The defendant denide the charge and said he would draw a refutation from the complainant himself in five minutes. His questions were for the purpose of showing that the young man had followed him from Cheapside to Ludge-hill; had holden up his hand to draw attention to the defendant; that the whip was intended to be applied to defendant's horse to extricate him from the complainant's hold; and that complainant gave defendant's horse a thump in the face. The complainant, however, answered none of the questions to Mr. Harvey Leach's satisfaction, and Mr. Alderman Gibbs ordered the defendant to find bail for his appearance at the London Sessions on Saturday next. 

[found guilty at Sessions and paid fine of £20; he had the option of payinmg 10l. to the prosecutor instead, but preferred to pay the full fine]

The Morning Chronicle, Thursday, January 3, 1839


This was an action of trespass by the celebrated Hervio Nano, otherwise the Gnome Fly, otherwise the Dwarf, otherwise the Demon, and really Harvey Leach, in which he sought to recover compensation from the manager of the Birmingham theatre and a police-officer named Roch, for arresting and handcuffing him, and causing him to be taken to the watch-hous, &c.  

The Era, Sunday, June 16, 1839

Harvey Leach, Bedford-street, Strand, Comedian - declared insolvent.

'It appeared that the insolvent had travelled about with a company of eight persons visiting France and other parts of the continent. He had likewise gone to America. He said his company consisted of about eight persons, except when he had "stars."

The Morning Chronicle, Saturday, December 31, 1842

His debts were 266l. arising out of law proceedings in an action he had brought for false imprisonment against Mr. Simpson, the manager of the Birmingham Theatre, and a constable named Rook.

The Standard, Thursday, January 19, 1843

Harvey Leach, the legless dwarf, who you must remember at the Adelphi, is exhibiting here in a melodrammatic vaudeville called Un Conte de Fée assisted by three wonderful juvenile American acrobats.  ... The drama possesses some merit, but is written as a medium for the exhibition of this peculiar style of performance.

The Morning Post, Saturday, December 28, 1844


The sight-seers of the metropolis have recently been gratified by the exhibition of a being called "The Wild Man of the Prairies" who has held his levees at the Egyptian Hall, Piccadilly. The advertisements relative to this singular specimen of nature led the public to believe that he was a most mysterious creature, half animal, half human, "the long sought link between man and the ourang-ourang, which naturalists have for years decided does exist, but which has hitherto been undiscovered." Thus began the advertisement which had the effect of attracting several visitors to the exhibition, but unfortunately for its complete success one too many. A correspondent of the Times, who charactistically signs himself "Open-eye, paid his shilling and was shown into the sanctum of the monster. He at once discovered the "Wild Man of the Prairies" to be no othjer than exceedingly tame dwarf Hervio Nano, otherwise Harvey Leach, who about ten years since performed the part of a blue-bottle at the Adelphi, Surrey, and other minor theatres.

The Manchester Times and Gazette, Saturday, September 5, 1846


In our obituary  has been already recorded the death of Mr. Potter, of the University College Hospital, in consequence of having pricked his finger while dissecting. The subject was, it appears, the late Harvey Leach, the well-known Gnome Fly and Man Monkey, who bequeathed his body over to his most intimate friend and companion, Mr. Potter, for dissection and he, whilst engaged in his labour, pricked his finger with a lancet. 

Daily News Tuesday, May 25, 1847

See also this biographical entry

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