Tuesday 11 November 2014

Leicester, England

The Victorians were wont to transport small groups of 'natives' to England and, often, exhibit them in mock-ups of their 'natural habitat' as instructive entertainment. The people in question - from China, Japan, Africa, Australia, New Zealand et al. - were not confined in these spaces; but these were, in effect, human zoos. The interactions of the 'exhibits' with the locals remains a source of queasy fascination. Here's a piece from The Standard 31 January 1851, which contrasts the 'South African' (presented as something of an innocent 'noble savage') with the hooting mobs of English ...

SCENE IN A CATHEDRAL. In the Worcestershire Journal of Wednesday last appeared the following announcement:-- "South Africans. - An interesting physiological fact occurred at Leicester on Saturday, December 21st, at which place the South Africans were being exhibited, the Amaponda woman, wife of the Zoolu chief, having given birth to a female infant, the only instance of a child of these African tribes being born in Europe. We understand that their conductor intends introducing the party to a Worcester audience, and that the infant will be baptised in our cathedral on Monday, the Lord Bishop having promised to administer the sacred rite in person."

Just before the afternoon service on Monday a carriage, which was followed by hundreds of women and children, drove up to the cathedral. It contained the African woman, whose name is said to be Macomba Faku, the godfather, and two godmothers, one of whom carried the infant. They were conducted to seats between the pulpit and chancel, had they were no sooner seated there than the cathedral began to fill, while two or three hundred persons crowded themselves into that confined part of the choir where the attraction presented itself -- squeezed themselves in heaps on the seat mounted each other's shoulders, bestrid the chancel rails, and got into every position which commanded a view of the poor, wondering, half-frightened woman. Presently the bishop arrived, also Canons Benson, Wood, and Cocks, and occupied their usual stalls. When the service commenced, as also when the organ struck out, Macomba evinced some surprise, but on the whole her conduct and demeanour were decidedly a pattern for those by whom she was surrounded. Neither the solemnity of the service nor the, sacredness of the place produced any effect, in checking the: disgraceful extravagancies of the mob, who were walking about, laughing and talking loud all the time, some men in their shirt sleeves, women and girls without bonnets, &c. Meanwhile, a large party had taken possesion of Jesus Chapel, in the nave where the font is placed, and which of course was to be the scene of the principal part of the ceremony. Here were men and women of the lowest character, using language which would have disgraced a gin palace, and all struggling to obtain the most advantageous positions. By and bye the services in the choir were concluded, and as by this time upwards of 2000 persons were assembled, the rush towards the font was terrific. With great difficulty the bishop arrived at the spot, accompanied by Canons Cocks and Benson, Macomba Fako, and her friends with the baby, the choristers and vergers, &c. The pressure was now terrific; children were knocked down, the shouts. and catcalls became deafening, and boys who had climbed on the tops of the monuments in the chapel screamed with delight as though they were the genii of the anarchy around them. The canons and Lord Sandys (the latter of whom was obliged to do battle with the multitude) were nearly taken off their legs, and at one time we thought that the font itself would have been upset by a coup de main. The lay clerks also were compelled to act as special constables to  ward off the multitude. The bishop, however, proceeded with the rite, which, it is needless to add, was a dumb show to all who were not close to the spot. The woman, who stood resting against the font, behaved in the most exemplary manner, eyeing the bishop at times with some curiosity; the infant also (which was dressed in a long white robe, that contested curiously with its little black limbs) proved itself to belong to a well-bred race by preserving the utmost decorum, and not allowing even a whimper to escape its lips ; indeed, the poor thing had been so kissed and pulled about that mere fatigue might account for its quietude. On its being sprinkled with the water the mother looked with great surprise and concern and held an eager conversation with her guardian and the women; his lordship hastened this part of the ceremony, as though fearful of the consequences, and soon put down the child, which had the effect of restoring confidence to the poor woman. The name given to the child, we are told, was "Leicester, England,"

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