The Hendersons will all be there
Late of Pablo Fanque's fair
This quotation comes from Lennon and McCartney's track,
Being for the Benefit of Mr Kite, on the Beatles'
Sergeant Pepper album. The lyrics were inspired by
an old play bill that Lennon saw, but who was Pablo Fanque?
Pablo Fanque, born William Darby in Norwich in 1796, was
in his time one of the most successful circus performers
and proprietors. Orphaned at an early age, he was apprenticed
to William Batty, the owner of a travelling circus. Under
Batty's tutelage, he became proficient at horse riding,
rope dancing and acrobatics, and soon joined the troupe
of Andrew Ducrow, who ran one of the most famous circus
troupes of the time.
He rejoined Batty in 1834, and performed at the Royal Amphitheatre,
Liverpool. In 1836 he was described as the 'loftiest jumper
in England'. In 1841 Fanque left Batty's circus to start
his own show with two horses. WF Wallet, the famous clown,
joined him and they travelled north, opening at Wakefield
where Fanque had erected a circus. Over the next six years,
"by his own industry and talent, he got together as
fine a stud of horses and ponies as any on England".
He married Susannah Marlaw, the daughter of a button maker,
and started a family.
In 1847 Fanque made his London debut, which was a highly
successful engagement. The London Illustrated News
reported that "Mr. Pablo Fanque is an artiste of colour,
and his steed
we have not only never seen surpassed,
but never equalled
Mr. Pablo Fanque was the hit of
the evening. The steed in question was Beda, the black mare
that Fanque had bought from Batty. That the horse attracted
so much attention was testament to Fanque's extraordinary
horse training skills.
After his success in London, he established his troupe in
Manchester, outselling all his competition, which enabled
him to remain there with Wallet the clown, always performing
to full houses. In 1848, his wife Susannah died in a freak
accident when part of the pit collapsed. Several planks
hit her on the head and she died instantly. She was buried
in Leeds' Woodhouse Cemetery.
Fanque continued to perform throughout the country, with
his children, giving open air performances and working with
the biggest names in the business, including Young Hernandez
(1832-1861) the great American rider, and the clown Henry
Pablo Fanque died in Stockport in 1871, and was buried in
the grave of his first wife. The hearse was preceded by
a band, playing the 'Dead March', followed by Pablo's favourite
horse, four coaches and his family and friends.
In an age when slavery had not yet been abolished, Fanque
appears to have been accepted not only by the circus fraternity,
but also by the general public. Given the attitudes of the
time, however, it is difficult to believe that he didn't
encounter racism, but no evidence has been documented. Thirty
years after Fanque's death, the Rev. Thomas Horne, chaplain
of the Showman's Guild, wrote:
"In the great brotherhood of the equestrian world
there is no colour line, for, although Pablo Fanque was
of African extraction, he speedily made his way to the top
of his profession. The camaraderie of the Ring has but one
Text very kindly provided by Dr. John M. Turner