Wednesday begins as the most boring of mornings for Constable Stewart of H Division Metropolitan Police. A consignment of wooden crates from Germany has been unloaded from a steamer in Hambro Wharf and put on a cattle truck which he is to accompany to Jamrach’s Emporium at 164 Ratcliff Highway, near the Shadwell nick. Exotic livestock from across the Empire are kept in this store so you can guess what would be in those boxes.
A fair sized crowd follows the truck as it trundles through the City. PC Stewart is there to stop any thieving as it’s unloaded. The first box is taken off safely – cages of beautiful parrots and songbirds to the delight of onlookers.
“Keep back,” he says.
The men start to lift off a much larger iron-bound crate. But they stagger under its weight, losing their footing as the whole thing slips from their grip and crashes onto the pavement. There is the sound of splintering wood. A snarling beast forces its way through the shattered box and out leaps a huge roaring tiger – 11 feet long.
The crowds scatter in panic. PC Stewart blows his whistle in the vain hope of summoning help. The animal bounds along the Highway and suddenly seizes the arm of a terrified little boy in its jaws, shaking him savagely like a rag doll and throwing him onto the ground.
“Oh no! It’s Johnny Wade, from Cable Street, the son of Sam the tailor!”
“He’s barely 6 years old !”
Without a second thought our brave constable runs over, snatches the child in his arms and, dodging past the tiger, he reaches the other side of the Highway. Johnny has a gash in his face and the tiger has bitten right through his arm. He’s bleeding profusely all over a once pristine uniform; he’s breathing but losing consciousness.
Charles Jamrach, in his top hat, armed with a crowbar, runs out from his Menagerie with his staff carrying ropes, poles, nets and other equipment. Jamrach hits the beast ferociously on the nose three times with the crowbar. It falls.
But PC Stewart doesn’t stop to watch as they lasso the animal, net it and drag it to a cage. He summons a Hansom cab and demands that the driver takes the boy and his sobbing Mum down to the London Hospital.
In the next few days amazing stories about the incident appear in the papers. “A passing eight- or nine- year old boy…” (UNTRUE) “…had approached and tried to pet the animal, having never seen such a big cat before…” (NONSENSE) “…The Tiger held the boy by the collar, causing him no injury…” (BALDERDASH). Then the courageous hero Mr Jamrach “…came running up and, thrusting his bare hands into the tiger’s throat, forced the beast to let his captive go…” (TOTAL RUBBISH) “…Now they call the area ‘Tiger Bay’…” (MORE NONSENSE – this neighbourhood’s had that nickname for years, based on the bad experiences of sailors from the ‘bloodthirsty nature of the wretches who lived there’).
PC Stewart will never fully trust a newspaper again. But he’s relieved to have escaped Jamrach’s ‘Hero’ treatment.
“One of these days they’ll no doubt put up a statue to ‘Charles Jamrach, Tiger Tamer,” he muses.
Much of this story is true and now there is a statue in Tobacco Dock. Under the care of the London Hospital, Master Wade recovered. His parents successfully sued Jamrach for a large sum but because of lawyers’ fees they only got the £60 Jamrach originally offered them. Jamrach wrote the account in the Boys Own Paper which subsequent reports were based on. PC Stewart was never interviewed