How Wallace the lion who has thrilled generations ended up at Sunderland Museum

Wallace the lion.

Wallace the lion.

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Who knows the background to Wallace the lion?

Wallace is one of the most popular exhibits of the Sunderland Museum.

Wallace was part of William Manners' Grand Menagerie, which came to Sunderland.

Wallace was part of William Manners' Grand Menagerie, which came to Sunderland.

He stands imperiously on display in the ground floor of the building. But what is the history behind this display - what is Wallace’s story?

Philip Curtis from the Sunderland Antiquarian Society looked into the tale and explains more.

Wallace the lion is known by thousands of Wearsiders and was bought by the Museum in 1879.

Generations of people from throughout the North East have seen him.

Wallace outlived his trainer and eventually he died in 1875 at Warrington. He was then stuffed by South Shields taxidermist, William Yellowby, before being purchased by the Sunderland Museum in 1879 where he has been displayed ever since

Philip Curtis

Yet how many know Wallace’s story and why he came to be such a hit?

Wallace was bred in captivity and he was used, along with other lions and tigers, as part of a lion-taming act which toured the country in the 1860s.

His trainer was called Maccomo. He was a man who was employed by William Mander’s Grand National Menagerie and went by various names.

He was billed as ‘The African Wild Beast Tamer’ and sometimes ‘The Hero of a Thousand Combats’.

Blind children with Wallace in 1913.

Blind children with Wallace in 1913.

However there have been suggestions that he may have been called Arthur Williams.

Whatever his name, this was no easy-going attraction. Maccomo’s act was certainly dangerous and, although he used a whip and pistol to defend himself, he was still often bitten and attacked by the animals.

There are examples of the drama he faced.

In 1861, during a show in Liverpool, his hand became lodged in the mouth of a Bengal tiger for more than five minutes.

In the end, it was only released when a keeper held a hot iron bar to the tiger’s mouth.

However, this did not deter Maccomo and he quickly returned to performing. Yet the drama was not over.

While playing in Sunderland in 1869, Maccomo was attacked again – this time by Wallace who, ignoring the whip, sprang and pinned him against the side of the cage.

Maccomo was badly mauled before Wallace was eventually beaten off.

He eventually recovered and, amazingly, Wallace was retained in the act (obviously he would have been very expensive to replace).

Maccomo returned to Sunderland and, on January 11, 1871, while staying at the Palatine Hotel (just next door to the Museum) he died from rheumatic fever.

Wallace, however, outlived his trainer and eventually he died in 1875 at Warrington.

He was then stuffed by South Shields taxidermist William Yellowby before being purchased by Sunderland Museum in 1879, where he has been displayed ever since.

Maccomo was buried in Bishopwearmouth Cemetery.

He was obviously well thought of by his employer, William Manners, who arranged for the erection of Maccomo’s gravestone.

Today this can be seen in the Commonwealth Graves Section of the cemetery.

* For those interested in learning more about the museum and its exhibits, fascinating events are on the way in the coming weeks.

Sunderland Museum is holding an event called Snakes Alive! up to November 6, with admission charges of £2.50 for adults and £1.50 for children.

There will be Meet the Snakes interactive snake shows at 11am, 1pm and 2pm every Saturday until Saturday, November 5.

They cost £2.50 per person but are not suitable for children under five.

Other events at the museum include;

* Until November 6, there will be a display in the Open Space Gallery on the second floor illustrating the work of Sunderland’s Bangladeshi Heritage Project.

* Friday, October 28 is the Museums at Night event when a Slime and Snakes Halloween Party will be held from 6pm to 8.30pm. Tickets cost £5 and are available from the museum shop.

* From October 22 to November 20, the Journey to Justice travelling exhibition will be at the museum.

It aims to inspire and empower people to take action for social justice through learning from human rights movements past and present.

For more information on events and activities at the museum, visit the museum’s Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/sunderlandmuseum