Jumbo and his devoted handler lived a strange tale of celebrity, tragedy, and love.
Jumbo was a Victorian-era superstar, a mega-celebrity whose fame was in proportion to his six-ton, 11-foot frame. Like some human celebrities, he traveled from continent to continent, consorted with royalty, indulged in fits of temper, and finally met with a tragic end.
In what could perhaps be called a tell-all biography, Paul Chambers explores the sad but remarkable life of the most famous circus elephant ever in his fascinating, carefully researched account Jumbo: The Greatest Elephant in the World.
The story begins in 1862, when a European adventurer noticed a scrawny baby elephant who had been ripped from his mother for export to Europe. There, crowds were flocking to zoos and it was hoped that an African elephant – not seen in Europe since the days of the Roman Empire – would be a big draw.
Jumbo landed first in Paris's Jardin des Plantes where his runtlike stature failed to wow crowds and he was badly neglected by his French tenders. Fortunately, the London Zoological Gardens saw untapped potential in the lonely young elephant and in 1865 Jumbo crossed the Channel to a new home.
There, he found love – albeit in a rather obsessive form – when he was placed in the care of Matthew Scott, a rustic zoo worker with an almost mystic feel for animals.