Jumbo: The Most Famous Elephant Who Ever Lived


Circuses and zoos are few now as we grow more respectful of animals and their needs. Yet in the 1860’s a young elephant journeyed 10,800 kilometres from Africa to Europe where he would eventually become Jumbo: The Most Famous Elephant Who Ever Lived. 

London Zoo made Jumbo famous because of his conviviality and size. It’s said that he gave rides to thousands of children, including Queen Victoria’s sons and daughters and a young Winston Churchill! Yet at night, Jumbo had violent rages and sought to break down his enclosure walls. Only Matthew Scott, his constant companion, could soothe him.

When Barnum and Bailey Circus bought Jumbo for an exorbitant sum, English people rose in protest! However the money outweighed all other considerations, and Jumbo and Scott were soon parading at the peak of Jumbo’s fame. The circus masters made must of Jumbo’s size, citing him as the biggest elephant ever seen! However, when he died, statistics proved their exaggeration. It seems that even in death, Jumbo’s stuffed and stretched body was a source of income for the circus…

Alexandra Stewart and Emily Sutton have created a fascinating historical biography about Jumbo. Not only does it shed a light on the age in which he became famous, but it compares Jumbo’s story then, with what we know now. Furthermore, the level of investigation, from the route of Jumbo’s travels, the source of his name, to those involved in his life, is thorough. Emily Sutton’s Victorian circus tones fit the story perfectly.

Jumbo: The Most Famous Elephant Who Ever Lived is a respectful, illustrative tribute to a mighty, brave and mistreated animal. Bookwagon recommends this story highly for its interest and information.

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Jumbo: The Most Famous Elephant Who Ever Lived

Alexandra Stewart, illustrated by Emily Sutton


Jumbo: The Most Famous Elephant Who Ever Lived was captured by Hamran tribesmen and sold to Lorenzo Casanova. Circuses and zoos were the rage in the 1860’s. Although ‘an underfed and scrawny-looking baby’, Jumbo undertook ‘an epic 10, 800 kilometre journey by foot, boat and train to Europe’. Thereafter, he was transferred to London Zoo after suffering an overcrowded compound in Paris’s Ménagerie Jardin des Plantes.
Jumbo became well-known  for his size and conviviality. Furthermore, he gave rides to many children, including the royal family and young Winston Churchill. However, Barnum and Bailey Circus exploded the elephant’s fame. They proclaimed the cost of the animal, alongside exaggerating his statistics and the risk of transferring an animal of his alleged size to the United States.
Animals were for recreation or entertainment in the Victorian era. Therefore, we learn how entertainment, news and advertising have changed. What was the truth of Jumbo’s life? What did separation, confinement and physical exertion cost him?
This is an enthralling historical biography. Like Alexandra Stewart’s super Everest, this is an illustrated history. Furthermore, Emily Sutton’s pictures, in circus tones, fit the age depicted, being nostalgic, sympathetic and informative. Bookwagon recommends this title highly.


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