HISTORY, ROMANCE AND...CATS!
Grace Elliot leads a double life as a vet by day and author of intelligent historical fiction by night. Grace is an avid reader and believes that smart people need to read romance - as an antidote to the modern world!
Grace is also obsessed by all things feline.
interest me- from animal behavior to history. So it was with interest that I
came across a reference in a Victorian book to training cats. The author (Henry Ross) was talking in general
terms about the independent nature of cats.
“It must not be inferred, however, that
they [cats] are untamable, for every creature is capable…of
being trained by man, provided it [the animal] receives due attention.”
promising – and I went on to read:
“We have sufficient evidence in the
feats performed by the lions and tigers of Mr. Carter and Van Amburgh that
felines are by no means destitute of intelligent docility.”
Keen to know more,
I researched Isaac Van Amburgh, but was horrified by what I read.
Van Amburgh’s Legend
Born in 1811,
Van Amburgh started out from humble origins working as a cage cleaner at
the Zoological Institute of New York. He became fascinated by the biblical
story of Daniel in the lions’ den and the idea of dominating big cats. Indeed,
as he went about his work cleaning out the lions and tigers, his employer
noticed the commanding control he had over them.
dealer, Titus, with links to the Zoological Institute saw the potential for a
novel act, where a man “tamed” wild animals. In his own words:
“Novelty plus publicity meant money.”
Van Amburgh in his early costume of a Roman toga
instincts were correct, and the act that made Van Amburgh a rich man, went from
strength to strength. He entered a cage containing a lion, lioness, panther,
leopard, leopardess, and a black-maned lion. The animals shrank away from him,
such was his commanding presence. Then he reclined and commanded each animal to
approach him, one by one, and lick his feet in deference.
“The effect of his
power was instantaneous. The Lion halted and stood transfixed. The Tiger
crouched. The Panther with a suppressed growl of rage sprang back, while the
Leopard receded gradually from its master. The spectators were overwhelmed with
Amburgh was a sensation not just in America, but in England where he performed
for Queen Victoria and Prince Albert. He refined his act, adding in such
spectacular feats as putting his head in the lion’s mouth. Victoria, filled
with admiration, even commissioned Sir Edwin Landseer to paint Van Amburgh’s
Van Amburgh’s Methods
was a mega-star in his time and his act made him a wealthy man. However his
methods were not without controversy, even during his life time, and looking
back it has to be said that his training methods were shameful. However, his
immoral methods paid off, he earnt a fortune and died a wealthy man safe in his
beat the animals with an iron bar, and his “training” method was to intimidate
the big cats using pain, fear, and hunger. Van Amburgh’s publicity agent even admitted the lions were starved for days
prior to a royal performance, as if this was something to be proud of.
Landseer's portrait of Van Amburgh
right-minded Victorians were horrified, but Van Amburgh’s defended his methods
by quoting the bible, and Genesis 1:26 saying that God had given man dominion
over the animals.
appears to have been an early proponent of an extreme form of dominance method
of training, so popular in dog obedience
circles until it’s debunking in recent years. The physical and mental abuse of
animals for human entertainment completely immoral, and beating animals into
submission is wholly unacceptable.
Let us hope
against hopes that if in the modern age a similar misuse of animals took place
for our entertainment, we would not be taken in and object in the strongest