In 1872, as he prepared to retire in Edinburgh, English menagerie owner Alexander Fairgrieve auctioned off his remaining attractions in the Waverley Market. The largest lot was Maharajah, an Indian elephant 7 feet tall with 20-inch tusks. The winning bid, £680, came from James Jennison, proprietor of the Belle Vue Gardens near Manchester, who was expanding his zoological collection. The elephant rebelled at entering a horse box on the Northern British Railway, so his keeper, Lorenzo “Lion Tamer” Lawrence, simply walked his charge to Manchester.
The unlikely pair covered 200 miles in 10 days, arriving on April 20, and the celebrated animal, “having travelled by road from Scotland, via Carlisle, Kendal, Lancaster, Preston and Bolton,” was installed in a temporary glass-roofed elephant house. In the ensuing years he would walk among the visitors, ridden by thousands of children and starring in spectacles such as “Napoleon Crossing the Alps” in the city’s May Day and Whit parades. He died of pneumonia in 1882 at the age of 18.
Heywood Hardy’s 1875 painting A Disputed Toll, above, records an event that probably never happened — it’s said that during their journey, while Lawrence was arguing with a parsimonious gatekeeper, Maharajah simply lifted the gate from its hinges. Accurate or not, the memorable painting now hangs in the Manchester Art Gallery.