The American showman P.T. Barnum, of the Greatest Show, fame was a man known across the globe. He employed sensational forms of presentation and publicity to popularize such amusements as the public museum, the musical concert, and the three-ring circus.
In the late 1850s he toured the UK giving lectures at music halls and theaters.
On the 28th February 1859 he brought his lecture on the Science of Money Making and Humbug to Shrewsbury’s Music Hall.
He’d published his autobiography, The Life of P.T. Barnum, Written by Himself 4 years earlier, so was already a big name and a huge draw.
Well known at the time for his work with Tom Thumb, (pictured) a dwarf who achieved great fame as a performer.
“Playing upon the public’s interest in the unusual and bizarre, Barnum scoured the world for curiosities, living or dead, genuine or fake. By means of outrageous stunts, repetitive advertising, and exaggerated publicity, Barnum excited international attention and made his showcase of wonders a landmark.”(ENCYCLOPÆDIA BRITANNICA)
His appearance was hotly anticipated – and advertised ahead of time along with reviews from previous events.
The event went down storm, but if you weren’t able to make it on the night you could be sure to read a review of the night in the local papers.
For a much more detailed account, and to clear up the matter on who the “unpronouncable” Hungarian musician was, you’d need to head to the Shrewsbury Chronicle.
It’s hard to see from the print but the musician was actually an Austrian called Kratky-Baschik, and when you see his instruments you can see why the writers of the above reviews were vague about what it was he was playing.
Sadly there are no recording of him playing – although recording music was possible from 1877.
But judging by the reviews and the photos of Kratky-Baschik and his instruments you can be sure it was an incredible show.
STOP PRESS: – When booking in tour dates P.T.Barnum, or his agents, would write to prospective venues asking about the availability.
He sent a letter to Oswestry – but when they replied with details he declined to go because Powis Hall was “miserably dirty”.
Powis Hall Oswestry