1859 P. T. Barnum Tours Britain with Bizarre Musical Act

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.

P.T. Barnum and General Tom Thumb, 1850

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.

PT Barnum Eddowes's
Eddowes’s Journal, and General Advertiser for Shropshire, and the Principality of Wales – Wednesday 23 February 1859

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.


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But if you were a regular reader of the Wellington Journal you might feel a little short changed if you were expecting anything of any detail – although it might raise a smile.

Barnum Wellington Journal - Saturday 05 March 1859
Wellington Journal – Saturday 05 March 1859

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.

Shrewsbury Chronicle - Friday 04 March 1859
Shrewsbury Chronicle – Friday 04 March 1859

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.

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Born: 6 November 1810, Prague, Czechia Died: 28 August 1889, Vienna, Austria

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”.

Oswestry Advertiser - Wednesday 09 March 1859
Oswestry Advertiser – Wednesday 09 March 1859


Powis Hall Oswestry


Born5 July 1810, Bethel, Connecticut, United States
Died7 April 1891, Bridgeport, Connecticut, United States

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