Titania -The First Performing African Elephant in Australasia

Illustrated Australian News 21 February 1877

In the years 1877 and 1878, the huge Cooper & Bailey's Circus and Menagerie toured Australasia. Amongst the long list of animals were a group of six elephants. Two were Asiatic elephants named Prince and Queen, with the remainder being three young African elephants with an adult female named Titania. According to one article I came across in the Australian digital newspapers, Titania was named for the fairy queen of the same name a main character in the Shakespeare play A Midsummer Night's Dream.

Titania is one of the main characters in Shakespeare's A Midsummer’s Night Dream.  She is the queen of the fairies, and the wife of the fairy king, Oberon. In folklore, the fairy queen has no name. Shakespeare took the name 'Titania' for his fairy queen from the Roman poet, Ovid (43 BC - AD 18). In his great epic Metamorphoses , Ovid gives this name to the deities Latona, Pyrrha, Diana and Circe, as descendants of the Titans, the powerful gods and goddesses, who, according to Greek myth, ruled the world in the beginning.

The circus toured Australasia for some 18 months with a brief few months break in Sydney while further animals were sought which included what would later be the first rhinoceros to visit the colonies.

The tour of the Cole & Bailey Circus was extensively covered through out its duration. I spent some time going through the multitudes of articles and advertising to ascertain how many elephants were in the group brought over for the tour which is how I came across Titania.

 ....Further on are the elephants. These consist of two fine but not very large specimens of the Indian or Asiatic elephant, named Queen and Prince, and four African or wide-eared variety. One large one, Titania, performs in the circle, and three restless and noisy juveniles, one of which is a mere baby, belong to this class....
.. Mr. Johnston next introduces his trained elephant Titania, which shows great intelligence and dexterity for so ponderous a brute. It dances in the ring, lies down, and balances itself on a pedestal at the word of command…
South Australian Register 12 March 1877

 Throughout their Australian tour the six elephants did attract a lot of attention. The newspapers of the time were keen to describe these great leviathans with as much detail as possible. Being of the African subspecies Titania would have been far larger than her Ceylonese cousins Queen and Prince.

...The largest elephant is the biggest and the best beggar. He opens his mouth when, ordered, lays his trunk over his shoulder, and waits fur whatever the public may be pleased to pitch into it…
The Cornwall Chronicle 8 April 1877

 Titania was a well proven and well trained performer for the travelling circus. She was trained by G. W. Johnston to perform a number of routines under the big top
…After this pageant the great performing elephant  " Titania" was introduced, and excited amusement and surprise at her ungainly appearance,  yet clever performances. She first waltzed round the ring, keeping time to the music of the band; she then walked round on three legs, holding up alternately one fore and one hind leg; she next went round on her knees, and finally mounted with the greatest caution on two pedestals, one about two feet high, and the other rather over three feet high, standing with her hind feet on the lower one, and her fore feet on the other, and at last gathering all her feet together on the high pedestal, where there was just room enough for them; she turned round and round at the bidding of her keeper, and then on one hind and one fore foot holding up the two opposite ones. Before leaving she bowed low to the audience and gently flapped her enormous ears… 

The South Australian Advertiser 12 March 1877

…The trained elephant Titania was then brought forward, and proved itself to be a most sagacious animal At the command of its trainer, Mr. G. W. Johnson, the animal shuffled round the ring, sometimes on four legs, sometimes on throe, and occasionally partly on its knees. It bowed to the spectators in recognition of their applause, and showed other proofs of mental power….

The Argus 19 January 1877

During May 1877 the circus took a recess in Sydney over the winter period, with plans to restart again with the tour in November in the same year. The menagerie was left in the care of keepers while the rest of the circus company headed back to the USA. Bailey one of the owners planned to return from San Francisco with a number of new exhibits for the menagerie including a rhinoceros, polar bears, and bison.

Respecting Messrs. Cooper and Bailey's Circus and menagerie, the Sydney Morning Herald states that the company will visit the provinces, and afterwards the circus will leave the colony for San Francisco. The menagerie will be left behind in Sydney, in charge of competent keepers; and for its accommodation a wooden building is being put up by Hudson Brothers. Mr. Bailey intends to return about November next with large additions to the menagerie, including polar bears, buffaloes, a rhinoceros, and a greatly reinforced circus company. An agent goes in the meantime to India, there to procure further accessions to the present combination.

The South Australian Advertiser 16 May 1877

In November the circus returned with some of the promised animals. The number of elephants advertised remained at six animals

...A HUGE BLACK HAIRY RHINOCEROS, (the only one over captured alive)

 Advertisement Australian Town and Country Journal 17 November 1877

 The menagerie though had suffered some serious losses which included a Quagga, hippopotamus calf, warhogs, walruses, seals and a giraffe amongst the list of animals dying as a result of the effects of long sea voyages. Nevertheless the show continued on despite the loss of some of their star attractions

...Besides the elephants the camels, the lions, the tiger and other animals with which the previous visitors may be familiar, there are also introduced to our notice a double horned hairy rhinoceros a North American bison, and an elk. We miss the graceful long necked giraffe, which has paid the debt of nature and caused a loss not easily replaced. Since its return bore on this occasion the menagerie has suffered an other loss in the death of the hippopotamus this animal, which, including the cost of capture, represented a value of something like £2000 died yesterday morning quite unexpectedly, as when the menagerie was closed on the previous evening it appeared in its usual health. One of the Alaska seals has also died here...
 ... The performances of the trained elephants show in a marked degree the intelligence and docility of the anímals...
The Argus 27 December 1877

In early 1878 the circus headed over to New Zealand to tour the country. This would be the first time African elephants were seen in the country. An Asiatic elephant from Nepal named Prince Tommy, or "Tom" had been brought to Australia and New Zealand in 1870 by Prince Albert but Australasia had yet to see his larger African cousins. Cooper and Bailey obliged seven years later with a total of four in the tour.

....A huge elephant, called Titania, then comes into the ring, and is put through a variety, of feats by the trainer, Professor Johnson. These were loudly applauded....

.. Presently three elephants are brought in, and after some performances over the backs of these, three camels are added and Mr Batchelor turns a grand double somersault over the whole of these....
Otago Daily Times 16 March 1878

The performing elephant Titania was crossing the enclosure with her keeper, and the latter as they passed the fruit stand in the centre, quietly drew after him a case of apples. Titania was not slow to improve the occasion, and commenced stowing away the apples with magic celerity, while her roguish keeper had made himself scarce. The attendant of the stall dared not venture to approach his fast disappearing: stock, and had therefore to hunt up the Keeper, who when he appeared on the scene artistically scolded Titania for having stolen the apples, and then treated her to a bottle of ginger beer, a beverage which she unmistakably enjoyed.

Star 2 April 1878

…The elephant known as Titania was employed running the vans on to the railway trucks….

…The spotted dogs, which have attracted so much attention on account of the strong friendship existing between them and the elephants, were fully conscious of the near departure, and were indulging in all kinds of antics with' their huge companions…
Star 10 April 1878

Elephant Trainer G.W. Johnson gave an interesting interview to the Lyttleton Times (reproduced in the Timaru Herald) during the tour on the training of the elephants in his charge.

The following interesting chat by the Special of that journal with the Lion King of Messrs Cooper and Bailey's Menagerie is published in the Lyttelton Times

 My experience has been considerable, for I have been more than 20 years m the profession. As a trainer? Yes. I trained the performing animals in this collection. Of course you already know what Titania, the female African elephant can do. Prince, one of the Indian elephants, performs at least as well as Titania, and appears in the ring when a change is made in the programme. The other has been accustomed to perform in company, to form pyramids, &c, but the apparatus required for these feats would increase the baggage of a travelling company too largely.

The three small elephants have not yet been educated. Do I ever use any tackling to teach them to lift their feet just as required Oh, dear, no. The only implement I ever employed was a slight stick, with a brad on one end, and by slight touches, and in other ways I made them understand what I wanted them to do. Once shown anything, they never forget it. Well, I think that on the whole the elephants are easy to manage.

 Only the males are at all uncertain. I mean by that, by becoming vicious. Once, in the way one or other of the females there you are now looking at will be subject to fits of irritation, and if anyone goes close to her she will push him away with her trunk. Queen, especially, will do this. The males, as they get older, get more and more uncertain and vicious, until it becomes very dangerous to have to do with them.

Timaru Herald 18 April 1878

Johnston was experienced enough a trainer that he could lay on the ground during a performance and allow Titania to step over him 

 The performance commenced with a grand triumphal cavalcade of the entire company. The trained elephant Titania then executed some very clever tricks, such as waltzing round the ring in excellent time, walking on its knees, and, after ascending to the top of a pedestal, balancing 1 itself on one, two, or three feet, finally stepping carefully over the trainer, Professor Johnson, without touching him, as he lay extended on the ground.
 Evening Post 15 April 1878

 Throughout the New Zealand tour Titania continued to perform flawlessly. The Waikato Times described her performance as "one of the special wonders of the evening"

…This was followed by the performances of Titania, a huge female elephant, under the direction of her trainer, Professor G. W. Johnson. This was one of the special wonders of the evening. The elephant danced, balanced herself on a two foot disc, first by the two off legs, then by the near legs, and then cross-legged, The trainer laid down, and the gigantic animal stepped across him, studious to avoid touching him with her feet. The sagacity manifested m this performance elicited loud applause…

Waikato Times 25 April 1878

In Auckland, however,  tragedy struck. Just before the circus company was due to sail on the Golden Sea for South America, Titania died after eating matches and a quantity of pills from a keeper's pocket. It later transpired in another report that she had also eaten part of the man's coat tail. Her carcass was loaded on board ship for disposal at sea.

The celebrated performing elephant Titania, belonging to Messrs Cooper and Bailey's show, departed this life on board the ship Golden Sea on Saturday night, it is believed from the effects of eating a box of wax vestas, and a quantity or pills, which it obtained from the coat of one of the keepers, that had been hanging near the animal. The loss will be a severe one to the owners. The carcase was taken away by the ship yesterday, and will be thrown overboard when the vessel gets clear away from land.
Auckland Star 6 May 1878

Messrs Cooper and Bailey had the misfortune to lose their big performing elephant, Titania, on board the Golden Sea, just before sailing from Auckland. It is believed that the cause of death was the animal's eating a box of pills and a box of matches. The dead animal was taken out to sea to be cast overboard, at which we have heard surprise expressed. It was suggested in our hearing that, although perhaps a difficult and expensive job, it would have been well to have procured the carcase, boiled it down, and set up the skeleton for the Auckland museum. One enterprising townsman of ours said he wished he had been in Auckland; he would have speculated a ten-pound note on Titania, put her on board a lighter and exhibited her at the Thames as long as she would keep. He said plenty of people have seen live elephants, but few have seen a dead one. It certainly seems a pity that no better use could be made of the dead elephant than to be taken and cast into the sea as food for sharks.

Thames Star 7 May 1878

During June Titania's carcass was spotted floating in the sea off the coast of New Zealand by a passing ship
"It will be remembered that a few hours before Messrs Cooper and Bailey's Menagerie and Circus Troupe sailed in the ship Golden Sea, for Callao, the manager reported the death of the large elephant Titania, caused by devouring a box of matches, a dose of Holloway's pills, and part of the keeper's coat-tail, which it was alleged had proved too much for the digestive organs of the animal.

Many persons have been very skeptical as to the death of the animal, as no one to our knowledge saw it dead.

The following report made to us yesterday by the master of the cutter Diamond, however, appears to set the question at rest:— The Diamond was bound from the Thames to this port on Friday last, and at 4 p.m., when two miles north-east of Orere Point, noticed what appeared to be a boat bottom upwards. Bore down to it and got within a few yards, when they discovered it to be a huge carcase, and from its flappers being prominently out of the water, have no doubt it is the elephant thrown overboard by Messrs Cooper and Bailey. "

Otago Daily Times 3 June 1878


  1. Impressing research! Ive put this elephant Titania at http://www.elephant.se/database2.php?elephant_id=12772


  2. Hi Dan great stuff!

    I've got some others I've found as well that aren't in your database. I'll send them to you as I can


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