Who Was Frank Bostock?

The Sorby Record provided a guide to key naturalists of the Sheffield area. The edition of 1965 hesitantly paid homage to Frank Bostock in the following manner: "Although not perhaps a naturalist in the strict sense, the proprietor of the Sheffield Menagerie known as 'Bostock's Jungle' surely deserves mention here. On the site of the present bus depot near West Bar, the Jungle must have introduced many Sheffield people to exotic natural history, and many specimens from the collection found their way to the museum on their decease".


Photo: Frank Bostock

Early origins

Frank Bostock was part of the Bostock and Wombwell dynasty, famed for the presentation of travelling Menageries throughout the 19th Century, and into the first third of the 20th century. George Wombwell commenced this tradition by exhibiting exotic animals from around 1804. This fascination for exhibition informed the emerging trends of entertainment throughout the Victorian period, with all manner of beasts, curiosities and displays of human endeavour on regular display in fixed and floating locations. Wombwell took to presenting a travelling animal show - a Menagerie - from around 1805, competing with many other Menagerists of the time. He had a fierce drive to become the most famous animal showman in the country, and his partnership with the Bostock family established Bostock and Wombwell as the the country's leading operation.

The Bostock family were land-owning farmers in Staffordshire. In 1832 James Bostock turned his back on his farming destiny and worked as a waggoner with Wombwell's Menagerie. His marriage to Emma Wombwell in 1852 saw the start of the Bostock and Wombwell dynasty, all capable and willing animal handlers and showmen. The core axis of this dynasty was the three sons of James and Emma (there were other children also): Edward Henry (EH) Bostock became the successor to running the main show, James William Bostock managed separate Menageries and presented 'Anita the Living Doll', whilst Frank Charles Bostock set off on his own direction by touring Europe and America.

Frank Bostock was equally as ambitious as his Menagerie-founding grandfather. In his memoirs he talks about how he introduced the 'big cage' to England in 1908, and how he discovered that big cats were wary of the underside of a chair. His time in America possibly led him to doing things differently, with contact at the vibrant Coney Island, and the tradition of 'The Greatest Show On Earth' pioneered by PT Barnum.

Bostock in America

Frank C Bostock arrived in the United States in the summer of 1893, he was twenty seven years old. He set up near 5th and Flatbush Avenues in Brooklyn. It is said that Frank and his family lived in one wagon and the other two wagons housed four monkeys, five parrots, three lions, a sheep and a boxing kangaroo.

It could be said that the arrival of Frank Bostock and the Ferari brothers in 1893-94 (Francis and Joseph were his partners at the time, they were the sons of Italian-born English showman James Ferari) was the beginning of the touring carnival business in America. The wild animal shows they brought became the nucleus around which many of the early street-fair showmen built their midways.

The elaborate carved fronts of the wild animal shows Frank Bostock brought from England, some of them made by Burton-upon-Trent company Orton and Spooner, served as the prototype for wagon-mounted show fronts on American carnivals for the next half century. To read more about Bostock's travels and ideas in America see our separate article in this section of the website.

From 1894 to 1903 Carl Hagenbeck and Frank Bostock competed at Coney Island and for winter zoo locations. In 1903 Hagenbeck was averaging 8,000 visitors a day at Coney Island, this was only half as many as Bostock.

Bostock's Jungle

On returning to the UK he brought back his idea of the 'Jungle' - a massive touring exhibition that moved from city to city. Bostock had taken elements of British showmanship and design to America, and now reversed the procedure by bringing back the American idea of 'the big show' into the UK. 'Bostock's Arena and Jungle' is recorded at Earls Court in 1908 and then visited principal cities in the UK over the following years. Its first Sheffield appearance was in 1910, with a return visit in 1912, a few days after Bostock's death. It is recorded that Frank Bostock also had economic and property interests connected to the roller-skating craze 'rinking' in the early 1900s, and the Sheffield Jungle took over the redundant skating rink in 1910, when the craze had subsided.

Resources

Frank Bostock enjoyed publicity and often supplied features to the World's Fair newspaper telling the tales of his adventures and background. Click the links below to access articles: