Jungle Manager Matthew Reid Johnston
by Ian Trowell with information kindly supplied by family descendents Barry Fisher and Peter Howard
Matthew Reid Johnston with elephant.
Matthew Reid Johnston (often spelt Johnson) is referred to as second in command to Harry Tudor during the running of the Sheffield Jungles. He seems to be more of an organisational 'get things done' person that an overt publicity magnet such as Harry Tudor or Frank Bostock. It is only through reading the finer detailed reports from the Sheffield newspapers that we see Matthew Johnston mentioned, and he keeps a lower profile regarding the reports of Bostock activity in the World's Fair newspaper. So far, surveying the reports of the different Jungle up to and between the Sheffield Jungles we have found no mention of Johnston.
Johnston is also an animal man, as would be expected for anyone on the Bostock team, and he is seen photographed alongside one of the performing elephants (above). Descendents of Matthew Johnston have contacted the Sheffield Jungle project and we can now add some background to Matthew's life.
Matthew Johnston was born on 29/12/1865 in Glasgow. He worked for Bostock and Wombwells from an early age, finally becoming General Manager, having spent several years touring in Europe and the United States. It is not clear which of the various menageries he worked with, as the Bostock and Wombwell franchise travelled various shows even before Frank Bostock made the decision to set up the Jungle operations. The resource 'Zoo on Wheels' is anything but comprehensive and can sometimes appear a little unstructured - and Matthew Johnston is not recalled in this book. It is evident that a comprehensive guide to the operations and staff of the whole Bostock and Wombwell franchise is a project that has not been commenced, and would be difficult in the extreme. Family members suggest that Matthew gravitated towards Frank Bostock's American presentation tendencies, and he is listed as setting out to America on the ship the JT North with Frank Bostock.
The JT North.
It is suggested that Matthew Johnston moved to Sheffield around 1902/3 and lived at 194 West Street - though directories through the early 1900s up to and through the time of Sheffield Jungles do not list him at this address. The 1911 census lists the West Street address as a private house owned by the Dotson family, and for that year Matthew is not resident, instead boarding at 84 Broomspring Lane with his wife and another boarder (a 71 year man who is presumably not connected with the Jungle). Directories for Sheffield give some indication that the address at West Street might have been used as a boarding house, which would explain Matthews's link to it. How Matthew maintained a working relationship with Bostock and Wombwell, and later Frank Bostock, is not certain, as this would be difficult from a fixed abode in Sheffield?
What is clear is that he married Ivy Ethel Haviland, a London woman, on 19th December 1910 in the middle of the first Sheffield Jungle - Ivy is listed on the 1911 census with their respective ages being 41 (Matthew) and 25 (Ivy). Ivy was the daughter of a Fleet street printer, so it is a convenient background for the publicity-dependent Bostock operations.
Matthew Johnston marriage to Ivy Haviland.
It is then said that they left Sheffield around the end of July 1915 when Matthew took up the job as General Manager at Blackpool Tower Zoo. The menagerie and zoo on the second floor of the Blackpool Tower was a prestigious collection and major tourist attraction, with Matthew in charge up until his retirement in 1948. The animal collection was permanently growing under the care of Matthew, and included various offspring arriving such as a litter of leopard cubs in 1933. Each arrival was presented as a viable attraction for the year. Matthew obviously enjoyed and valued his work at Blackpool, forsaking the hectic travelling life of the Bostock empire for a fixed position. It is perhaps also evidence of the dismantling of the Bostock operations following Frank's death shortly before the First World War, and the emergence on the other side of the war of a different way of doing things.
Matthew Johnston died in 1961, just short of his 96th birthday.
The Blackpool Tower Menagerie in the 1920s.