397px-Contortionist,_posed_in_studio,_ca._1880

I’m a huge fan of Ripper Street (currently showing on BBC1) and I found the last episode particularly poignant, with the appearance of Joseph Merrick and the behind-the-scenes of Victorian freak shows. It reminded me of a rather tragic case that Detective Caminada investigated around the same time, in 1888.

The victim was a four-year-old boy who had been cruelly ill-treated by Felix Rosenbaum, a contortionist. The child had been given to the acrobat by his mother to learn the business of a ‘bender’. After two months, the wife of a scenic artist had reported the habitual abuse to the police and Caminada arrested the perpetrator.

The boy (his name was not given), was a ‘delicate-looking lad’, who could hardly walk. He had been beaten regularly with a hair-brush to make him carry out the moves of the trade. The police surgeon reported that ‘the legs, thighs, buttocks, shoulders, and arms of the lad were one mass of black bruises, there were also bruises on the face’. He had also been kept up until 3 am everyday to practise. Rosenbaum claimed that he hadn’t realised that his ‘training’ had caused the boy injury and that ‘he loved the child, but “it” would not work’. The magistrate replied that the prisoner had treated the child  in ‘a most barbarous manner’ and sentenced him to six months’ imprisonment with hard labour.

After being rescued by Detective Caminada the boy was returned to his mother, who said that she had given the child to the performer so that he could travel to the seaside for his health. Hopefully she took better care of him after that.

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