Tamer’s grisly death in Victoria Square among burial records

9:14am Thursday 24th January 2013

IT has been almost 141 years since a one-armed lion tamer was mauled to death by lions in Bolton town centre in front of hundreds of people.

Thomas Maccarte, professionally known as Massarti, was ripped apart in Victoria Square on January 3, 1872.

His death became legendary, and a copy of the Bolton Evening News’ gruesome report from the time is still available on the New York Times website.

But now, for the first time, the public can see Massarti’s burial records, including a picture of his headstone in Tonge Cemetery.

The unfortunate 34-year-old’s burial record is one of thousands that have been added to the Bolton database, Deceased Online, which includes the records for the seven cemeteries and crematorium managed by Bolton Council.

The international database gives grave details, burial registers and grave location maps of everyone buried in the town and it is hoped it will help historians and people researching their family trees.

Massarti’s is one of the most infamous deaths listed on Bolton’s database.

At the time, the Bolton Evening News called it a “fearful tragedy” and an inquest recorded a verdict of misadventure.

Apprentice star Alex Wotherspoon, before he was famous, was given the chance in 2004 to look at two of the claws from one of the lions said to have killed Massarti and wore them around his neck on a chain.

Massarti, who was travelling across the country with Manders’ Menagerie, was performing dressed as a Roman gladiator with five lions for one final time in front of 600 people in a large marquee in Victoria Square.

It was an additional performance and had been arranged for 10.30pm due to popular demand, before the group was due to pack up and move on to Bury.

The experienced lion tamer had already lost one of his arms to a lion during a circus performance in Liverpool with Bell and Myers’ Circus, but this had not been enough to warn him off.

He was described in the paper as a “very bold and adventurous man and had been frequently cautioned respecting his rashness”. As Massarti was nearing the end of his act in Bolton, one of the lions, called Tyrant, attacked him, seizing him by the hip, while an African lion fastened on to him by the stump of his arm.

Massarti was said to have jabbed at the animals with his sword, while police fired blank rounds into the cage and the “panic stricken” crowd screamed.

A third lion grabbed Massarti by the ribs and a fourth ripped open his scalp, leaving skin hanging down his neck.

Circus attendants heated irons to drive three of the lions away and into the other half of the cage but at this point another lion dragged Massarti across to the other lions.

When he was eventually brought out of the cage away from the lions, the Bolton Evening News described him as a “poor and almost pulseless piece of humanity”.

He died minutes after reaching the infirmary.

The newspaper cutting then described in detail the gory injuries inflicted on Massarti by the lions.

l For more information about Deceased Online, visit deceasedonline.com

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