Jumbo is a Hero

Today I would like to introduce you to Jumbo, also known as Jumbo the Elephant and Jumbo the Circus Elephant.

Jumbo and his keeper Matthew Scott, Date c. 1882 Source http://dl.tufts.edu/catalog/tufts:MS156.001.001.00006.00006

Jumbo, named because of his size, was an African Bush Elephant born at what is now Mali, in 1861, and died September 15, 1885, at the age of 24.  First he was sent to the Jardin des Plantes zoo in Paris (France); then to a zoo in England; then in March of 1882, he was given to P. T. Barnum, who brought him to Northern America as part of their exhibition; he was purchased for $10,000 dollars ($244 thousand today).

Not everyone agreed with that sale.  For instance, 100,000 school children wrote to Queen Victoria begging her not to sell the elephant.  When he arrived in New York, Barnum exhibited the elephant at Madison Square Garden,  Then, Jumbo, one of Barnum’s 21 elephants, crossed the Brooklyn Bridge to prove that the bridge was safe after 12 people died during a stampede on the bridge a year earlier on Memorial Day, Almost immediately, Barnum earned enough to recoup what he spent to buy the animal.

The story of Jumbo’s death was told by Barnum, but many are skeptical of his version.  Jumbo was hit by a train in St. Thomas, Ontario.  Barnum then explained that a younger elephant, Tom Thumb, was on the railroad tracks. Jumbo pushed him to safety.  This caused the train to derail.  According to newspaper accounts at the time, the freight train hit Jumbo directly, killing him, while the other elephant suffered a broken leg.

James Gordon, a Canadian folk singer, wrote “Jumbo’s Last Ride,” describing Jumbo’s life and death.  It was featured on his 1999 CD Pipe Street Dreams.

Jumbo after death by train
Jumbo after colliding with a locomotive on September 15, 1885 in St. Thomas, Ontario



  1. When researching my PhD I saw Jumbo mentioned in a British government document about policy in the Middle East just after WWI. The author, a senior civil servant, was concerned that if the public knew what was proposed there would be as big an outcry as there was when Jumbo was sold to Barnum


  2. How upsetting!! Poor Jumbo! Maybe if he hadn’t been sold to someone who wanted to profit from him, he would never have been anywhere near a train track to begin with! *(HISS)!* *(tail flap)*


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