Circus of horrors as tiger mauled worker at Sheffield Theatre

A theatre hosting a circus, an escaped angry tiger on the loose and then a full house matinee performance the same day. No it's not a made up blockbuster tale it is the true story of one of Sheffield’s Empire Theatre's darkest days back in 1933.

By Lucy Ball
Tuesday, 8th September 2020, 12:30 pm
A tiger mauled a circus worker at the Empire Theatre back in 1933
A tiger mauled a circus worker at the Empire Theatre back in 1933

In December 1933 the circus arrived in town with performances lined up at Sheffield’s Empire Theatre.

An attendant was cleaning out one of the cages on the stage but one of the untrained show tigers came up and savaged his body leaving 30-year-old Ernest George Dalton in hospital with badly lacerated neck, shoulders, and back.

The tiger then defied capture for four hours and went on a rampage in the music room and cellar of the theatre before emergency services finally closed ranks on the wild animal.

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But how did this happen?

The tiger, which is called Rajah, had never been used in the show before, and had only been put through its places during the morning rehearsals.

Dalton had gone to clean the cages which are at the side of the stage, and was cleaning the one containing the tiger when it got out and sprang on him.

Reports from the Yorkshire Telegraph and The Star, from the day of the accident on Saturday December, 2 1933 stated: "He was borne to the ground, screaming, and about half a dozen attendants rushed to the scene and managed to beat off the animal with shovels, iron bars, and other


After a terrific struggle they managed to drag the badly injured man away and he was carried off the stage and out through the stage door into Union Street.

Emergency services were called and Dalton was rushed to the Sheffield Royal Hospital and after treatment was taken up to the ward and detained with serious injuries.

What happened to the tiger?

Meanwhile, the frenzied tiger, maddened by the blows which had been rained on him by the attendants, in their desperate efforts to save Dalton, stampeded round the stage and rushed down the steps into the cellar beneath.

The door was slammed shut and two men stood guard.

The fire service were then called in and the plan was to hose the tiger out of its hiding places in the cellar. This worked and the tiger then ended up in the theatre's band room where it ripped instruments and soft furnishings apart.

A makeshift metal tunnel made of railings was made by theatre workers holding the railings together with rope and belts.

A Star reporter, who rushed to the theatre after the commotion started said: "I stood on the top of the other cages from which I could hear the growls of the other animals, which had been aroused by the noise. The animal crept up the steps and was then driven into his cage by the trainer, and the door dropped into position."

The show must go on

Despite the confusion and damage that was caused the stage was put in order for this afternoon's matinee, which was given before a packed house.

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