A child and his cute, playful, tame tiger, or an innocent little boy about to have his head swiped clean off his shoulders? One view is the stuff of children’s fantasy books, the other of lifelong nightmares.

As statues go, this installation at Tobacco Dock in London’s East End is a pretty unusual one and the story behind it is definitely of the less cuddly variety.

In 1857 gathering weird and exotic animals from around the world and showing them off – with little to no understanding of the creatures own native requirements or health and safety – was all the rage for explorers and gentry.

Charles Jamrach was one such man and his ‘Animal Emporium’ showcased animals that a Londoner would never otherwise get within 5,000 miles of – literally.

Wade y. Jamrach – Illustration
Bath Chronicle and Weekly Gazette, 11th February 1858
His Emporium on the Ratcliffe Highway in Wapping (already notorious by then for the Ratcliffe Highway Murders) welcomed one of the most exotic beasts of all – an adult tiger straight from its Bengal habitat.

Not unreasonably the tiger was not too interested in playing Jamrach’s game and escaped to check out this new and utterly alien and ill-suited environment.

The residents ran for their lives, all except one nine-year-old boy.
The residents of Wapping, being unused to seeing India’s greatest carnivore sauntering down the road, ran for their lives – all except one nine-year-old boy who stood transfixed. At this point in a fairy tale, the little boy and the terrifying tiger would become best buddies, but reality is a little different. The tiger did not see a defenseless, wide-eyed, innocent child – he saw lunch.

In a flash the young lad was in the tiger’s jaws. At this point it is said that Charles Jamrach and a colleague caught up with the tiger and, with the aid of a crowbar and much manic shouting, managed to save the boy. Accounts say he thrust his bare hands straight down the tiger’s throat, forcing it to let of its prey.

In a tremendous act of gratitude for saving their boys life, his family sued Jamrach for £300 – a considerable sum in the 1850’s.

The statue sits on the site very close to where the incident happened.