There are numerous items in the Library & Archives collection that make me wish I could go back in time, and this great piece of printed ephemera is definitely one of them.
This is the front page of a letter written in 1899 to the Hon. Lionel Walter Rothschild (later Lord Rothschild) by Charles Harte, Impressario to Mademoiselle Paula.
It is a wonderful piece of advertising and enterainment history, and you can not help but become curious as to who Mdlle Paula was!
The letter is addressed from the Royal Aquarium, Westminster. This was built in 1876, located opposite Westminster Abbey, but demolished in the early 1900s to make way for the Methodist's Central Hall. As well as a theatre, art gallery, reading and smoking rooms, the building included a main hall featuring; palm trees, sculptures, tanks of curious sea creatures and an orchestra.
(Image reference number 035572)
Looking through newspapers of the time, Paula performed at a number of locations around the British Isles 1890-1899, but the longer stints were spent on the bill at the Royal Aquarium.
Her performance is put in context when you look at the other acts listed on the bill alongside her during October 1890: Roches pack of fourteen wolves, the smallest monkey parachutist in the world, Professor Maxey the needle eater, Sol Stone the Great American calculator, and the Brothers Dunbar and their astonishing aerial act.
In the Pall Mall Gazette, on 29th January 1891, the following appeared advertising Paula's next show: '....with her fierce alligators, who was bitten last Saturday, hopes to reappear to-morrow [sic]'. Clearly a shrewd marketing ploy by her manager!
Later in January 1899, in 'The Standard' she is promoted as 'Paula Queen reptile conqueror of the world, subduing snakes, crocodiles and alligators'.
In the letter held in the Archives collection here at the Natural History Museum, Charles Harte, 'Impresario acting for Mdlle Paula, the famous reptile conqueror’ offers a living fifteen foot rare snake. He wishes to dispose of this ‘serpent’ in order to make more room for his Indian pythons, ‘more suitable for handling in Mdlle Paula’s performance’ and wonders whether Rothschild would like to add it to his collection.
It is amazing how one short letter can lead to such an interesting part of history.
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