Daniel Hartley — The Preston Giant, 1825-1862

The Giant Brothers - A waxwork of Daniel's dead infant brother was also exhibited

The Giant Brothers – A waxwork of Daniel’s dead infant brother was also exhibited

I came across Daniel’s name when I was walking through Aberdare old cemetery. The headstone, though small, was not just the usual recitation of dates and the promise of the then-living to remember the deceased; this was an obituary etched in stone.

The headstone of Daniel Hartley, Aberdare

Daniel’s headstone

“In memory of Mr Daniel Hartley native of Preston in Lancashire who died suddenly on the 26 Nov. 1862 at Mountain Ash, Aberdare, Glamorganshire, aged 28 years The well known fat man who had travelled and been exhibited for the last twenty years through every town in Great Britain. Deceased had six perfect fingers on each hand, and six perfect toes on each foot. He weighed a little before his death 30 stone but when in full health he weighed 37 stone.”

A search of nineteenth century newspapers revealed several references to Mr Hartley. Given the somewhat unusual nature of his appearance, references to him may be verified by their content. Whilst enough to satisfy my curiosity, my search was not systematic or intended to be exhaustive.

The newspaper articles on which I have relied are transcribed in this PDF –Newspaper references to Daniel Hartley, The Preston Giant. I have included a 1905 article in the Aberdare Leader which makes reference to the headstone’s inscription.

Daniel Hartley was born on 16 August 1825. That date, from an 1837 article, changed as the years passed, not necessarily for vanity’s sake but for the purpose of advertising him as an exhibit; aged 22 he is proclaimed as the Preston Giant Boy, aged just 17, and exhibited with the waxwork of his dead infant brother.

References to his early years are found in the hyperbole of an 1847 sales pitch: “When three days old he weighed 22 lbs.; at the age of 14 months he weighed 63 lbs., and could then carry 28lbs. with ease. At the age of 9 years he weighed 18 stones, and could easily raise four 56 lbs. weights above his head…”

An 1837 article, reprinted in several newspapers, notes that he was 12 years old at that time and 16 stone in weight. Labelled the “Preston Prodigy”, his “immense weight of flesh” is remarked upon, with comment on his having 6 fingers on each hand and 6 toes on each foot. A mention is given to his having made appearances in London, with much comment on his being descended from a race of giants.

This same article mentions a brother, born in August 1837 and six-fingered like Daniel. This child, of whom the claim is made that he weighed 5 1/2 stones at 18 months, died on 13 April 1839 in Manchester, where a Dr Redcliff made a plaster of Paris cast of him.

John Hartley, Daniel’s father was a flagger and slater: as far as I can tell, the former refers to the laying of flag-stones, the latter to roofing. Little is said of his wife, the mother of Daniel. The couple had other children “not remarkable for differing from the common run of mortals”.

In 1845, Daniel Hartley was being exhibited in Lambeth as the Lancashire Giant, “standing five feet ten inches in height” and “weighing forty-four stone, fourteen pounds to the stone”. He was accompanied by his parents, who could also be seen. For contrast, alongside Daniel was Mr. Thomas Bartlett, aged thirty-five and weighing forty-five pounds.

This, “the greatest treat ever offered to the public”, was available from midday until nine in the evening. Quite what treat you had in return for your entrance fee is uncertain as it seems rather lacking in content. It seems that you would walk in, have a gawp, then walk out again, no doubt with a shake of the head and a “Cor, blimey, I ain’t never seen the like,” or “I’ve seen bigger and fatter than him,” depending on your character and life-experience.

Whether such exhibitions were particularly profitable, or simply better in some respects than the life Daniel might otherwise have had, I do not know. There seems to have been a level of interest in seeing him, with claims of Royal patronage to heighten that interest and, perhaps, add an air of respectability to proceedings.

Daniel’s father died “somewhat suddenly”on 2 June 1846 while accompanying his son at a Whitsun Fair in Newport, Hampshire.

In 1847, Daniel is advertised as being available for viewing at Fishergate, Preston. The presentation, though, refers to “The Giant Brothers”, as a waxwork model of his dead brother is part of the exhibition, accompanied by their mother and Mr Bartlett, the Man in Miniature. The exhibition was available for viewing by private parties in the afternoon, with public exhibition in the evenings.

In 1850, there is a reference to “Hartley’s Exhibition” being in Bury St Edmunds. This account states that “the patronage bestowed upon it has been very great” over the week it has been there. Daniel is accompanied by Mr Bartlett, with no mention of his mother.

In 1851, Daniel is in London, staying with an interesting character: Mr Henry Lemaire of 3 Blackfriars Road, Christchurch, Southwark. Mr Lemaire is an Exhibionist, in a professional capacity. He later became a photographer with his studio at this same address (might there be a photograph of Daniel?). The London Gazette of 1859, when he was applying for insolvency, indicates that he had a number of premises with which he was associated at that time. The premises at 3 Blackfriars Road is referred to as the Royal Albion (late Rotunda). While he is stated to be a publican at the time of his insolvency, mention is made of a Museum of Arts at Edgware road, Middlesex, in which context he is referred to as a Theatrical Agent.

Daniel’s age continues to shift: on this occasion he is 24. His relationship to Mr Lemaire is given as Exhibitor though his profession reads (if I can make it out correctly) Exhibitionist’s servant. Also at the premises is Thomas Bartlett, whose profession is given as Exhibitionist’s Tailor: though married, he is not accompanied by his wife. Daniel and Thomas are the only two people at the address associated with being in exhibitions, which indicates that there was a business relationship of some sort with Mr Lemaire.

In 1852, there is an account in the Welshman of “The Goliath of Modern Times, Master Daniel Hartley” being exhibited at the Carmarthen Lammas Fair. The exhibition appears to have made quite an impression, being described as “really … of an astounding and singular description,” and “this monster of the human race is a curiosity of the genus homo that should be seen by all who have the opportunity of doing so…”

Mr Bartlett is not named, merely being referred to as a dwarf: “the contrast is most amusing”.

An article in 1853 provides an update on Daniel, stating that “he is in a thriving condition” with a weight of thirty-seven stone. Mr Bartlett is with him, the exhibition being held at Aberdare, South Wales.

There is an 1861 census entry for a Daniel Hartley of Preston at Great Yarmouth, a “traveller” among the caravans surrounding his entry. Listed with him is a Charles Hartley, 22, of Preston. This seems likely to be the Preston Giant, though his age is given as 24.

The final article is dated 17 December 1862 and is in the Aberdeen Journal.

“DEATH OF A CHARACTER. Died, at Aberdare, Glamorganshire, suddenly, November 26, Mr Daniel Hartley, the well-known “fat man,” who had travelled, and been exhibited, for the last twenty years through every town in Great Britain. Deceased had six perfect fingers on each hand, and six perfect toes on each foot. He weighed, a little before his death, thirty stone, but when in full health he weighed thirty-seven stone. He was twenty-eight years of age.”

With that, we are back, very nearly, to the inscription on the headstone.

Throughout all of this, the voice of Daniel is absent. How he came to be an exhibit is not revealed by the newspaper accounts, and the level of control he had, if any, is not known. Perhaps there was pride in being the Lancashire Giant, the Goliath of Modern Times, and in touring the country, where people paid for the privilege to inspect him. Compared to the lives of those that greeted his birth — father, mother, uncles and aunts — a life as an exhibit might have seemed no more harsh than the lot of the “common run of mortals”. But the language of the handbill is not reality, for any of us.

[Updated on 5 June 2016 with details from the 1851 census.]

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