top of page

Kangaroos – The 100 Days Project: Day 85 [16]

Top Ten



What has come to be known as the Chicago World’s Fair of 1893 was actually called the World’s Columbian Exposition, convened to celebrate the four hundredth anniversary of Christopher Columbus’ arrival in the New World in 1492. Opening on May 1st, 1893, running until October 30th, and said to have attracted over 27,000,000 visitors, it was a monumental undertaking, involving the construction of numerous substantial buildings, clad in white (hence ‘White City’) and ultimately accredited with introducing a new mode of architecture.


Predictably, the Fair attracted the attention of entrepreneurs and opportunists world-wide. The craze for boxing kangaroos was at its peak so it shouldn’t surprise us to find that some hopeful Australian promoters became involved. A group of three kangaroos were sent to the U.S. on the steamer Monowai in April and May of the year, and a further group of three on the Alameda a few weeks later, via Samoa and Hawaii, accompanied, respectively, by Messrs McMahon and McKenna, their managers. The arrival of the first group in Hawaii on May 5th was described, with some marvellous exaggeration, the following day in The Hawaiian Star:

For the World’s Fair.



Siva-Siva Dancing Girls and Boxing Kangaroos.



On the Monowai yesterday was quite a motley assortment of freaks from the Southern Hemisphere, designed for show at the World’s Fair. Chief amongst them were four Siva-Siva dancing girls who, under the guidance of Manager Stevenson of Apia (Samoa), will open as a tropical attraction in songs and dances in Chicago upon their arrival there. Three boxing kangaroos were also on exhibition, in large wooden cages on the upper deck and hardly look the sloggers that they really are. J. Tait of Sydney is manager of this attraction and shows with especial pride the Australian wonder “Jack,” who has boxed every other kangaroo into smithereens in Australia. The animals stand, on an average, six and a half feet high and are marvels of strength and agility.  They box with gloves on and soon knock out the best of professional sparrers.

Two boxing kangaroos, clearly from this group of three (what had happened to the third?), performed in San Francisco on May 22nd, as announced by the Morning Call on May 15:

The Australian Boxing Kangaroos at the Meyer’s Wigwam Theater.



Manager Meyer has secured at an enormous expense the greatest novelty attraction ever brought to this city. It is the pair of Australian Boxing Kangaroos, of whom the press of this city has given columns of praise and write-ups during the past two weeks.  They will appear in a glove contest, which will be amusing and interesting. This is the first exhibition of its kind ever introduced in this country. They will appear May 22. Prices 10c, 25c, 35c.

One of these kangaroos was ‘Jack’, the champion described by the Hawaiian Star. It seems he and his (one? two?) fellows were holed up in San Francisco for a while. The Morning Call carried this absorbing announcement on June 9th:

Jack is Happy.


The Kangaroo Boxer’s Wife Arrives.


Manager McMahon Says Marsupials Large Enough to Be Pugilists Are Very Scarce.



Kangaroos, Indians, prize-fighters and racehorses came to town yesterday morning on the steamer Alameda, from Sydney, Apia and Honolulu.


The kangaroos attracted more attention than all, for one of the party is the wife of Gentleman Jack, the champion kangaroo boxer of the world.


Joe McMahon, gentleman Jack’s manager, was on the wharf to receive Mr McKenna, who brought with him Lady Jack and two other kangaroos, one of whom died at Honolulu and was buried at sea with much pomp by the steerage passengers.


Mr. McMahon gave some very interesting accounts of catching boxing kangaroos in the bush. “Only large kangaroos are good as boxers,” he said, “and it requires a great deal of hard work and hard hunting to find these big fellows. I have hunted for months to catch kangaroos large enough to make their debut in the show business, although marsupials are as common in Australia as jackrabbits are in Fresno County.


“Lady Jack, here, is a tenor singer,” continued Mr. McMahon with a laugh, “at least that is what we call her. She is not as big as Jack by a long way, but the old man thinks a great deal of her.”


“Did you know that kangaroos could be lovesick? Well, they can, and Jack has shed many bitter tears from his big brown expressive eyes since he parted with his wife some months ago.


“Yes, the big buck kangaroo Mr. McKenna brought with him died at Honolulu. His was a sad demise. He tried to keep up his spirits—and his ‘props’—and appear in condition, but the truth in the matter is ocean voyages are not good for these animals. Cold winds have a very bad effect on a kangaroo’s constitution.


“My protégé, Jack, is going to spar with Corbett. Jim treats the proposition lightly, but he will find that Jack is no mean opponent, and though he does not fight with tooth, he can with nail.  His hind toe will make any pugilist tremble.


“I have Manager Brady’s contract in my pocket,” said Mr. McMahon, reaching after the document and handling it fondly.  “Jack will box with Jim and give him a good set-to I guess.”


By this time the Alameda’s crew had got the big cage containing Lady Jack and her travelling companion into place, preparatory to swinging it ashore.


Lady Jack looked meekly on and swung her caudal appendage gracefully about the straw floor of her cage like a lady switching her train. Her companion, who has not the honor of a cognomen, being as yet an uneducated and scienceless offspring of nature, gazed calmly on, occasionally sticking his long fingernails between the wires, as though inviting some deckhand to become a manicure artist.


There is no doubt about this latter aspirant for marsupial pugilist honors being “built from the ground up”, as is the case with nearly all kangaroos. His head and shoulders are not in proportion to the remainder of his body. Nature did not build a kangaroo to strike from the shoulder. This is why they cannot be trained to stop the ugly habit of kicking.


Lady Jack cannot box, but, like all members of the female sex, she can scratch and make the fur fly. It would be a slander to say that she was seasick on the voyage up, although she did not enjoy the best of health. She did not like the rolling of the steamer nor enjoy the stiff sea gales. A rolling prairie and a sandstorm would have been appreciated more by Lady Jack.


After her cage was lowered Jack’s wife was hurried away to her husband’s training quarters on First street.

If I began to comment on this intriguing article this might become my longest post yet. Suffice to say that Gentleman Jack did eventually find himself, at (or near) the Chicago World’s Fair (in a ring built above an empty swimming pool at a Fleischmann’s Yeast restaurant) on the same bill as Jim Corbett, the World Heavyweight Champion (and the man who defeated John L. Sullivan), though there was no match between them.


But it wasn’t Jack, or Jim, who drew me into this post, or nominating, enigmatically, Chicago for the sixth in my eccentric Top Ten. McMahon and McKenna weren’t the only entrepreneurs hoping for a fortune at the World’s Fair through the unpaid services of enslaved kangaroos. On May 19th, too early for her to have been one of the McMahon/McKenna roos, a Kansas newspaper, The Kinsley Graphic, offered the following:

A Boxing Kangaroo Dead.



Chicago, May 17. – The boxing kangaroo died yesterday in the barn which had been her quarters since her arrival.  It was seized with a chill Saturday.  It continued to grow worse, and Sunday morning Messrs. Allen and Harris, her owners, called a veterinary surgeon, but he could do nothing. The kangaroo cost Allen and Harris $5,000, including the expense of bringing it to this country. As it was as proficient in boxing as the one that earned a fortune at the London aquarium, her owners expected to reap a rich harvest by exhibiting it here during the world’s fair.

This one small detail, encountered while preparing my earlier post on boxing kangaroos, caught me and led me to write this one. A small, inexpressively sad story, lodged in a crack in another. Another victim of human greed, to whom, it seems, I’ve given the name Chicago.


Apparently the $5,000 of 1893 would be worth more than $125,000 today. A small satisfaction, to think that her ‘owners’ were so out of pocket.


Some of the raw material for this post can be found here.

bottom of page