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Fanque, Pablo, 1810 - 1871



  • Existence: 1810 - 1871


William Darby aka Pablo Fanque was born in St. Andrew’s Workhouse, Norwich on 30 March 1810. Pablo was one of five children born to John Darby and Mary Stamps including John Richard (born 4 Jul 1792), Robert (born 27 Jul 1794), William (1796-1797), Mary Elizabeth (1798-1801) and William (1810-1871). Pablo was given his dead sibling’s name, which always made his date of birth confusing.

Pablo became an orphan at an early age. He entered the circus world as an apprentice to William Batty, an established circus proprietor, at the tender age of ten in 1820. He first trained as an acrobat and tight ropewalker and later as an equestrian showing great promise from the very beginning.

Pablo made his first known appearance in the circus ring in 1821 with Batty as Young Darby but once he established himself as a performer, he changed his artistic name to Pablo Fanque. Pablo achieved great success and over the years worked his way up working with some of the most prestigious British circuses of the time including Ducrow’s and Cooke’s to eventually become the first ever black English circus proprietor in 1841 at just twenty one years of age.

His beginnings as a circus impresario were a modest outfit counting with just two horses and a lot of talent and ambition, which over the following thirty years made Franque’s one of the most celebrated circuses of the time, travelling around Yorkshire, Lancashire, Ireland, Scotland and many other English towns and cities.

As a performer, Pablo became renowned for his feats of horsemanship and even gained royal approval when Queen Victoria attended one of his performances at Astley’s Amphitheatre in 1847.

Pablo married his first wife, although it is unclear whether they were legally married, Susannah Marlaw (died 1848) in c1830 and had two sons, William (b. c1832) and Lionel (b. 1836). It is likely that Pablo also fathered a child with Marian Banham in Norwich, when he was eighteen years old, William Darby Banham (1828-1869). William Darby Banham became Pablo’s apprentice and performed under the name Pablo Fanque Junior or Master Burkham until c1848, before emigrating to Australia where he continued his career as a circus performer under the name Pablo Fanque. William Darby Banham died of tuberculosis on 5 June 1869 in Sydney. Lionel also became an apprentice to his father and performed as Master Pablo Fanque until he was twelve years old. Lionel left the troupe after his father married his second wife Elizabeth Corker (b.1826) in June 1848, just three months after his mother’s death in a tragic accident while at a performance in Leeds on 18 March 1848, when part of the theatre they had hired collapsed on her.

Elizabeth Corker was a circus equestrian twenty six years younger than Pablo. Pablo and Elizabeth had four children, Elizabeth (c1850-1853), William Batty Patrick Darby (c1851-1852), George (1854–1881) and Edward ‘Ted’ Charles, (1855-1937). Elizabeth and William died in their infancy and the two surviving sons followed their parent’s footsteps into the family business performing with their father’s circus as George and Ted Pablo.

Pablo’s fortunes started to decline in the 1860s and although he had enjoyed great success in his career for many years by the time of his death from bronchitis on 4 May 1871, he and his family lived in great poverty.

Found in 5 Collections and/or Records:

Pablo Fanque Darby's Royal Tenting Company Poster, 1847

Reference code: 178R47.16
Scope and Contents Professor Hemming and his Infant Sons acrobatic act, Pablo Fanque Darby's company of female equestrians, Mr. Pablo Fanque Junior equestrian act and tightrope acrobatics act, Mr. Orford banjo and singing act, Mr. Williams equestrian act, Mr. Burdett strongman, The Four Elastique Sauteurs gymnastic act, Olympian Miracles equestrian feast by Mr. Williams and Mr. O'Donnell, The Polka Horse, Alexis the Intrepid, Master Gee equestrian act, Mr. Fenner juggler, Misses H. and C. Cotterill equestrian...
Dates: 1847

Posters, c1800 - 2011

Reference code: 178R47
Scope and Contents

A wide range of British and international circus and menagerie posters ranging from the 19th to the 21st century including Astley's Amphitheatre, Pablo Fanque, Polito, Bostock and Wombwell, Ducrow, Cooke, Hengler, Sanger, Smart, Gerry Cottle, Bertram Mills, Chipperfield's, Robert Brothers, Fossett, Blackpool Tower, Billy Russell, Belle Vue, Great Yarmouth Hippodrome, Austen Brothers and many more.

Dates: c1800 - 2011

Proclamations, 1836 - 1888

Reference code: 178S5
Scope and Contents

Proclamations announcing Pablo Fanque's benefit event and speaches and appearances about the horse killing wolves incident at Lord George Sanger's theatre.

Dates: 1836 - 1888

Public Notice Proclamation, 13 December 1836

Reference code: 178S5.2
Scope and Contents

Notice is given that Pablo Fanque's Benefit is fixed for Tuesday 13th December 1836. Black type on off white background with coat of arms on top centre and description of event. Printed by W. Scraggs Printer, Cork.

Dates: 13 December 1836

Victorian, Edwardian and Georgian Circus Posters, c1800 - 1930

Reference code: 178R47.1-51
Scope and Contents

Early circus and menagerie posters including Polito's menagerie, Astley's Amphitheatre and Pablo Fanque's, Sanger's, Powell's, Ducrow's, Cooke's and Hengler's circuses among others.

Dates: c1800 - 1930