Whimsical Walker

A clown of mystery

(Written by Robert Breen - great grandson of Whimsical Walker)

Mention the name "Whimsical Walker" and many different versions of who he was will be presented. This is the definitive outline:

Whimsical Walker toured the world 3 times, during the fourteen years he was with Hengler's Circus; and played 21 seasons in pantomime at the Drury Lane Theatre.

He came into the world on 21st July 1851, as Thomas Henry (Dawson) Walker - the son of the landlady of the inn The March of Intellect, in Hull, and Robert Stanley Walker, an advance man for Cooks' Circus.

At the age of eight he was performing in Pablo Fanque's circus. He learnt all aspects of the business, and became an equestrian; tumbler; ropewalker; clown and all-round adept circus performer.

He was a frequent visitor to America - having visited 16 times. His first visit was in 1874 with a contract to John Murray's Railroad Circus. It was some eight years later (October 1882) before he returned to the UK.

In 1887, whilst with Barnum & Bailey, he purchased 'Jumbo' the elephant for them, from the London Zoological Gardens, for the sum of £2000. The fee was more than paid back in just a few performances.

Walker put on a profitable pantomime presentation of W. S. Gilbert's The Three Wishes, at the Metropolitan Alcazar Theatre, New York - thus becoming the only person to put on a successful English pantomime (in America) in his day. However, he became bankrupt due to a defective theatre balcony.

In 1886 he was commanded to appear at the first Royal Command Performance, staged at Windsor Castle, before Queen Victoria. His last performance before royalty was for the first visit to a circus of the Princess Elizabeth in 1934. He died later that year (10th November) in Gorleston-on-Sea, aged 83.


An article published in the Balham and Tooting News gives a raft of additional information about Whimsical Walker, but just how accurate it all is, has not yet been ascertained:

"Whimsical" Walker was born Tom Walker in Jerrico, a small village two miles from Bury in Lancashire, on April 1st 1856. His father apprenticed him to Pablo Fanque, a circus proprietor for seven years, and he had to do everything that could be done in the ring.

Later he joined C. Adams' Circus, and became a great favourite in Sheffield, York, and Scarborough, where he had the honour of appearing several times before the present King and Queen and a host of distinguished people. Then he went to America, and travelled with the first Railway Circus. He was in many accidents, travelling through the Rocky Mountains to San Francisco. He afterwards went to Japan and China, returning to England to join Hengler's Circus in Argyll-street, London, where he achieved fame as the children's clown.

Whimsical Walker in familiar
make-up and clown costume

(Dated 13 December 1912)

He was commanded to appear before the late Queen Victoria, at Windsor Castle on 25th February 1886, on which occasion Her Majesty presented him with a valuable pin, of which he is naturally very proud. He was also commanded to appear before the late King of Spain in Madrid just 22 years ago.

He trained two donkeys to perform, and took them to all parts of the globe. One became a well-renowned donkey, who could do anything but talk. One of his tricks was to sit on a chair, turn over the music with his nose, and sing "Home, Sweet Home." He had this donkey for three seasons at the Covent Garden Theatre, under the management of the late Sir Augustus Harris and Freeman Thomas.

Walker performed at Drury Lane pantomime until the death of Sir Augustus Harris. He has been engaged in seven pantomimes under Mr. Gilleno's management. He has played many parts, from Hamlet to his present occupation. The present is the last appearance of the Whimsical One in London, previous to his departure to America and Australia.

(Edited version)