Lioness Attacking the Salisbury Mail Coach: an Update
I have written before in this blog about the lion attack on the Salisbury mail coach in 1816. For those of you who missed it, this is the story.
In The Devil’s Coachman, the first of the inventor’s two tales, there is an account of how a lioness attacked the Salisbury mail coach at what was then called the Winterslow Hut (until recently The Pheasant). This is a true story, which occurred in October 1816. A travelling menagerie had pulled in for the night at the inn. A lioness escaped its travelling cage and attacked Pomegranate, the leading horse of the Devonport mail. All the passengers fled to the safety of the inn, while the owner of Ballard’s menagerie fed one of his dogs to the lioness to distract it. One poor passenger was too slow, however, and found the door shut in his face. When the lioness was at last secured, he was let into the inn. He recovered sufficiently to write an account of his ordeal for the local paper, but later went mad and was incarcerated in the lunatic asylum at Laverstock, where he died twenty-seven years later. After the incident the coach resumed it journey, arriving in Devonport only forty-five minutes late. The proprietor of Ballantine’s Menagerie, clearly a man who knew a good business opportunity when he saw one, bought Pomegranate and exhibited him alongside the guilty lioness at Salisbury Fair. When the novelty had worn off, he sold Pomegranate back to Royal Mail, where he resumed his duties. By all accounts, Pomegranate, who was an ex-racehorse, was an ill-natured brute in the stable but a co-operative animal in the traces. He had a brief posthumous fame when the Post Office, as part of its bi-centennial celebrations of the introduction of the mail coach, issued a 16p commemorative stamp in 1984. The coach is the last remaining mail coach made by Vidler, who were given the contract in 1786 to supply vehicles to the Royal Mail. Its working life came to an end in 1835 when Vidler ended their contract.
Astonishingly, the coach, which was named Quicksilver, still survives. The Times of December 5 reports: “It has undergone an extensive two-year restoration by Mark Broadbent of Fenix Carriages in Devon, after languishing in private storage for 40 years. When the Duke of Edinburgh, a keen carriage rider, found out about the restoration in October, a visit to Windsor Castle was organised and it was displayed to the Queen.”
One last thing: those who know the area will recognise that the Post Office got the picture on their commemorative stamp the wrong way round. If it was coming from London it would have been travelling across the picture from right to left.