History Of Madame Tussaud's
( Originally Published 1920 )
The mysterious Sun Yat Sen's visit His escape from the Chinese Legation—The Dargai tableau—Sir William Treloar entertains his little friends.
ONCE in its long history Madame Tussaud's Exhibition opened on a Sunday—not, however, to the general public.
The occasion was special and, in a way, mysterious. It had to do with one of the most dramatic personalities of the Chinese Empire and Republic.
A message reached me late on a Saturday night that Dr. Sun Yat Sen, the first President of the Chinese Republic, wished to visit the Exhibition on the fol-lowing Sunday morning. I was unable to receive him in person, but arranged that an attendant should represent me.
The attendant knew nothing of the name of the visitor till he saw him looking at his own portrait and calling the attention of General Homer Lee—an American soldier holding high rank in the Chinese Army—who accompanied him, to the dimple in the chin of the model by placing his finger smilingly on the dimple in his own chin.
This was in the year 1911, and Sun Yat Sen was passing through London on his way from America to take up his presidential duties.
His visit to the Exhibition had been planned by Dr. (now Sir James) Cantlie, of Harley Street, to whom Sun Yat Sen owed—the greatest of all debts of gratitude—his life.
For it was this same Sun Yat Sen who, eleven years before, was liberated through the exertions of Dr. Cantlie from his prison in the Chinese Legation at Portland Place, a few minutes' walk from Madame Tussaud's.
What would have happened to him but for the fact that Dr. Cantlie's intervention resulted in Sun Yat Sen's release through Lord Salisbury's representations to the Chinese authorities can only be conjectured.
It was discovered at the time that a ship had been chartered in the Thames for the removal of Sun Yat Sen to China on a charge of treason against the Emperor—the same Emperor whose successor, under a republican form of government, Sun Yat Sen was destined to be.
Particulars were also disclosed regarding the manner of his incarceration at the Chinese Legation. He was inveigled into the place by the lures of hospitality, and, once inside, the officials relegated him to an apartment which they kept locked for many days.
It was only through Sun Yat Sen's friendship with Dr. Cantlie, whose suspicions were aroused by "in-side" information, that the British authorities learned of Sun Yat Sen's fate and took steps to have him set free.
When the hero of this adventure visited Madame Tussaud's on the Sunday morning in question to see his model, I wondered what his reason could be, and asked myself whether it had anything to do with the adapting of his disguise, while travelling from this ' country to China, at a time when his life must have been in danger.
Perhaps, after all, it was nothing more than the natural curiosity which attracts people whose portraits have been recently added to come and see them. The Eastern mind may not differ from the Western in this very human respect.
Touching and dramatic in the extreme was the incident which accompanied the unveiling of the tableau representing the Gordon Highlanders storming the Heights of Dargai. Lieutenant-Colonel Mathias's words were on all lips at the time :
"That position must be taken at any cost; the Gordon Highlanders will take it."
Mrs. Mathias was present with her son and daughter at the supper we gave to celebrate the event, and a piper played "The Cock of the North" to recall the deed of the wounded piper who fired his comrades on to victory and was awarded the V.C. When his father's words were recited, young Mathias sprang to his feet and thrilled all present by saluting in true military fashion.
One of the brightest of red-letter days in Madame Tussaud's romantic story was the 24th of January, 1907, when Sir William Treloar, "the children's Mayor," accompanied by several local Mayors, drove to the Exhibition in all the panoply of civic state to give éclat to the visit of fifteen hundred boys and girls of the poorest of the poor, whom we made our guests.
How richly the Right Honourable the Lord Mayor of London enjoyed himself on that occasion, like the large-hearted man he is, and how preeminently happy he was among the waifs and strays, many of whom were cripples, whose lives he has done so much to brighten ! Sir John Kirk, of the Ragged School Union, was also there, beaming with joy among his little beneficiaries. I remember Sir William Treloar pointing to his civic headgear and calling out to the children, "How do you like my Dick Turpin hat`?"
Tea-tables were laid all among the figures, and the picture produced in this way was both striking and amusing as the young people laughed and chatted by the side of the approving mutes. Perhaps the remark which seemed to create the greatest fun was when the Lord Mayor said he would like to see his Sheriffs in the Chamber of Horrors.
It was very touching to observe the boys loyally and reverently take off their caps in front of the little alcove in which Queen Victoria sits, as someone has said, "signing despatches all day long." At the close of the happy day the halls and corridors of the Exhibition rang with the shrill treble of fifteen hundred young voices singing "For he's a jolly good fellow," followed by "Hip hip, hooray; the donkey's run away."
A tragedy happened that day not far away, in Westbourne Grove, which caused the gentlemen of the Press who attended the function to leave the Exhibition rather hurriedly. News came of the murder of Mr. William Whiteley, the Universal Provider.