Re: the recent inquiry by ballisticducks, about PoC who were stage entertainers in Victorian Britain, s/he might want to look at the famous Indian Jugglers? Although these men first arrived during the Regency era, their leader continued onstage until his death in Victorian England in 1851.
‘The exhibition of the Indian Jugglers, at No. 87, Pall-mall, has been attended by nearly all the Families of distinction in town; and is becoming extremely popular. ‘ (Advert in The Times (London, England), 27 July, 1813, p. 2)
The Indian Jugglers performed 3 times daily, and the 1813 admission charge was steep. It cost half-a-crown (2 shillings and sixpence) to see them if you were at the front, or 1 shilling and sixpence if you were at the back. That's like a day’s wage for a labourer. These were not entertainers for the common man. (Jane Austen mentions going to see them in her letter to Cassandra, 9 March 1814.)
The newspaper ad continues:
‘The swallowing of the sword, and the novelty of the other performances, have attracted the public attention beyond any thing that has appeared in the metropolis for many years past.’
This is true. Jane Austen mentions going to see them in her letter to Cassandra, 9 March 1814.
Other subsequent comments in ‘The Times’ reveal that they were from Seringapatam, and their act included sword-swallowing, some kind of trick involving fire, and one of catching a bullet between the teeth. This allegedly led to a fatal accident in Dublin in 1817, when a news report said that a pistol ‘actually loaded with powder and ball was, by mistake, substituted for that prepared in the usual way.’ In a later ad however the chief of the troupe, ‘Mr Ramusamee’ (perhaps Ramaswamy, but professionally known as Ramo Samee), stated this rumour was fake. No-one had ever been killed, either by the sword-swallowing or by the pistol trick.
Amazingly (well it amazed me), until the arrival of this kind of entertainer from India, the OED says the word ‘juggler’ had always meant something like our word ‘conjurer’ – someone who did tricks involving sleight-of-hand, not someone able to toss and catch objects skilfully. It was the ability of the Indian Jugglers in keeping four balls at once flying through the air which triggered the semantic shift. The critic William Hazlitt describes the astonishment their skill produced in his ‘’Table Talk’’ of 1828. (http://www.gutenberg.org/files/3020/3020-h/3020-h.htm#link2H_4_0010)
They were such a big hit they toured Europe and were around for at least five years: Ramo Samee for longer. ‘Positively last chance’ adverts trumpeted they would be returning to India c. March 1818, but in fact they may have been leaving for an American tour because one of them, probably Ramo Samee, is mentioned in the Salem Gazette of October 5, 1819. The article said he included “a Series of Evolutions, with four hollow brass Balls, about the size of Oranges; stringing beads with his Mouth, and at the same time, as he balances, turning Rings with his Fingers and Toes; and manly activity in throwing a ball, the size of an eighteen-pound shot, to different parts of his body with the greatest of ease.” (see http://www.aboutfacesentertainment.com/pages/about-juggling.html)
Ramo Samee it seems never went back to Seringapatam at all. He apparently returned to England and continued his career, though increasingly in less select venues; married a local woman and died (unfortunately destitute) in London in 1851.
The artist James Green did a picture of them (http://www.1st-art-gallery.com/J.-Green/The-Indian-Jugglers.html) Though of course it’s very possible that the original troupe was quickly imitated by others.
There’s a good blog entry on their leader Ramaswamy here: http://www.lehigh.edu/~amsp/2006/05/story-of-ramo-samee-indian-juggler.html
Lastly, has bduck read about ‘Pablo Fanque’, the circus owner mentioned in the Beatles song ‘For the Benefit of Mr Kite’? Actually a black Englishman called William Darby, a master equestrian. He’s in wikipedia.
Wow!!! Thank you so much for this list of resources. FYI, the person above doesn’t use tumblr and therefore uses email submissions, which is why they list anonymously. Since this individual submits quite often, please let me know if there is a an attribution you would like to give or a nickname you would like to have added to submissions you’ve authored here. (I have no plans to publish your email, of course!)