HistoryExtra Launches New Podcast Series, The Tiger Tamer Who Went To Sea

HistoryExtra launches new podcast series, The Tiger Tamer Who Went To Sea

Thursday 22 February 2024

HistoryExtra’s new six-part podcast, The Tiger Tamer Who Went To Sea, celebrates the remarkable life of a Victorian celebrity who found fame in the extreme sporting craze of the era – wheelbarrow endurance racing
The Tiger Tamer Who Went To Sea, takes an in-depth look at the little-known story of Bob Carlisle, who used all the techniques of the modern-day influencer.

The award-winning HistoryExtra podcast, which has over three million downloads a month, is to commemorate an unsung great British hero of a Victorian sporting craze with a six-part podcast series, The Tiger Tamer Who Went To Sea starting Thursday 22 February.

The craze that propelled Edinburgh-born global seafarer and circus-performer Bob Carlisle to stardom in the 1880s was endurance wheelbarrow-walking. Carlisle borrowed the idea from America, and in 1879 became ‘Britain’s original wheelbarrow pedestrian’ by pushing his barrow from Land’s End to John O’Groats and back. In so doing, he became a media celebrity, with newspapers across the land reporting on his progress. He walked 30-40miles a day with his barrow. Crowds flocked to see him on his route, and he delivered talks to town halls in the evenings.

He repeated the feat several more times during his lifetime, and his fame encouraged others to copy his barrow-pushing exploits (he probably also fixed the idea for generations of later End-to-End challengers walking and cycling from Land’s End to John O’Groats without wheelbarrows).

In 1886-87, Britain was briefly consumed by the Great Wheelbarrow Craze when a succession of people attempted to push wheelbarrows from Scotland and the North-East of England down to London.

The 1886 Craze was kicked off by a race to the capital between Dundee’s James Gordon and Newcastle’s John Martin, aka Sawdust Jack. Gordon was the first to reach London and he was feted in the city for his efforts. Newspapers fanned the flames of the craze and in early 1887, a regular stream of people tried to gain fortune and fame by pushing barrows, with ever more eccentric cargoes (bathtubs and coffins) and to even more challenging destinations (the top of Ben Nevis). To add to the difficulty, many of the wheelbarrowists were disabled.

Contemporary accounts saw people lining the streets as the barrow-pushing celebrities arrived and their clever use of the media of the time has echoes of modern influencers.

The newspapers were quick to tire of barrow-pushing, however, and by the end of the year, the craze was played out.

Bob Carlisle, the original wheelbarrow pedestrian and hero of the HistoryExtra podcast series, sadly missed the whole craze because he was sailing on a merchant ship, probably somewhere in the South China sea.

Dr Dave Musgrove, Content Director of HistoryExtraand host of the six-part series, has been researching the life of Bob Carlisle and the wheelbarrow craze for over a year.  He says: “There were many crazes in the Victorian era, but as soon as I came across Bob Carlisle, the original “wheelbarrow pedestrian”, I knew it shed light on so many aspects of life at the time. His story is at times fantastical, as aside from long-distance wheelbarrow racing, he was also a global seafarer, a campaigner for both Temperance and anti-teetotalism, plus a celebrated circus showman, clown and big cat tamer. Contemporary reports described his story as the ‘life of a dozen men’, and it’s surprising that he’s not been studied before. I’ve delighted in exploring Bob Carlisle and chatting to some of our leading historians of the period to understand how his life intersects with broader themes in Victorian cultural and social history.

“There were many crazes in the Victorian era, but as soon as I came across Bob Carlisle, the original “wheelbarrow pedestrian”, I knew it shed light on so many aspects of life at the time”

Dr Dave Musgrove, Content Director, HistoryExtra

Headshot of David Musgrove, Content Director, BBC History Magazine & HistoryExtra, Immediate Media Co.

“I even bought my own vintage Victorian porter’s wheelbarrow to get a sense of what it was like to perform this sort of endurance feat. I’ve literally tested it to destruction because the wood-worm infested wheel collapsed underneath me. The Victorian wheelbarrow-walkers also suffered similar mechanical embarrassments, but they had easier recourse to wheelwrights to fix their machines.

“The six episodes cover everything from Bob Carlisle’s early life, the changing face of sea travel from wooden ships to steamers, the Temperance movement, the importance of travelling circuses in Victorian culture and the development of an entertainment and celebrity culture, and the crazes it spawned that wheelbarrow racing was part of.”

Listen to The HistoryExtra Podcast’s The Tiger TamerWho Went To Sea, hosted by Dr Dave Musgrove, via HistoryExtra or your usual podcast platform.