On this day in… 1877
The first human cannonball act in the world was performed in London.
There has got to be a first for everything – and that includes human cannonballs! The first ever recorded human cannonball took place at the Royal Aquarium in London on 10 April 1877.
A 14 year old called Rossa Matilda Richter (with a stage name of Zazel) was shot out of a cannon at the enormous venue in Westminster.
It did her career no end of good because she went on to tour with Barnum’s circus.
The spring-style cannon (as opposed to a gunpowder cannon which would not have been as successful!) was invented by William Leonard Hunt (aka The Great Farini).
The Royal Aquarium was a massive building in Westminster that opened on 22 January 1876 as an art and exhibition space, a venue for concerts and plays, and 13 large fish tanks (the building became known as “the tank”) that were meant to display exotic fish and sea creatures – although rarely did.
There was also a theatre built as part of the complex – the Aquarium Theatre – which opened on 15 April 1876. The theatre was renamed the Imperial Theatre in 1879 before being rebuilt in 1901 by Frank Verity for Lillie Langtry. The theatre was eventually closed and demolished in 1907, although the interior was re-used for the Imperial Palace in Canning Town.
The site of the Royal Aquarium was sold to the Wesleyan Methodists in 1903 who built today’s Methodist Central Hall on the site in 1911.