The street bear shot for wrestling a Glasgow councillor

Bruin the performing bear was well known on the streets of mid-19th Century Glasgow as the sidekick of travelling showman Antonio Dallori, who also went by the stage name of Aunty Dolly.

Cartoon of a dancing bear in the Glasgow Looking Glass, July 8 1825. PIC: Special Collections at Glasgow University Library.
Cartoon of a dancing bear in the Glasgow Looking Glass, July 8 1825. PIC: Special Collections at Glasgow University Library.

Used to creating a stir around the Merchant City, Bruin’s days of entertainment came to sad end after a unfortunate encounter with Bailie Hunkers, a civic leader, in a close off the High Street where a crowd had gathered for an impromptu show.

As Bailie Hunkers tried to pass the bear, Bruin broke free from his rope and circled and danced with the well-dressed figure - before pushing the pair of them into a deep, filthy puddle of waste.

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As punishment, it was ordered that the bear be executed by musket - with his master forced to wear his fur as punishment while locked in the jougs for an hour.

It wasn’t uncommon to see bears on street corners in Scotland during the 19th Century as travelling showmen plied their trade.

On their last show together, Dallori and Bruin had gathered a crowd in the Old Vennel off the High Street, one of the street captured in the 1860s by photographer Thomas Annan in his account of the impoverished living conditions of the time.

Bailie Hunkers, who held a role similar to a magistrate, stumbled across crowd -described as “one of the dirtiest parts of town” in a newspaper account of the day - as he made his way to a civic dinner in all his finery.

The crowd scattered to make way for him - although Dellori and Bruin did not move quickly and blocked the way.

Quickly exasperated, the Bailie escalated the situation by drawing his sword.

“Bailie Hunkers...thrust it with considerable violence into the rump of the bear,” a report in the Fife Herald, of March 25, 1875, said.

“The bear, maddened by the pain, made a sudden jerk, snapped the rope with which she was held, and catching the Bailie in her rude embrace, continued to dance round her accustomed circle, growling in her usual manner, while the terror and seeming danger of the Bailie excited the greatest consternation among the bystander,” the account added.

As the dance continued and a nervous crowd looked on, a baker is then said to have approached the bear with a barrel stave in an attempt to prize Bruin away from the Bailie

It did not work out as planned.

“This had the effect of making the bear run backwards, when it unfortunately lost footing on the brink of one of those sinks of pollution with which the Vennell, above mentioned, at that time abounded, and both bear and Bailie were plunged in the midst of the filth.

“All was now alarm,” the report added, with many running from the scene to avoid implication in the Bailie’s fall. Dellorio also fled in fear of the consequences.

The bear’s hold on the Bailie was loosened with Bruin’s “savage nature by no mean roused.”

Meanwhile, the Baillie, jumped up and scrambled out of the puddle “black and dripping all over, as if newly out of a dyers vat.”

Bruin’s fate was decided - with the bear to be executed by musket with his skin hung up in the Town Hall for a time.

Dallori went on the run for several nights, hiding in the hills above Rutherglen, according to the account.

He was brought back to Glasgow and sentenced to do an hour’s penance in the jougs - an iron collar pinned to a wall - with Bruin’s skin around his shoulders.

“This seemed the hardest part of the matter, for the poor fellow, when he saw the rough coat of his dumb confederate, burst into tears,” the newspaper report said.