An advert in the Greenock Telegraph, from 18 December 1906

The Victorian newspapers are full of fascinating – and intriguing – crime stories, but the following short article from the Yorkshire Evening Post of 22 April 1892 particularly caught my eye.

On Thursday 21 April, Gabriel Dinell, originally from Jerusalem, appeared before Judge Meynell at the Sunderland County Court, to sue one Mr W V Permane. Mr Dinell sought £2 in damages from the defendant.

William Vincente Permane (1864-1939) was a circus performer of Spanish origin, but born in the less glamorous Birmingham (see here for a more detailed biography of him). By the 1890s, he was training, and appearing with, a troupe of animals – namely, 12 Siberian bears, who were regarded as rather ‘educated’.  On Tuesday 11 April, he had taken out his six pairs of bears to exercise them.

Unfortunately, Mr Dinell was passing by, minding his own business (as much as a man could mind his own business, whilst walking past 12 bears in Sunderland one spring day in 1892), when one of the bears took an interest in him.

Rising up on his hind legs, the bear grabbed Dinell in a hug, managing to tear his clothes and bruise various parts of his body – and, most upsettingly, apparently, crushing Dinnell’s hat.

A bear getting ready to hug…

Luckily, Dinell had been walking with a ‘companion’, who had the presence of mind to attack the bear with an umbrella. This saw the bear safely off, although Dinell later tried to assuage his masculine pride by stating that the bear was, obviously, the ‘most savage’ of the twelve being exercised that day.

He had a sympathetic judge, and the bear-exerciser was duly ordered to pay Dinell the £2 he had asked for.

But Permane was not put off his career through this appearance in court, and continued performing with his bears. Some seven years later, he was performing at the Tivoli Theatre of Varieties with his siberian bears, in a performance that was described in the press as ‘clumsy, but  shows that these cumbrous animals are capable of some degree of education’ (Manchester Courier, 28 March 1899), and his career continued well into the 20th century.

In 1900, he gave a interview to Strand Magazine, where he stated that:

“Bears are herbivorous, not carnivorous. They will attack either animal or man only after a somewhat protracted fast. There is, therefore, no necessity for giving bears any meat whatever.”

Mr Dinell might have disagreed with this statement, and might have been even more upset when, in 1910, Permane was advertising himself as Captain Permane, appearing with his ‘real live troupe of teddy bears’ (The Era, 2 April 1910).

Whether Mr Dinell would have agreed with this rather cuddly description of his attacker, who got him in a bear-hug and crushed his hat, is up for debate.