The Australian Tom Thumb – Mickey Pynn
In 1870, traveling circus and sideshows were one of the main forms of entertainment for the citizens of the world, including those who lived in rural South Australia.
We in South Australia would often gather together to watch the entertaining magic shows of Mr Vertelli, or a passing circus, but every so often we would be gifted with the presence of a international act, such as “General Tom Thumb” (real name: Charles Sherwood Stratton ) from the USA, who had just come from successful live shows in England.
General Tom Thumb had achieved international stardom as a side show act for P.T. Barnum, Circus Pioneer throughout the US and Europe, and came to Australia to perform, including Kapunda.
It was his exclusive trip and side show act in Kapunda that brought Kapunda local lad, Mickey Pynn to the forefront, and made him Kapunda's first international celebrity.
Mickey Pynn lived with his family just south of Kapunda, where the hill rises near the Greenock road turn off the House still stands
|Mickey Pynn - SLSA: B57230|
A family member, or perhaps a family friend seeing an opportunity to make some money from Mickey's condition, held an “exhibition” of Mickey in The Miners Arms Hotel, owned by William Tremaine (My own Great-Great Grandfather).
The exhibition caught the attention of General Tom thumb who asked to meet young Mickey and was astounded that he was almost a full two inches shorter than him.
This led to Mickey being hired by the company that the U.S. Tom thumb had established (a very lucrative company, that would eventually bail out P.T. Barnum when financial strife almost collapsed his circus empire). Mickey would soon be travelling the world as a Circus midget and sometimes side show act under various names including “The Afghan Dwarf” and “The Australian Tom Thumb”, but this did not stop him from performing here in South Australia, nor in Kapunda.
In fact, “The Australian Tom Thumb” performed on occasion with his good friend John Morcom, better known as Magician “Vertelli”
In an early career show that starred Mickey and Vertelli in The North Kapunda Hotel, it was written by a newspaper correspondent in the Kapunda Herald and Northern Intelligencer (March 3rd 1871) the following:
"The diminutive Tom Thumb is a pleasing simple little fellow, whose greatest feat is to scratch his head like a bear with his toes his knees being kept straight during this interesting operation. He is said to be 17 years of age, not deformed, rather of a serious turn of mind, and has a look of great gravity previous to turning a somersault. If the Signor could induce a beard and whisker to grow, be would be a decided hit, and might put."the General" into the shade—being some inches shorter."
It is written elsewhere that Mickey's life contained many ups and downs over the years, but it would seem he often struggled with his inner demons, and took to drink, as attested in the following two stories in Sydney newspaper “The Evening News” in 1906, the stories being published only months apart:
Evening News: Sydney: Monday 3 September 1906
'What has he been, doing?' asked Mr. Smithers, S.M., at the Central Police Court this moraine. The magistrate's query had reference to Michael Pynn, 53, described on the sheet as an acrobatic dwarf. The offence against him was that of being drunk and disorderly on Saturday evening in George-street. 'He was running after women, and catching hold of them' said the sergeant, looking severely at the little man in the dock. 'He has been locked up^ since Saturday.' ''He was here on Saturday morning for being drunk,' said a policeman.
Evening News - Sydney Wednesday 31 October 1906
"The name of Michael Pynn was called at the Central Police Court this morning, and a man of 57 . years, but of diminutive stature, answered the call. He was so little that his head did not reach to within 2ft of the top of the dock rail.
Pynn looked between the rail at the magistrate, and in a loud tone pleaded guilty to a charge of being drunk in Castlereagh street.
'He has been coming here frequently, lately, saw police prosecutor Davis. 'He goes about the street, and 'shapes' up -to men 6ft high, twice his own height. A short sojourn in gaol would do him good, and keep him from giving way entirely to drink.' Pynn, it was ascertained, sometimes gives the police trouble, and on Tuesday it needed the united forces of Constables Lambert and Hardiman to convey, him to the lock-up. A fine of 20s, or 14 days, was imposed."
In his later years, Mickey retired to Sydney where he saw out his last days, firstly in Lidcombe in a men’s home, where it was reported his “appetite is vigorous, though rheumatism affected his walk”.
Soon he moved to a different home in Liverpool, one with immaculate gardens, and better conditions for this once sought after entertainer. Attendants of the Men's Home spoke well of Mickey saying “He was always ready to do what little he could about the place, and amuse the other inmates with his "double jointed" tricks”
Kapunda's first international celebrity, Mickey “The Australian Tom Thumb” Pynn passed away on the 22 of June 1929 in Sydney NSW.