James H. McKenzie (1862-1952): Home and Family Pt 2

“Both was old friends”

James H McKenzie P. 20

James H. McKenzie was a popular man. Everywhere he went he made good friends who quickly became like family to him. He had many blood-relatives who cared for him throughout his earlier years but this never stopped him searching for more. James was always searching for somewhere where he could belong and eventually in later life he came to find it. The people and the friends James made throughout his years of life contributed a lot to his life and gave him a sense of home even when he felt so far away from anything familiar In this blog, I will be covering James’ family friends, who became in his mind his second family.

Kensington Palace, London
 birthplace of Queen Victoria, as it appeared in 1831

“Bob took my hand, Joe the other and went towards the house- I never felt more secure, for that I was very thankful”

James H. McKenzie P.22

Two people who were big parts of James’ earlier years were Joe and Bob Butler, whom James came to befriend while he was living with his aunt and uncle in Kensington. Joe was his uncle’s servant, who had spent all his working years with the family. He was set the task to take care of James as soon as the young boy entered the mansion. He was told to keep an eye on him and make sure his needs were met. Joe was one of James’ only companions while he lived with his uncle and James came to depend heavily on him. Joe gave James all his sympathy and helped him whenever it was needed. Joe was never strict with James, and rather let him do as he pleased, as long as he was out of his uncle’s way. Joe was like a second father to James, someone he admired greatly. Joe made him feel safe. Joe was always there to hold his hand and help him through.

Bob, on the other hand, was an old friend of James’ aunt’s father. He was a friend of the family and leased several acres of land from them by the Thames. Bob was a quaint fellow, a recluse, he lived in a bungalow and had very little friends. He used to always ruffle James his hair whenever he saw him and thought very much of the young boy. He opened his home to him and allowed him to come over whenever he pleased. James always knew he had somewhere to run to if needed and when his aunt died, he knew where to go. Butler who saw him coming immediately jumped at the opportunity to help.

“Bob told Joe he would do his best for me if anything happened”

James H McKenzie P.20
Pether, Henry; View of the Thames, Pool of London, from Billingsgate to London Bridge; Saffron Walden Museum; http://www.artuk.org/artworks/view-of-the-thames-pool-of-london-from-billingsgate-to-london-bridge-3545

Joe would spend every day off with Bob, and that meant that James also spent a lot of time with him too. Some of James’ best memories are about Bob Butler. Butler would take him out on his boat, along the Thames before it was made unclean, and show him how to fish and catch his dinner. James describes the first day he went boating with Bob as a day he will never forget. On that day not only did he go on the river, but he was also served good food and given a watch by Butler, which hung on a silver chain. James was proud of his present and cried with delight.

Joe and Butler always held a place in James’ heart and even when he left his uncle’s mansion, he thought of them and all that they had managed to teach him during his short stay in Kensington.


McKenzie, James H. ‘Strange Truth. The Autobiography of a Circus, Showman, Stage and Exhibition Man’, Burnett Archive of Working Class Autobiographies, University of Brunel Library, Special Collection Library, 1:473

‘James H. McKenzie’ in John Burnett, David Vincent and David Mayall (eds) The Autobiography of the Working Class: An Annotated, Critical Bibliography 1790-1945, 3 vols. (Brighton: Harvester, 1984, 1987, 1989): 1:473

Other Reading 

Assael, B. (2005). The circus and Victorian society. Charlottesville, Va: Univ. of Virginia Press.

Davies, G. (n.d.). Pablo Fanque and the Victorian circus.

Jackson, L. (2014). Dirty old London: The Victorian Fight Against Filth. Yale University Press New Haven and London.

Stewart, J. (2012). The acrobat. Jefferson, NC: McFarland.

Sunderland, D. (2001). Economic History of London, An, 1800-1914. Taylor & Francis.

Ward, S. (2014). Beneath the big top – a social history of the circus in britain.

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