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Seaman, John Simpson (1793 - 1872)


The Polar Bear, Spring Bank, Hull

Biographical notes

John Simpson Seaman was a member of a Sussex family which produced four professional "naturalists" by the early 19th century definition of the term. His father, John sen. was an Ipswich-based taxidermist and dealer in natural history specimens during the first half of the century and appears to have established a travelling museum which toured the nation's fairs, often in conjunction with Wombwell's Menagerie. During this period they often refer to the collection as the "Leverian Museum" although they can have, at best, only managed to acquire a small portion of that collection when it was sold in London in 1806. Simpson and his brother Charles certainly seen to have been involved in this enterprise but by the late 1830s they had settled in Liverpool - closely associated with Atkin's newly-established Zoological Gardens. Here they seem to have developed a new business model and although originally styling themselves "naturalists," both eventually used the idea of a museum to attract the garden's visitors to take refreshment at their public houses.
Soon after the opening of the Hull Zoological Gardens (which were essentially a copy of the Liverpool gardens) in 1841, Simpson Seaman was appointed as its superintendent and moved to Hull. Although he seemed to have had some responsibility for the husbandry of the animals, he was also heavily involved with making and executing the dioramas and fire-work displays which formed an essential part of their frequent fêtes and galas. Despite their popularity with the working public neither the Liverpool or Hull Zoological gardens proved a financial success and by 1861 both had closed their gates.
Simpson Seaman (and his brother Charles in Liverpool) continued as publicans and in 1861 he was occupying new premises with a purpose-built museum - this was variously known as "The Museum" and "The Polar Bear", a name that it still carries. In 1865 a disastrous fire occurred on the premises while fireworks were being prepared for a display. This badly injured his son and completely destroyed the museum, although the rest of the building was saved. He remained in Hull until the end of the decade, running his now museum-less pub and mounting firework displays. The last couple of years of his life were spent in Uckfield, Sussex with his eldest daughter's family.


1793 Kenton, Suffolk
1841 Census - West Derby, Lancs.
1843 The Lodge, Hull Zoological Gardens
1851 Census - Hull, Yorkshire
1861 Census - "The Polar Bear", Spring Bank, Hull
1863 Wright's directory - Museum Hotel, Hull
1871 Census - Uckfield, Sussex
1872 Uckfield, Sussex


Additional links

Annotated family tree - the Seaman family of Ipswich, Hull and Liverpool. link
Press items relating the the various Seaman's museums. link
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1793 December 23 : Birth Simpson Seaman, son of John Seaman and Mary Simpson was born and baptisedat Kenton, Suffolk, on Christmas Eve 1793. He was the couple's first child; they had married the previous February.
1843 : Hull Zoological Gardens 1843 April 14 - ¹Hull Advertiser and Exchange Gazette
HULL ZOOLOGICAL GARDENS. The Committee have utmost satisfaction in stating that the magnificent preparations which have been carried on during the whole of the winter in the gardens, are in such a state of progress that they are able to announce the first splendid exhibition for 24th of May next. As they have every year, hitherto, produced a Fête in honour of Her Majesty's Birthday, …
Persons desirous to become subscribers for the year now commencing, are requested to leave their names with the Hon. Secretaries, or with Mr Seaman, the superintendent, at the Lodge. …
1855 : Museum Melville's Hull Directory -
This museum contains many thousand specimens of quadrupeds, birds, fishes, reptiles, insects, minerals, shells, etc., which to parties from the country, connoisseurs, naturalists, and others availing themselves of a visit, it affords a vast fund of information, pleasure, and instruction.
Birds, quadrupeds, etc., preserved in a superior manner, to imitate nature.
REFRESHMENTS of every description, on reasonable terms.
Manufacturer of fireworks of every description; Alarm crackers, for giving notice of burglars 1s. 6d. each; Robber's Night Lights, 9d. each; Gamekeeper's Protective Pocket Lights, &c., &c.
1855 April : Death of father 1855 April 7 - ¹The Ipswich Journal
DIED. Mr John Seaman, aged 87, for many years an eminent taxidermist in this town; whose specimens in the whole range of natural history will remain mementos of his talent.
1861 : Sale of Hull Zoological Gardens 1861 April 27 - ¹Sheffield Independent
THE HULL ZOOLOGICAL GARDENS. - These gardens, which have been in existence since 1841, (20 years) were offered for sale by public competition on Monday last, by Mr. C. Johnson, auctioneer. The Hull Zoological Gardens, since their establishment, have been the scene of many attractive fetes, which have been the means of encouraging a large number of strangers to visit Hull, and for some time the gardens proved a profitable speculation. Reverses, however, have reduced the success of the undertaking, and, as before stated, the gardens, with all the appurtenances, were on Monday offered for sale by Mr. Johnson, who pointed out the value of the land …
[By this time Enderby Jackson is described as the manager but Simpson Seaman is still acting as their Pyrotechnist.]
1861 November 19 : Marriage of daughter 1861 November 23 - ¹Hull Advertiser and Exchange Gazette
MARRIAGES. On the 19th instant at St Stephen's Church, in this town, by the Rev. J. Deck, Mr. John Drake, late of Leeds, traveller, to Jane, daughter of Mr. John Seaman, late of Hull Zoological Gardens.
[John Drake was the keeper of Mrs Wombwell's travelling menagerie. He died after "a severe illness" in Hamburg, 1863.10.3 .]
1865 August 9 : Fire at his Museum 1865 August 12 - ¹Louth and North Lincolnshire Advertiser
DESTRUCTION SEAMAN'S MUSEUM, AT HULL, BY FIRE. About six o'clock on Wednesday evening last, information was received at the Parliament-street police-station that a conflagration was raging in the museum and tavern of Mr. Seaman, the well-known pyrotechnic artist, at the corner of Spring-bank and Derringham-street. The hose-cart was got out and taken to the spot with as little delay possible, but owing to the long distance which intervened between the scene of the disaster and the astation-house, considerable time elapsed before the apparatus arrived on the spot. The large museum of natural curiosities, which is one of the most extensive and best private museums in the provinces, was contained in a large wooden erection, and in this building the fire was raging with great fury when the police hose arrived in fact, the place, with the whole of its contents, was one mass of flame. …
In the explosion Mr. Seaman
[Simpson's son]was severely wounded about the head and arms, and was at once conveyed to the Infirmary.…
A report was current that Mr. Seaman was not insured; but be this as it may, his loss regards his valuable museum is irreparable. The exhibition was the result of years of collection, and there were in it some very magnificent specimens. Only a short time ago a large elephant, which, it is said, cost above £100 mounting, was obtained, but after the fire, the hide of the beast and his bones lay a shapeless mass amongst the ruins. The collection of eggs, of all kinds was a great feature of the museum, and the birds were of the brightest plumage. All, however, were totally destroyed. It is estimated that the damage will amount to upwards of £4000.
1869 May : Re-marriage of daughter 1869 May 8 - ¹Beverley and East Riding Recorder
MARRIAGES. May 14[sic], at Holy Trinity Church, Hull, by the Rev. A. J. Beunoch, M.A., Mr. F. F. Young, of Peckham, London, to Jane Drake, youngest daughter of Mr. John Seaman, pyrotechnic artist, of Hull.
[Frederick Freeland Young was the youngest son of James Young, bookbinder, naturalist and sometime librarian of the Hull Mechanics Institute. Frederick's older brother was James Freeland Young an important Hull botanist of the period.]
1871 November : Death of half-brother 1871 November 18 - ¹The Suffolk Chronicle
On Monday, John Seaman, a man well known in Ipswich as a naturalist, was found hanging on his bed, having evidently committed suicide. He had for some time past been in low desponding way, in consequence of his wife having lost some money, and there is every reason to believe that he was not in his right mind when he committed the act. He was 63 years old. … Deceased was formerly a bird-stuffer.…
1872 : Death John Simpson Seaman died in the last quarter of 1872. He had been living in Uckfield, Sussex, with his, eldest daughter, Elizabeth Whiting, and her family,

1 Transcription reproduced with kind permission of The British Newspaper Archive

Managed by Richard Middleton : last updated 2016 October 31