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April 3, 2022

Earthmen From the South of Africa, Exhibited in England, 1853

Flora and Martinus, a 14-year-old boy and 16-year-old girl from South Africa, were exhibited as ‘earthmen’ in private drawing rooms in 1853, in central London. As so-called ‘human curiosities’, the orphaned San children posed in traditional costume, danced, sang and mimed to entertain visitors...

Different to most other variety acts of the time, they performed entirely in English – having lived for two years with a British family in Croydon, south London before being put on stage, both had acquired a fluency in English, learnt to play the piano, and built up a repertoire of songs that included several English and North American classics.

They were brought to England circa 1851 by a trading merchant, who entrusted them to the care of a Mr George of Croydon. Their portraits were collected and arranged in an album of photographs by Prince Albert.

(Photos by Nicolaas Henneman/ Courtesy of Royal Collection Trust)


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