When you hear the words ‘Madame Tussaud’ and ‘Dublin’ together, you’re probably listening to somebody taking the piss out of the National Wax Museum with a statement to the effect of ‘It’s not Madame Tussaud’s is it?’
Many will be surprised to hear that Madame Tussaud not only resided in Dublin for a period, but indeed put on exhibitions of her waxworks here in the capital.
Madame Tussaud first arrived in Ireland in February of 1804, following in the footsteps of a man named Philipstal, with whom she was in a business partnership. As Pamela Pibeam noted in her Madame Tuassaud: And The History of Waxworks, Marie Tussaud stayed away from England between the years of 1803 to 1808, “years when the threat to England from Napoleon was taken seriously and anti-French feeling was at its height.”
Madame Tussaud and her son Joseph resided at 16 Clarendon Street in Dublin, and as Frank Hopkins noted in his priceless Hidden Dublin, it was at this point that she bought out Philipstal’s share in their business partnership and went on to open her own waxwork exhibition at Shakespeare’s Gallery in Exchequer Street. This exhibition is discussed in Siobhán Marie Kilfeather’s cultural history of the city (Dublin:A Cultural History) noting that this ‘Grand European Cabinet of Figures’ consisted of not only the horrors of the French Revolution, showing faces cast from the victims of the guillotine, but also showed models of Henry Grattan and other contemporary Irish political figures!
Madame Tussaud would write that “when I am in Dublin the takings can reach £100 sterling a month. People come in crowds every day from 6 o’clock until 10 o’clock.”
Madame Tussaud returned to Scotland in 1808, and toured Scotland and England until 1816. As Pibeam notes in her biography of Tussaud, in both Ireland and Britain visitors to her touring wax exhibition would be met by a waxwork of Joseph Tussaud, “stressing the family character of the entertainment.”
From the point of her return to Britain onwards, her show would begin to place more and more focus on the British royal family, and Madame Tussaud made plans to return to Dublin with her exhibition in 1821, a trip to coincide with a royal visit to Ireland. Christine Trent has written a fascinating piece entitled ‘Shipwrecks, Riots and Fires’ on how Madame Tussaud’s has survived them all, and her return to Dublin in 1821 features. She had been onboard The Earl of Moira, which set sail from Liverpool for Dublin, but this was to prove a disastrous trip. Not long after setting out from Liverpool, the ship was wrecked and many of her waxwork figures destroyed. As Trent writes, they were to be become almost like floating corpses!
Tussaud would return to Liverpool following this disaster. It was to be 1835 before she would establish a permanent base in London at the Baker Street Bazaar, and the exhibition moved to its present location in Marylebone Road in 1884.