Zazel, the Human Cannonball

Zazel, the Human Cannonball

Born in London on 7 April 1860, Rosa Matilda Richter was the daughter of Ernst Karl Richter, a talent agent from Germany, and an English mother from Birmingham who worked as a dancer in a circus. As a child Rosa was taught how to work on the wire and perform other aerial stunts. By the time she was six she was appearing regularly as a trapeze artist.

In April 1877, at the age of seventeen, she began appearing as a Human Cannonball at London's Royal Aquarium in an act conceived by William Leonard Hunt, known as ‘The Great Farini,’ who had previously managed the career of his adopted son, the cross-dressing performer known as ‘Lulu.’

Journalists and concerned members of the public soon voiced fears for her safety. Proposed legislation in England would have prevented the performance of dangerous acrobatic stunts so in 1880 she and her management took the show abroad. She toured Europe and North America with several different circuses, including that of Barnum and Bailey, performing tightrope and trapeze routines in addition to her appearances as the Human Cannonball. She suffered several accidents and injuries during her career, until finally she broke her back in 1891 when she fell from the high wire in New Mexico, which largely ended her professional life as a circus performer.

She and her husband – she had married a Barnum press agent named George Oscar Starr – returned to England and settled in Upper Norwood. Starr died there in 1915. Rosa died on 8 December 1937 at Camberwell House Hospital in Peckham.

Photographed by the London Stereoscopic and Photographic Company.


Code: 127588
© Paul Frecker 2022