William Batty 1801-1868 was an equestrian performer, adept at trick riding horses in circus arenas. By the time of the Forfarshire rescue in 1838 he owned his own touring circus. On his death his estate was estimated to be worth half a million pounds. He is buried in Kensal Green Cemetery, London.
"A most extraordinary man, endowed with a natural talent", Edward Fitzball, English playwright.
An extraordinary situation arose for Grace Darling when she was invited to attend a circus in Edinburgh.
William Batty set up his arena, ‘Batty’s Circus Royal’, for a short season at The Mound in Edinburgh. In November 1838, two months after the Forfarshire rescue, in an inspired piece of marketing he advertised in the Edinburgh papers that the proceeds of one of his circus performances that week would be “devoted to the benefit of Miss Grace Darling”. He duly sent his agent, Mr Sylvester, direct to Longstone with £20 cash, the net proceeds of that evening’s entertainment. This money was handed to Grace personally, saying it was “from the people of Edinburgh”. Batty invited her to visit Edinburgh and his circus, to properly thank the people of the city. This was a clever ruse to get Grace to appear in person at his arena, from which he would obviously benefit.
Grace initially agreed to Batty’s suggestion. Her letter of reply from Longstone Lighthouse dated ‘November 11th 1838’ survives and is privately owned. The owner has photographed this letter exclusively for (bottom right)
Batty immediately published Grace’s reply in full in the Caledonian Mercury, in effect promising the public a personal visit by Grace Darling, the heroine of the day whose name was on everyone’s lips.
News of a proposed circus appearance appalled the respectable ladies of Edinburgh, who themselves were gathering funds to donate to Grace. They wrote letters to her warning her not to consider for a moment exhibiting herself “for the applause of the vulgar with Mr Batty’s well-trained quadrupeds.” They understood Batty’s motives clearer than the Darlings had. They also warned Grace that if she carried out this engagement it would cause a great change of feeling of the people towards her. The naïve Grace was horrified and wept. She began to feel guilty for the wrong-feeling this was causing. William had to write to the newspapers informing them Grace had no intention of courting popularity in such a way.
The whole affair was an unfortunate episode. Grace had to become wise to unscrupulous agents and traders and their attempts to persuade her to endorse their particular product or event.