The first equestrian dramatic spectacle of Mazeppa; or, the Wild Horse of Tartary, adapted from Byron’s 1819 poem, was produced at Astley’s in 1831. The actor was a man named Cartlich, who was a graduate of Richardson’s shows. H. H. Milner was the author. Mazeppa was a popular show for the next thirty years, but in 1863 the first female Tartar Prince appeared in the form of Adah Isaacs Mencken, in New York. Before Mencken actors made use of a dummy steed in performance, but she allowed herself to be bound to a real horse for a thrilling ride around the auditorium.
She was born in Louisiana in 1835 to a Creole mother and an Irish father and christened Delores Adios. Her first appearance on the stage was in New Orleans, in 1855, as a ballerina. She toured Havana, taught Spanish and English at a young lady’s school and joined Victor Franconi’s travelling circus. She married a Jewish man named Alexander Isaacs Mencken, a musician, and adopted the Jewish faith. She divorced him in 1858 and married pugilist John Carmel Heenan, the celebrated “Benicia Boy,” quickly divorced him and married American humorist Robert H. Newell, (“Orpheus C. Kerr.”) After a performance in San Francisco she sailed for London in 1864.
E. T. Smith, manager of Astley’s, stuck up bill posters showing a naked woman tied to the back of the Wild Horse of Tartary. By all accounts Mencken was beautiful but was a poor actress. No matter; Mazeppa became a gold mine for the actress and producers. Although Mencken appeared to be nude she actually performed in close-fitting flesh-coloured tights. She was a violent and jealous woman and once had to be prevented from stabbing a patron of the show. Sala described her as ‘a little black-eyed beauty with elegant legs.”
Mencken died on 1 August 1868, only thirty-three, of a concussion, at a lodging in the Rue Caumartin. She also suffered from an abscess in her side. On her funeral stone were the words; “Thou knowest.”
The spectacle was popular with penny dreadful audiences as well, appearing in E. Harrison’s Boys’ Miscellany November 14, 1863, as “Mazeppa; or, The Dwarf’s Revenge, a Romance of the Wild Horse of Tartary.” The Boys’ Miscellany ran from 7 Mar 1863 to 27 Feb 1864. The first volume was published by E. Harrison, 135, Salisbury square, the second by George Maddick and Pottage from 1, Crane Court. “Mazeppa; or, The Dwarf’s Revenge, a Romance of the Wild Horse of Tartary,” was published in penny numbers from No. 1, Crane Court, with the original Boys’ Miscellany illustrations but a newly written text.
Another version titled “Mazeppa; or, The Dwarf’s Revenge,” came out in 26 thrilling numbers from the Newsagents’ Publishing Company about 1866. The Emmett’s Sons of Brittania title was “Mazeppa; or, The Demon Horse of the Ukraine” by James Skipp Borlase (“J. J. G. Bradley”) published about 1871 with illustrations by H. Maguire. This title was reprinted by Charles Fox in The Boy’s Champion Journal in the 1890’s.