Published: 12/10/2017 19:00 - Updated: 12/10/2017 11:12

Life of historic Inverness lion tamer to be celebrated

Written byNeil MacPhail


Dean Owens
Singer Dean Owens at the grave of his great-great grandfather whose life will be celebrated in Inverness this weekend.

SPECIAL events are being held this weekend to mark the centenary of the death of one of Inverness’s most unusual adopted sons, Ambrose Salvona, the Italian lion tamer.

His great-great grandson Dean Owens, the Scottish singer-songwriter, will stage a special gig at Eden Court on Saturday evening in memory of his illustrious ancestor.

The Highland Archive Centre, through High Life Highland, is also planning events in the afternoon, including a trip to Mr Salvona’s grave in Tomnahurich Cemetery.

And in a fitting memory of the funeral a century ago when mourners marched with a Salvation Army band from Castle Street to Tomnahurich Cemetery, the band of the local Salvation Army will play at the graveside.

More than 30 of the lion tamer’s descendants, from Glasgow, Edinburgh, Aberdeen, Dundee and Inverness, are planning to go to the event where they will be welcomed by the archive centre’s family historian, Anne Fraser, who will report on her research into Mr Salvona’s family tree.

Mr Owens, who has apparently inherited his great-great grandfather’s showman and "travelling troubadour" genes, will give a special performance of his song Dora.

The archive centre has found that Mr Salvona was born around 1828, and originally came to Scotland with a travelling circus before deciding to stay on. He had many roles in the circus, from acrobat to groom, but appears to have had a particular affinity with animals. 

He had a family of at least 11 children, and the locations of their births reveal the extent of their travels with places as diverse as Durham, Ellon, Kendal, Glasgow, Edinburgh and Girvan all being recorded.

Mr Salvona settled eventually in Inverness in the early 1900s, where he appears to have been a committed member of the Salvation Army.

Towards the end of his life, he became less able to care for himself until he entered the Inverness Poorhouse where he died in 1917. 

It would appear he did not depart this life lonely and forgotten, however, and a notice in the Inverness Courier at the time intimated the funeral procession would meet at the top of Castle Street and walk to Tomnahurich, and records show that he was buried by friends, rather than in a pauper’s grave.

"Surely a sign of the esteem he was held in," said an archive spokeswoman. "We are proud to host an afternoon of talks about his fascinating life and how we came to look into Ambrose’s story through one of his many great-great grandsons Dean Owens."

The talk by Ms Fraser and the walk to Mr Salvona’s gravestone are free to attend and open to all this Saturday from 1-2.30pm. To book a place telephone 01463 256444.

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