Extreme Humans

Joseph Merrick – The Elephant Man

Last Updated on September 3, 2020 by Darshan Modi

On hearing the term – The Elephant Man, all of your imagination will be in a different perception contradict to the real fact. You might think either he is a man lived with elephants or a man who looks like an elephant. But it is not so. The real fact is that Joseph Merrick suffered from a congenital disorder – Proteus syndrome which gave him extreme physical deformities. Only the deformities in his skin and its color are similar to that of an Elephant. He has been the subject of many medical studies, documentaries and fiction works. Now let’s know more about him.

Joseph Merrick
Joseph Merrick

Joseph Merrick Superhuman Superpower

Physical appearance of Joseph Merrick made him different and got the name as The Elephant Man. His skin was thick, lumpy & grayish like that of an Elephant, lips were swelling, forehead had a bony lump, head and body were covered with various bony and fleshy tumors, right arm was 12 inches at the wrist, two feet were enlarged, one of his fingers was 5 inches and head measured 36 inches in circumference. Added to these deformities, he became lame when he fell down and damaged his hip at his early age. Later his speech was also affected due to facial deformities.


Joseph Carey Merrick was born on 5th August, 1862 in Leicester to Joseph Rockley Merrick and Mary Jane.

Early Life

Joseph Merrick was healthy till he was five years old but after that the deformities started to come out. His childhood was somewhat normal and he attended school despite of his deformities. He had a close relationship with his mother who died bronchial pneumonia when he was 11 years old. Merrick described his mother’s loss as the greatest sadness in my life. His father remarried after a year and so Merrick lived with his father and step mother.

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Merrick dropped out of school at the age of 13 as his strict step mother told him that he has to earn for his living. He searched for work but faced many difficulties because of his appearance. He got a job in a factory where he did the work of rolling cigars for two years but he was forced to leave the job as his right hand became deformed. Later Merrick’s father helped him to sell things from his own haberdashery by getting him seller’s license. He was unable to succeed in this job as his deformities resulted in impaired speech and his appearance frightened many people. He left home and went to his Uncle Charles Merrick’s house as he was severely beaten by his father for not being able to sell things.

His uncle was also unable to take care of him with these deformities. So, Merrick was homeless and starving along with his abnormal condition. At the age of 17, he joined Leicester Union Workhouse where he managed to work inspite of hardships over there. In 1884, he left the workhouse as he was unable to do work with the increase in his deformities. Joseph Merrick went through lot of struggles with the medical condition.

About Joseph Merrick

Joseph Merrick is known to the world as Elephant Man after himself deciding to earn money from his disfigurement. He contacted a Leicester music-hall proprietor and showman named Sam Torr and asked him to exhibit him. Sam Torr called the Gaiety Palace of Varieties who named him as The Elephant Man and exhibited him as Half-a-Man and Half-an-Elephant in a human oddities show and across Leicester and Nottingham. Torr organized a group of managers for Merrick as he needs to travel for exhibiting him. Merrick was linked with Tom Norman who was an exhibitor of human curiosities outside his penny gaff shops opposite to the London Hospital.

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He was visited by the medical students and doctors out of curiosity. Frederick Treves invited him to come to hospital for examination. Merrick agreed and went many times but he hated to go then after as he felt exhibited as something. He was forced to go somewhere as Norman’s shop was closed by police. He was made to go to Europe for shows but faced trouble because of his manager who robbed and hit him. Somehow he reached London and after some hurdles he was brought to London hospital by Treves where he spent his life till his death. Chairman of the hospital committee Francis Carr Gomm was the person who helped Merrick to stay in the hospital. Merrick died on 11th April, 1890 at the age of 27 due to accidental dislocation of neck while sleeping.

Genetic or Learned

Joseph Merrick’s physical deformities occurred as believed by their family is that it happened because his mother was knocked over and frightened by a fairground elephant while she was pregnant.

Names known by

  • The Elephant Man
  • Half-a-Man, Half-an-Elephant
  • John Merrick (often incorrectly called with this name)

Joseph Merrick Youtube Videos

Featured In

  • The Elephant Man – Bernard Pomerance’s Play
  • The Curse of The Elephant Man – Documentary film by Natural History New Zealand
  • British Medical Journal
  • The Elephant Man – David Lynch’s unrelated film edition about Merrick
  • Merrick’s manager Ross Play

Books Published

  • Diseases of the Skin: their Description, Pathology, Diagnosis and Treatment
  • The Elephant Man and Other Reminiscences by Frederick Treves
  • The Elephant Man: A Study in Human Dignity by Ashley Montagu
  • The True History of the Elephant Man by Michael Howell and Peter Ford
  • Joseph: The Life, Times and Places of the Elephant Man by Joanne Vigor-Mungovin