Merrick was born in Leicester and began to develop abnormally during the first few years of his life. His mother died when he was 11 and his father soon remarried. Rejected by his father and stepmother, he left home and went to live with his uncle Charles Merrick. In 1879 17-year-old Merrick entered the Leicester Union Workhouse. In 1884 he contacted a showman named Sam Torr and proposed that Torr should exhibit him. Torr arranged for a group of men to manage Merrick, whom they named the Elephant Man. After touring the East Midlands, Merrick travelled to London to be exhibited in a penny gaff shop rented by showman Tom Norman. Norman's shop was visited by surgeon Frederick Treves who invited Merrick to be examined. After Merrick was displayed by Treves at a meeting of the Pathological Society of London in 1884, Norman's shop was closed by the police and Merrick joined Sam Roper's circus and was toured in Europe.