Kate Allan

The online diary of Kate Allan, author

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Elephants in London

May, 2006: You may have seen in the news (or for real) the spectacle of a giant 40ft mechanical elephant parading through the streets of London last weekend. More here at the BBC.

However, what sprung to my mind first was an incident which occured in London 180 years ago - perhaps the last time that an elephant - this one very real - nearly went on the rampage through the West End...

March, 1826: Chunee was undoubtably England's most famous elephant, housed at the Exeter 'Change, London's menagerie of wild beasts from tigers to boa constrictors, operated by a Mr Cross, just off The Strand. When Lord Byron visited the menagerie in 1813 he remarked:

Two nights ago I saw the tigers sup at Exeter ’Change... There was a "hippopotamus," like Lord Liverpool in the face; and the "Ursine Sloth" hath the very voice and manner of my valet--but the tiger talked too much. The elephant [probably Chunee himself] took and gave me my money again--took off my hat--opened a door-- trunked a whip--and behaved so well, that I wish he was my butler.

In March 1826 Chunee became enraged in his cage . He became so violent and it was feared that he would break out of his confinement and endanger the whole menagerie. The guard from nearby Somerset House were sent for and the elephant was shot.

Cartoons following the incident like this one provoked criticism of keeping animals in such small spaces. Cross's menagerie shut its doors in 1829 and most of the animals moved to a purpose built park environment in Walworth, opened to the public in 1831 as the Surrey Zoological Gardens.

Chunee's fame endured. There is a detailed memoir of the incident in Henry Goddard's Memoirs of a Bow Street Runner. His skeleton was still being exhibited at the Royal College of Surgeons in 1850.

I've been researching Cross's menagarie for my current work-in-progress.


  • At 2:31 pm, Blogger Annette said…

    Living in towns, as we do, we all like the chance to see wild animals.But they must be kept in cages that are big enough for them to roam, within reason.
    Wouldn't you go mad if someone locked you in a small cage? I know I would!


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