By H. Cowie
Unique animals have been coveted commodities in nineteenth-century Britain. Spectators flocked to zoos and menageries to work out girl lion tamers and hungry hippos. Helen Cowie examines zoos and vacationing menageries within the interval 1800-1880, utilizing animal exhibitions to envision problems with category, gender, imperial tradition and animal welfare.
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Extra resources for Exhibiting Animals in Nineteenth-Century Britain: Empathy, Education, Entertainment
G. 34 In reality, of course, George IV did contribute to London Zoo, both ceding the Zoological Society the land for the gardens and supplying it with multiple animals that he and his successors received as diplomatic gifts. 35 Science and research The Zoological Society conceived of the gardens as a prime site for scientific research into the anatomy and physiology of rare animals. In the prospectuses drafted for the establishment’s foundation, and in subsequent annual reports, the Society contrasted the experience of studying animals in spacious enclosures with that of viewing them in cramped cages like those in Exeter ’Change, or as inanimate stuffed specimens exhibited in a museum.
When either party appeared to be letting the side down and detracting from the zoo’s status as an educational community facility, recriminations were loudly voiced, often through the medium of letters to a local newspaper. Such recriminations were frequently levelled when gardens were initially proposed, as conscientious and active townsmen first started to canvass for support for a garden, but found it wanting from some sectors of society. Criticisms also surfaced later on if below-par takings from visitors threatened particular zoological gardens with closure – a fate that many faced in the economic depression of the 1840s, and to which some ultimately succumbed.
These more high-profile campaigns for funding, mostly centred on a particularly Zoo, Community and Civic Pride 37 noteworthy animal, were an effective way of accruing a large amount of money in a short period, which was sometimes imperative if the beast in question was subject to competition from other zoos and menageries or required urgent accommodation. 21 One example of this type of campaign occurred in Bristol in 1838. On this occasion, the Bristol Zoological Gardens had been offered ‘a pair of fine young Barbary lions’ by a local animal dealer, but, lacking sufficient funds to buy them outright, its directors sought to raise the money by organising a special Grand Gala, the proceeds of which would go towards the animals’ purchase.