Brunel on the power of the horse

Title page of Youatt The Horse

Title page of The Horse with Brunel’s name incorrectly written

Search the library catalogue for Isambard Kingdom Brunel, born on this day in 1806, and you will find one entry – for William Youatt’s book The Horse: its history, breeds, and management to which is appended, a treatise on draught first published in 1831.

The link to Brunel?  The inclusion of his ‘treatise on draught’ – though the work is not always attributed to Brunel and in at least one of the editions of The Horse his name is given as J. K. Brunel (see picture to the right)

 Brunel’s opening paragraph states:

“the subject of draught by animal power … has long … occupied the attention of theoretical and practical men … our object [is] to collect what has been said and done … arrange it methodically, to show in what manner the information may be applied … rather than to attempt to produce anything absolutely new.”

So the treatise is in effect a literature review which covers, in nearly 50 pages, the practical  application of theoretical investigations into the power of a horse.

A glance at the contents reveals the breadth of the topics covered:  ‘the power of the horse, how calculated’; ‘difference of opinion as to wheels’; ‘draught regarded as to the act of drawing, and the resistance to power employed’; ‘the manner in which the animal adapts himself to his load’; ‘errors with regard to this in some ancient sculptures: real action of the horse in walking, trotting and galloping’; ‘advantage of springs [on carts]’; ‘hardness of road surface’ etc.

Illustration from Youatt The Horse -

Illustration showing the action of the horse when pulling depending on the angle of the harness.

Brunel includes theories from ancient history, referring to the Elgin marbles and the usage of horse harnesses in the Illiad, as well as those that were current at the time he was writing.  He also includes a number of predictions about  the future eg the demise of the canal system due to the growth of the railway system.  (The treatise was written two years before the founding of the first major British Railway, the Great Western Railway in 1833.)

So how is it that a treatise by Brunel is included in Youatt’s book?  It would appear that it is for the simple reason that both works were commissioned by the ‘Society for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge’ and put together as each complemented the other.  (See Ewer, TK (1991) Youatt and Brunel.  Veterinary History Vol 6 No. 4 pp120-124 for an exploration of the link between Youatt and Brunel.)

We will return to The Horse and look at Youatt’s much larger contribution in a later post.

A not so tall tale

One of the things I love about working in libraries is the weird and wonderful questions you are asked and how, on occasions, information you find for one enquirer can be useful in answering another – sometimes years later.Giraffes at Belfast Zoo copyright Kenneth Allen from Georgraph

This has happened to me recently with King George IVs giraffe!  In 2010 I found an article in The Veterinarian about this animal for someone who was going to give a talk on the subject  – they also wrote  about it on the Brighton Royal Pavilion and Museums collections blog.

The giraffe had been given to George, in 1827, by the Viceroy of Egypt, Mohammed Ali (who also gave a giraffe to Charles X of France at the same time) and was kept in the King’s menagerie at Sandpit Gate, Windsor Great Park. Unfortunately the giraffe did not survive that long, dying in 1829, a fact that was satirised in a number of prints that can be seen on the Royal Pavilion and Museums blog.

All of this came back to me when I was doing some research on the RCVS Museum Collection and saw an entry in the museum catalogue of 1891 which read “the trachea of the first giraffe ever brought to England”.  I wondered could this be from the famous giraffe that belonged to the King?

Well the answer is yes it was.  The link is the donor of the specimen William J. Goodwin who was an RCVS Council member from 1844-1861, Veterinary Surgeon to Kings George IV and William IV, and Queen Victoria – and the author of the article in The Veterinarian

The article contains information on the health of George’s giraffe in particular as well as more general information on an animal that most readers of The Veterinarian at that time would not have encountered.

Speaking of the giraffe kept at Sandpit gate Goodwin writes:

 Extract from The Veterinarian Vol. 3 No. 26 pp. 216-219

Unfortunately it’s health did not improve

Extract from The Veterinarian Vol. 3 No. 26 pp. 216-219

And it remained small in stature

Extract from The Veterinarian Vol. 3 No. 26 pp. 216-219

Sir Everard Home  had also spent time with George’s animal and wrote about  the tongue of a giraffe in  volume 5 of his Lectures on comparative anatomy (p244-250) which was published in 1828.

In spite of all the pain the giraffe must have suffered Goodwin is able to write of its gentle nature

Extract fron The Veterinarian Vol. 3 No. 26 pp. 216-219

Perhaps a more fitting way to remember this creature than the one portrayed in the satirical illustrations?

GOODWIN, W.J. (1830), ‘An account of the giraffe: which lately died at Sandpit Gate.’ The Veterinarian Vol. 3 No. 26 pp. 216-219

Image of giraffes in Belfast Zoo © Copyright Kenneth Allen from the Geograph website and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence

Extracts from The Veterinarian Vol. 3 No. 26 pp. 216-219