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

3 replies
  1. Olivier LEBLEU
    Olivier LEBLEU says:

    Dear Clare,
    As a French writer and historian, I’ve specialized in the story of the first giraffes ever sent to Europe. In 2006, I’ve published an illustrated book about Zarafa, the first giraffe ever to land in France (“Les Avatars de Zarafa – chronique d’une girafomania, 1826-1845”, ARLEA, Paris 2006). I’m now working on her English “sister”‘s story.
    I’ve collected many information but I’m still looking for the actual stuffed skin (we’re lucky to have kept our French giraffe’s, she’s now still to be seen in La Rochelle’s natural history museum).
    Distraught over her death King George IV commissioned the taxidermist John Gould to stuff his recently deceased pet: “The stuffer to the Zoological Society, Mr. Gould, has had the performing of his duty…Soon after the giraffe expired, De Ville, the modellist, was ordered down to Windsor, by His Majesty, and took a cast of the animal. From this cast a wooden form was manufactured, on which the skin of the animal is now placed, and which preserves its beauty in an extraordinary degree.” (The Times, April 15, 1830).
    The King died on June 1830, then William IV offered the giraffe’s skeleton and stuffed skin to the Zoological Society of London, which kept them till 1855, then sold them to a D. Crisp, zoologist. Afterwards, the track is lost.
    Do you have any more clues?
    All my best,
    O. Lebleu

    • Clare
      Clare says:

      Olivier. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to find the stuffed skin? Afraid I don’t have any clues to help though. Good luck in your search. Clare

  2. saschaloske
    saschaloske says:

    Dear Olivier and Clare, I am off to the Royal Archives at Windsor Castle later this month where I will look at some material concerning the British giraffe. Will report back. Best, Alexandra (curator of Exotic Creatures exhibition at the Royal Pavilion.


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