On 15 June 1839, shortly before emigrating to Australia, my 3rd great grandfather Philip Chauncy visited the London zoological gardens with his friend Cheyne. The previous day he and Cheyne had been to see the Armories at the Tower of London. (I do not know anything more about Cheyne, not even his full name.)
The Zoological Society of London, which claims to have established the world’s first scientific zoo, was founded by Sir Stamford Raffles in 1826. It opened to Fellows of the Society in 1828 and to paying visitors in 1847.
A history of the Zoo in the nineteenth century was published by the Society in 1901. Progress over the thirteen years from from its founding to the time of my 3rd great grandfather’s visit gives an idea of what he might have seen on his visit there. (We may also note that Chauncy was not a paying visitor. Perhaps his friend Cheyne had arranged
some special entrée for them?)
1826: “The first living animals to come into the possession of the Society were a Griffon Vulture (Gyps fulvus) and a White-headed Eagle (Haliaetus leucocephalus), presented by Mr. Joshua Brookes, and a “female Deer from Sangor.” On June 3rd, the house No. 33 Bruton Street was taken for the Offices, and Museum, and here living animals were
kept even after the Gardens were opened. There is an amusing story…of a Wanderoo Monkey (Macacus silenus) kept in Bruton Street, which snatched the wig from the head of a bishop and put it on his own.”
1827: Sir Stamford Raffles died not long after the Society was founded. His Sumatran collection was presented to the Society.
1828: the first sheet of “Occurrences” was recorded. This daily journal was kept until at least 1901, the date of publication of the record of progress. On 25 February 1828:
Menagerie. Received 11 wild ducks, from the lake, caught for the purpose of pinioning and then to be returned. [This lake was the pond in Regent’s Park that for some time was in the occupation of the Society.]
Received 6 silver-haired rabbits from Mr. Blake.
Otter died in consequence of a diseased tail.
Emu laid her fourth egg on 24th.
All animals and birds well.
Works. Pit for bear, house for llamas in progress.
Boundary wall for supporting the bank next the bears’ pit begun.
Servants. All on duty.
No. of Visitors. — Four.
Particular Visitor. Lord Auckland [Governor-General of India, 1836–1842].
In 1828 the gardens had 450 specimens of mammals, arranged into five groups, which seems to be loosely based the system of classification of the naturalist Carl Linnaeus, whose arrangement of mammals was based upon the number, situation, and structure of their teeth. Linnaeus’s system had eight orders and genera.
In 1829 the Society was granted a Charter by King George IV and negotiations were completed for the occupation of a farm of about thirty-three acres, in a “beautiful situation just under the wall of Richmond Park.” A tunnel was built to connect the two gardens.
In 1830 King William IV became patron of the Society and presented to it all the animals belonging to the Royal Menagerie in Windsor Park, including 18 kangaroos and 11 emus.
In the North Garden houses and sheds were built for deer, antelopes, zebras, ostriches, kangaroos, and swine. In the South Garden a pit with a pond was provided for the polar bear, and a den and pond were made for seals.
The Society was able to offer some duplicate animals to a newly formed
Society in Dublin and to the Royal Menagerie in Paris.
In 1831 the King presented to the Society the collection of animals in the Tower, expressing a wish that such as were not required for the Regent’s Park Collection should be sent to the Zoological Society of Dublin. Armadillos were bred in the Gardens, and “hopes were entertained of this animal, so valuable as an article of food, “becoming naturalised in this country.”
At the Gardens the chief works carried out were the elephant paddock and pond.
In 1832 25 mammals and 26 birds, new to the collection, were exhibited. The breeding program was successful.
In 1833 John Gould (1804 – 1881), the noted ornithologist and bird artist, was appointed Superintendent of the ornithological department of the Museum. In 1824 Gould had set himself up in business in London as a taxidermist, and his skill had helped him to become the first curator and preserver at the museum of the Zoological Society of
London in 1827. Between 1830 and 1832 Gould published in stages A Century of Birds from the Himalaya Mountains based on a collection of birds given to the Zoological Society.
A Medical Superintendent was appointed to visit the Gardens regularly and record the diseases of the animals and the remedies employed.
In 1834 the Society acquired 10 acres on the south-west of the gardens. New animals were exhibited in 1834 including an Indian rhinoceros, bought for £1,050.
In 1835 a house was built for elephants and rhinoceroses. His Majesty the King presented to the Society a fine young Indian elephant, and the specimen until then living in the Gardens was sent to the Dublin Zoological Society. A chimpanzee (Anthropopithecus niger) and ten other species of Mammals and ten of birds, were exhibited for the
In 1836 four giraffes joined the gardens. In 1837 Her Majesty Queen Victoria became patroness of the Society. Charles Darwin became a Fellow of the Society, presenting his mammal and bird specimens collected during the second voyage of HMS Beagle. They were examined by John Gould who classified them as new and separate species, this work an important step in the development of Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection.
In 1839 a Monkey House was built. Admissions to the gardens were 158,432; this was the lowest annual visitation in more than ten years – annual admissions figures during the 1830s had been as high as 263,392 in 1836. Although the paying public were not admitted until 1847 Fellows of the Society and their guests could visit. From 1828 “strangers [could] be admitted to the Gardens by the written order of a Fellow on payment of 1s. each ; the holder of a ticket to be allowed to introduce any number of companions at 1s. each.”
It seems very likely that when Philip Chauncy visited the zoo in June 1839 he would have seen some Australian animals including kangaroos and emus among the many animals on display there.
- Zoological Society of London and Sclater, Philip Lutley, 1829-1913 A record of the progress of the Zoological society of London during the nineteenth century. London Printed by William Clowes and sons, limited, 1901. Pages 147 – 163. Retrieved through archive.org.