Gilbert Pidcock’s travelling menagerie

Roll Up! Roll Up! Today we invite our readers to visit Pidcock’s Royal Menagerie at Exeter ‘Change and also touring the country, so all can join in.  All manner of incredible and rare animals, some never seen before. And all for just one shilling.

Come on in, and prepare to be amazed…

Entrance to Pidcock's Exhibition Tent at a Fair
Entrance to Pidcock’s Exhibition Tent at a Fair. Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection


Whatever deserves the Epithet of RARE, must certainly be worthy the Attention of the Curious.

JUST Arriv’d from the ISLAND of JAVA, in the East-Indies, and ALIVE, one of the greatest Rarities ever brought to Europe in the Age or Memory of Man,


It is described by the late Dr. Goldsmith as follows, viz. The Head inspires some Degree of Terror like a Warrior; it has the Eye of a Lion, the Defence of a Porcupine, and the Swiftness of a Courser; but has neither Tongue, Wing nor Tail. Its Legs are stout like the Elephant, Heel as the Human Species, and three Toes before; it is upwards of six Feet high, and weighs above 200lb. Its Head and Neck is adorned with a Variety of beautiful Colours, the Top a Sky Blue, the Back Part Orange, the Front Purple, adorned on each side with Crimson, curiously beaded, and its Feathers resemble the Mane of a Horse – and what is more extraordinary, each Quill produces two Feathers.

The Dutch assert that it can devour Glass, Iron, Stones, and even burning Coals, without Fear or Injury.

This Bird laid a large Egg at Warwick, on the 14th of January last, which is of a green Colour, spotted with white.

Ladies and Gentlemen One shilling each.

PIDCOCK, the Proprietor of this BIRD, will be at Sheffield Fair the 28th Instant; and will visit all the other principal Towns in Yorkshire.

(Leeds Intelligencer, 16th November, 1779)

Courtesy of the British Museum, 1799


GRAND MENAGERIE of WILD BEASTS and BIRDS, all alive, is just arrived, and now exhibiting at the White Lion, Corn-Market, DERBY. This invaluable Collection consists of two Mountain Lion Tygers, Male and Female – two Satyrs, or Ætheopian Savages, ditto – a He Bengal Tyger – a Porcupine – an Ape – a Coata Munda – a Jackall – four Macaws – two Cockatoos, one of which will converse with any Person in Company; with a Number of other Curiosities not inserted.

N.B. The large Beasts are well secured, so that the most timorous may approach them with the greatest Safety.

Admittance 1s. each – a Price by no means adequate to the Variety of Curiosities exhibited.

(Derby Mercury, 31st December, 1789)

Engraving, THE TIGER, by Thomas Bewick, 1753-1828, one of a series of large cuts, 1799-1800, made for Gilbert Pidcock, proprietor of a travelling menagerie. Courtesy of the National Trust.
Engraving, THE TIGER, by Thomas Bewick, 1753-1828, one of a series of large cuts, 1799-1800, made for Gilbert Pidcock, proprietor of a travelling menagerie. Courtesy of the National Trust.
Engraving, THE LION, by Thomas Bewick, 1753-1828, one of a series of large cuts, 1799-1800, for Gilbert Pidcock, proprietor of a travelling menagerie. Courtesy of the National Trust.

Just arrived from the Lyceum, and Exeter Exchange, Strand, London, and to be seen during the fair, in the market-place, two of the grandest assemblages of living rarities in all Europe: consisting of two stupendous and royal OSTRICHES, male and female. These birds exceed in magnitude and texture of plumage all the feathered TRIBE in the CREATION. They already measure upwards of NINE FEET high, although very young! – Also a BENGAL TYGER, a young LIONESS, a real spotted HYÆNA, a ravenous WOLF, two ring-tailed PORCUPINES; an AFRICAN RAM, with four circular horns; and twenty other animals and birds, too numerous to insert. – Admittance, 1s. – Servants, half-price. – Likewise in the other exhibition is the ROYAL HEIFER with TWO HEADS, a beautiful COLT, of the race kind, foaled with only THREE LEGS, got by Sir Charles Bunbury’s Diomed, out of Barcelli, which was the dam of Marcia, now the property of Lord Derby; also a RAM with SIX LEGS. – In addition to the animal curiosities one of the most extraordinary productions of the human species will be shewn, namely the double-jointed IRISH DWARF, who will engage to carry two of the largest men now existing, both at the same time. – Admittance, as above. – Birds and beasts bought, sold, or exchanged, by G. Pidcock. – The above collection will proceed to Warrington, Liverpool, Manchester, &c.

(Chester Chronicle, 14th October, 1791)

Pidcock's Menagerie
Courtesy of the V&A.

Things did not always go to plan though. In 1792, Friday the 13th really lived up to its reputation as a day for disaster, as least as far as Gilbert Pidcock’s travelling menagerie was concerned while travelling through Lincolnshire . . .

On Friday the 13th inst. as Mr Pidcock was proceeding from Gainsborough to Brigg, with his exhibition of birds and beasts, a terrible clap of thunder, attended with lightning, took place, which frightened the horses, and they set off on full gallop, threw the ostrich carriage over, broke it to pieces, broke the back of the female ostrich which died the next day, and the male ostrich was bruised in so terrible a manner, that it died at Newark, on Wednesday the 25th. The Irish dwarf had his collar bone broke, and was otherwise much hurt, but is now in a fair way of recovery.

(Stamford Mercury, 27th April, 1792)

Exeter Exchange, courtesy of the British Museum.
Exeter Exchange, courtesy of the British Museum.

9 thoughts on “Gilbert Pidcock’s travelling menagerie

  1. Great post! I love the illustrations. It’s a little surprising that the “real unicorn” was a rhino, though. I imagine some fantasy movies would be very different if the two were substituted…!


  2. Pingback: Whewell’s Gazette: Vol. #47 | Whewell's Ghost

  3. Denis Robillard

    This is in reply to the travelling menagerie post from May 2015. In conducting some military research connected to Canada circa 1790, I came across a first hand account of a person who was nearly mauled while visiting the menagerie in Exeter Exchange. It’s from the hands of Colonel George Landmann who wrote of his military memoirs in 1852. This particular incident, as he recalls happened in either 1789 or 1790. The rest is in his own words. A very frightening experience indeed. Landmann would have been all of 12 or 13 when this happened!

    My father agreed to take me to the menagerie
    at Exeter Change. I must here state, that
    this peculiar place commenced nearly opposite
    the opening from the Strand leading to Water-
    loo Bridge ; it thence extended one hun-
    dred to one hundred and thirty feet towards
    Charing Cross, and consisted of a covered
    passage with stalls on each side, where cut-
    lery, perfumery, and toys were sold, chiefly
    exhibited under glass cases ; and latterly some


    saddlery, &c. The place was gloomy, dirty and
    badly paved, and possessed no real merits
    excepting that, during a shower of rain, it
    provided a shelter to the pedestrian. All per-
    sons who purchased any article, in the passage,
    of the value of one shilling or more, received a
    free ticket of admission to the menagerie,
    without which, sixpence was the entrance money.
    After passing over Westminster Bridge and
    turning into Parliament Street, we were com-
    pelled to leave the coach, the way being com-
    pletely blockaded by a dense mob, which was
    attracted by the conflagration of Richmond
    House. This building was the town residence
    of his Grace of Richmond, and was a large old
    inelegant red brick house, which, together with
    its surrounding gardens, occupied a very exten-
    sive piece of ground, now the site of Richmond
    Terrace. ……
    The apartments containing the menagerie
    were exceedingly confined and dangerously
    crowded by the cages for the animals. On one
    side, were the large beasts in strongly grated
    compartments ; the lion at the end, and next
    to him the tiger; then followed the hyenas,
    leopards, and some very large monkeys or
    baboons ; whilst on the side facing, there were a
    number of the inferior animals, some in cages,
    but a great many of them merely chained to a
    sort of table ; amongst these were the blue-
    faced and smaller monkeys, otters, racoons,
    &c, leaving a space for the visitors much too
    narrow between them and the larger animals — I
    believe not more than ten to twelve feet.
    Having examined the birds near the entrance,
    and particularly the macaws (several of these
    birds were hung in the streets below, near the
    entrance), we advanced in the narrow walk to
    hear the lion, the show-master having pro-
    claimed that he was about to make him roar ;
    upon the animal extending his jaws, the keeper
    put his face as far into his mouth as he could
    reach, and began to roar down the lion’s
    throat; which feat was considered the most
    interesting and boldest ever attempted.

    In retreating from this exhibition, the tiger or
    leopard made a sudden leap at the bars of his
    cage, causing me to start backwards, which
    brought me within reach of the monkeys and
    other small animals that were chained to the
    table. The nearest of them instantly seized hold
    of my hair, and began pulling with his
    utmost strength, endeavouring at the same time


    to scratch out my eyes. Nothing could have
    saved me from suffering the severest injuries
    but the stout resistance I made.

    My first scream was the signal for a general
    burst of the wildest uproar throughout the
    whole menagerie. The lion, with his mane erect,
    darted with surprising activity from end to end
    of his prison, lashing the bars with his tail, and
    thundering out his rage. The tiger sprang in
    all directions, repeatedly turning head over heels
    against the gratings, and making every effort
    to catch hold of me by thrusting his fore-legs
    out to their fullest extent, and evincing his
    severe disappointment on perceiving that he
    could only grasp the air with his claws. The
    leopards and hyenas in like manner manifested
    their eagerness to partake of the good fortune
    which they imagined had befallen the monkeys ;
    whilst immediately facing the spot where I was
    struggling to escape, was an immensely large
    black monkey or baboon, leaping from the
    bottom to the top of his cage, and exhibiting a
    state of rage which no one had on any former
    occasion witnessed. Their wild and harsh
    screeches excited the macaws, and parrots, pro-


    ducing altogether such a deafening uproar of
    discordant sounds as no pen can describe.

    My father laid about with his cane, and
    two or three of the keepers flogged away
    savagely with their long hunting-whips. Of
    course I was soon released ; but my face was
    covered with blood, issuing from numerous deep
    scratches, and my head was bleeding where the
    hair had been torn out, carrying with it pieces
    of skin as large as four-penny pieces. Not-
    withstanding my liberation, these ferocious crea-
    tures continued to exhibit such a state of
    insubordination that I was hurried away to the
    proprietor’s room, in the hope, that by with-
    drawing me from their presence, tranquillity
    might be restored.

    It must have been about this period (1789
    or 1790), ……..


  4. glasspjc

    What a surprise to find this engraving of The Tiger by Thomas Bewick made for Gilbert Pidcock. I learned that Mr. Pidcock died very early after 1800, so chances are slim he made it to the United States. What I found here in the US is a glass presentation piece in the form of a large ale bowl as described by Lowell Innes in his book “Pittsburgh Glass” on page 180 plate 159 with no engraving. This presentation ale bowl is engraved with the letters WS in script above the date 1848 inside a wreath of foliage and on the reverse side a tiger in a field flanked on either side by a palm trees. This tiger is so similar to the Bewick/Pidcock engraving, I feel the artisan used it to engrave the bowl.
    I researched prominent persons in America and came up with Winfield Scott. He was the General that was credited for winning the Mexican American War which ended in 1848. I found only one reference comparing him to a cat. It happened on the night before the invasion. With the latest information about tiger, I’m thinking the bowl could now have an English provenance. Any help would be greatly appreciated.


  5. Pingback: Gawking at the Lion in a Travelling Menagerie | Cotsen Children’s Library

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