The Royal Menagerie, Exeter Change, Strand.

An Elephant Never Forgets

The adage that an elephant never forgets seems very appropriate given the following accounts.

The scientific elephant now displays his sagacity and the uncommon improvement of his natural powers, at Pidcock’s Grand Menageries, Exeter ‘Change, Strand, where, at the desire of the company and command of the keeper, he exhibits a perfect knowledge of the value of different pieces of money; tells with the greatest precision the hour and minutes of the day, when shown a watch by any of the spectators; locks and unlocks doors, takes off and puts on any lady’s or gentleman’s bonnet or hat, that he may be requested of him, with a great and pleasing variety of other performances. His improvement in the space of the last six months exceeds all belief.

Courtesy of Yale Center for British Art
Courtesy of Yale Center for British Art

In another story to confirm that an elephant never forgets, we offer this account which was reported in an English newspaper, although the event took place in Paris, 1799.

A sentinel on duty at the menagerie, agreeably to the orders he had received, was always particularly careful to caution the visitors not to feed the elephants. However, his behaviour was not calculated to gain him the favour of the elephants. One of the females especially resented his officious zeal to enforce his orders and several times she attempted to correct his bad habits by throwing water on his head with her trunk.

A few days ago, a great number of people came to see the elephants, which the latter considered a fine opportunity to receive, by stealth, plenty of scraps of bread. Unfortunately, for her, however, the officious sentinel was on guard that day.

The female took her station beside him, watched all his words and gestures, and the first time he began to give his usual notice she squirted him in the face with her trunk full of water much to the immense amusement of the audience. The sentinel quietly wiped his face and retiring a little way, he continued to give his notice to everyone informing them not to give any bread to the elephants and the elephants were likewise instructed not to take any.

This time, however, the female was ready and waiting, she took hold of his musket, whirled it around with her trunk, then trod on it, it was not until she had twisted it like a screw did she return it.

Destruction of the noble elephant at Mr Cross's, Exeter 'Change
Courtesy of Lewis Walpole

From the Bath Chronicle of August 1791, we offer a somewhat tragic story.

Among the elephants that were sent to Madras with the troops in 1781, under the command of the late Colonel Pearce, there was apparently one keeper who it was reported was quite neglectful and who pilfered from his drams on the line of march. Upon every such occasion, the elephant discovered signs of anger and resentment, as if he was insensible to negligence, nor ignorant of the mal-practices, of his keeper.

One morning the cattle etc. were ordered to be mustered for review and when the commanding officer, in going along the line, passed in front of the elephant, the animal roared out as if to attract the commanding officer’s attention. When he caught the eye of the Colonel the elephant took hold of his keeper with his trunk, put him under his feet and instantly crushed him to death.

The elephant then immediately fell upon his knees and salaamed to the Colonel for pardon. The singularity of this act induced Colonel Pearce to make an immediate enquiry respecting it, when he learnt that the elephant had been forced, contrary to his natural disposition, to inflict this punishment on his keeper, for the incorrigible neglect he was prone to commit and the frauds practised on his daily allowance. Unfortunately, we do not know the outcome of this investigation, but punishment had already been served.


The Royal Menagerie, Exeter Change, Strand.

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.