Searching for Jumbo – an Elephant in the Archive

The body of Jumbo the elephant

In honour of the recent documentary entitled Attenborough and the Giant Elephant, we’ve delved into the archive to share these lesser seen Jumbo gems.

Captured as a calf in the Sudan, Jumbo toured with Menagerie Kreutzberg in Germany and was exhibited at Jardin des Plantes in Paris before arriving at Regent’s Park Zoological Gardens in 1865(he was traded for a rhino, fulfilling London Zoo’s desire to have both an African and an Indian elephant in their collection). He became a great favourite with visitors, giving rides to children on his back. Amongst the treasures in the archive is an original handwritten letter from Jumbo’s keeper Matthew Scott, accompanied by a photograph, replying to a fan enquiring as to circumference of the elephant’s feet.

JUMBO / LETTER

Jumbo the elephant at Regent's Park, 1865

Jumbo the elephant in his younger days

When P.T Barnum, the American showman and businessman, purchased Jumbo some seventeen years later in 1882 for £2,000, there was widespread public outcry in England, summarised in this cartoon by Alfred Bryan, published in March of that year, with the caption “If you take Jumbo, Mr Barnum, and he should revenge himself, don’t expect any sympathy from the English people.” Punch magazine cheerfully published a cartoon suggesting Barnum take an altogether different beast, the MP and atheist Charles Bradlaugh(caricatured as an incalcitrant wild boar), instead of the much loved Jumbo.



Jumbo’s departure from England was covered in great detail in the press; the logistics of transporting such a large cargo even to the docks, let alone across the Atlantic, aroused great interest. Pleasingly for the English, Jumbo showed great patriotism in his reluctance to leave the country, with much cajoling required.

Jumbo the elephant: on the way to St Katherine's docks

On Jumbo’s departure from Millwall docks, Mr. A.B Bartlett the superintendent of the Zoological Gardens gave a speech, quoted at the time in The Illustrated London News, which interestingly alluded to Jumbo’s occasional violent outbursts.  “He was an extraordinarily good-tempered beast…at the same time he was subject to periodical outbreaks, which from his immense strength made him, although the most amicable, the most dangerous animal Mr Bartlett had ever known.”




Barnum reportedly recouped the money from the purchase within just three weeks with the takings from exhibiting Jumbo in America. Jumbo became a star attraction, and on 30th May 1884 took part in a publicity stunt by Barnum, where 21 of his elephants marched across the newly built Brooklyn Bridge, to assure members of the public that the bridge was safe following a stampede just six days after the bridge was opened, in which 12 people were crushed and killed during a panic.

Jumbo died in tragic circumstances when hit by a train at a marshalling yard in Ontario, Canada in 1885. Barnum encouraged a story that suggested Jumbo has died trying to protect a junior elephant, Tom Thumb, from an oncoming train, but examination of Jumbo’s bones in Attenborough’s documentary suggest a less altruistic version of events, where Jumbo may have died simply whilst trying to escape from the train himself.

Even in death, Jumbo was a source of fascination and revenue; The Graphic depicted the plans to have Jumbo’s hide stuffed and displayed, with his skin reportedly being stretched to enhance his stature even more. The Graphic reported that the day after Jumbo died, “Mr Ward of Rochester, New York State, aided by half a dozen butchers, skinned the monster in three pieces, which were placed in a warm bath of salt and alum, and together with the bones, sent off to Rochester, where a special house was constructed in which to mount the skin and skeleton.”

His skeleton was sold separately and also exhibited, with his heart being sold to Cornell University. Poor stuffed Jumbo continued to tour as a stuffed exhibit for two years, when he ended up on display at P.T. Barnum Hall at Tufts University, Massachusetts. In 1975 much of stuffed Jumbo was destroyed by fire, but his bones, stored separately in the American Museum of Natural History in New York City, escaped destruction and proved a valuable asset in Attenborough’s research for his documentary.

Poster for P.T. Barnum & Circus featuring

Jumbo the elephant stuffed

The diverse material in the archive here at Mary Evans offers a fascinating on-the-spot look at how Jumbo was portrayed in the British press at the time, and is a compelling evocation of the great public interest that was taken in Jumbo.

ELEPHANT/JUMBO SCRAP

Sprucing Up – The History of the Christmas Tree

Bringing home the Christmas tree

On 23 December 1848, The Illustrated London News published an engraving by J. L. Williams of Queen Victoria, Prince Albert and their five children gathered around a twinkling Christmas tree at Windsor Castle.  The publication of the picture was to mark the defining moment for the Christmas tree and within a short few years, it had, despite Dickens dismissing it as, “the new German toy,” become a widely adopted and accepted part of festive celebrations in Britain.  But the history of the Christmas tree stretches far further into previous centuries.  Allow our timeline to take you on a pine-scented journey back in time.

Christmas Tree

8th century – European legend attributes the origin of Christmas trees to the English St. Boniface, aka Winfrid of Crediton, a missionary in Germany.  Its rather grisly genesis stems from Winfrid’s chopping down of a tree before a crowd of barbarians, used previously as a site for human sacrifices.  According to legend, the blood-stained tree, “fell like a tower, groaning as it split asunder” but close by, a young fir tree stood miraculously unharmed leading Winfrid to lecture his audience, “This little tree, a young child in the forest, shall be your holy tree tonight”


ST BONIFACE/SACRED OAK

1533 – There is a belief, particularly in Germany, that Martin Luther invented the custom.  One Christmas Eve he was so apparently moved by a firmament of shining stars that he recreated the spectacle for his family by standing a young fir tree in their darkened house and placing candles on its branches.

1605 – The earliest authentic record of Christmas trees as we known them today is in a manuscript in which a Strasbourg merchant wrote, “At Christmas, they set up fir trees in the parlours of Strasbourg and hang thereon roses cut out of many coloured paper, apples, wafers, gold-foil, sweets etc.”

Martin Luther with his Family and their Christmas Tree

1737 – A member of the University of Wittenberg describes a country lady who distributed little trees bearing lighted candles to children, together with gifts laid beneath them.  Later in the century, Samuel Coleridge visited Germany and was intrigued by the delight his hosts took in their Christmas tree, which he described as, “a pleasing novelty”.

1800 – Queen Charlotte, German wife of King George III, hosts a children’s party at which a large yew tree is centre stage, decorated with, “bunches of sweetmeats, almonds, and raisins, in papers, fruits, and toys, most tastefully arranged, and the whole illuminated by small wax candles.”

Decorating the Christmas tree, 1938.
1820s
– In the household of Queen Caroline, maligned consort of George IV, Germans set up Christmas trees bright with candles and hung with presents for English children of the palace.

1840 – A thriving market for pine-tops are sold at a market in Manchester by German immigrants.

CHRISTMAS/TREE DUG UP

1841 – Prince Albert introduces a bedecked tree into seasonal royal festivities writing, “Today I have two children of my own to give present to who, they know not why, are full of happy wonder at the German Christmas tree and its radiant candles.”

1845 – First illustration of a Christmas tree in The Illustrated London News on 27 December 1845 accompanying a report on a celebration given by the London Mission Society at the Temperance Hall in Cripplegate for the benefit of 400 London children.  Their enjoyment “was crowned especially by the exhibition of a German Christmas tree, or Tree of Love, which was erected upon the stage of the Hall.”

Christmas tree at the Temperance Hall, 1845

1848 – One of the ILN’s most famous pictures is published in its 23 December issue and leads to the popularisation of the Christmas tree.  The engraving is accompanied by the following explanation of the tree as, “that which is annually prepared by her Majesty’s command for the Royal Children.  Similar trees are arranged in other apartments of the Castle for her Majesty, his Royal Highness Prince Albert, her Royal Highness the Duchess of Kent, and the Royal household.  Her Majesty’s tree is furnished by His Royal Highness Prince Albert, whilst that of the Prince is furnished according to the taste of her Majesty.”

Queen Victoria's Christmas tree

1851 – Although Christmas trees have been introduced to America by German immigrants in Pennsylvania, the tradition becomes widespread in this year when a woodsman called Mark Carr begins selling trees from Catskills at what will become Mark Carr’s Corner in New York.

1854 – A giant Christmas tree is erected at Crystal Palace.  Christmas trees for sale in Covent Garden market pictured in The Illustrated London News.

Christmas trees in Covent Garden Market, London

1864 – William Chambers writes of the Christmas tree, “the custom has been introduced into England with the greatest success”

1914 – On the Western Front in December 1914, small decorated Christmas trees are used as signs of a temporary truce by German soldiers.


CHRISTMAS TRUCE 1914 WW1

1930 – Artificial Christmas trees were made from dyed goose feathers in 19th century Germany, but in 1930 a British-based Addis Housewares Company created the first artificial Christmas tree made from brush bristles. The company used the same machinery that it used to manufacture toilet brushes.  (Aluminium foil Christmas trees appear in America in 1958).

1947 – A large Christmas tree is gifted to Britain by the city of Oslo as a token of gratitude for British support to Norway during the Second World War.  Given annually, the tree is the central focus of Christmas carol-singing in Trafalgar Square every year.

TRAFALGAR SQUARE TREE

2017 – Mary Evans Picture Library has almost 2000 pictures on their website charting the legends and history of Christmas trees

Christmas Tree Shopping

 

A Snapshot in Time

In 1946, photographer Jean Straker formed a short-lived photographic firm known as Photo Union at 12, Soho Square in London. It specialised in the photo-essay, a form of pictorial journalism undertaken mainly with miniature cameras with lots of detailed images and bridging shots. Four years later, in 1951, the agency went into receivership when Straker sank capital into colour photography, which was to prove too costly. The archive, now at Mary Evans, consequently documents a particularly brief period of time but in many ways, it is all the more fascinating for it.

Woman on London routemaster bus, 1940s

Ley-On's Chop Suey Restaurant, Soho

Jean Straker was born in London in 1913 to an émigré Russian father and English ballerina mother. He began his career in journalism during the 1930s, specialising in film and launching ‘The Talkie’ magazine. A conscientious objector during the War, he combined duties as an ARP warden with working as a surgical photographer in London’s hospitals. But it was in the 1950s, that fame—or perhaps infamy—finally found a foothold. With the failure of Photo Union, Straker abandoned commercial photography to pursue personally satisfying projects. He set up the Visual Arts Club and as part of this, organised nude photography sessions for members. In 1959, ‘The Nudes of Jean Straker’ was published by Charles Skilton Publications, one of the first art photography books of its kind. Despite his activities being pretty similar in practice to life drawing classes, sensibilities were shocked and he was prosecuted in 1962 under the Obscene Publications Act. Arguing that there was nothing depraved or corrupt about the naked human body, Straker spent the rest of the decade refusing to curtail his activities or compromise his artistic integrity leading to a continuous cycle of prosecutions and appeals. By the late 1960s, Straker had given up photography but continued to campaign and lecture on censorship until his death in 1984.

Nude Danae by Jean Straker

Though Straker’s Photo Union collective was a commercial venture, whose subjects were necessarily more conservative, some of the images seem to hint at Straker’s background and personal interests. There are backstage shots of showgirls and candid shots of jobbing musicians, evocative images of Soho streets and long-gone West End restaurants while guileful London girls are pictured on dates with American GIs. They hint of freedom and a certain type of seedy glamour in an age of rationing and austerity. There are other pictures too, which project a more innocent nostalgia: apprentice carpenters, Kentish apple pickers and the 1947 Royal Wedding. But occasionally, the odd, artistic nude reveals the agency founder’s true, fleshy metier. The Photo Union collection is an eclectic and evocative picture of post-war Britain, and particularly London.  To see a selection of images from the archive on the Mary Evans website, click here.

VE Day Celebrations - Piccadilly Circus

Ballet dancers training