Hello everybody! Today, I’m really excited to be part of the blog tour for the Great Animal Escapade, which I read at the end of last month and really enjoyed. The author Jane Kerr has written a wonderful guest post about the other animals in Belle Vue, so over to that now!
Maharajah the elephant is the undisputed star of my Belle Vue adventures. Chiefly because his story reads like fiction. He was first bought at auction in 1872 by James Jennison, the owner of Belle Vue. But he smashed up the rail carriage that was supposed to transport him from Edinburgh to Manchester.
The solution to this problem was simple. Maharajah’s keeper Lorenzo Lawrence volunteered to walk the elephant more than 200 miles to Belle Vue. The journey took them ten days, and by the end both had become famous.
This real-life adventure was the backdrop to my first book, The Elephant Thief. But Maharajah wasn’t the only well-known – and well-loved – animal to emerge from Belle Vue.
In 1893, Mr Jennison made another purchase: a four-year-old chimpanzee called Consul. Dressed in a smoking jacket and puffing a pipe, he often accompanied Mr Jennison to meetings. In fact, Consul proved so popular that after his death, a replacement chimp was found. This time, the new Consul’s ‘party trick’ was to play a violin while riding a bicycle.
With modern eyes – and a very different perspective – these stories are appalling, even cruel. And it’s certainly true that in the Victorian era, zoo animals were treated merely as entertainment and a means of making money.
But views were changing. Charles Darwin had published his work highlighting the common origins between humans and animals. And the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals was already well established. People were beginning to understand that in order to keep species alive, wildlife needed to be protected.
In The Great Animal Escapade, I’ve tried to place my fictional Belle Vue at the forefront of that conservation movement, but in reality, there were periods of neglect and underfunding.
One of the animals who did prove a huge draw in the 1940s was Maude, a rare tigon, not naturally seen in the wild. Born to a tiger father and a lioness mother, she was described as quiet and good-mannered. Her preserved remains can still be seen at the Manchester Museum, alongside Maharajah’s skeleton.
Other popular Belle Vue exhibits included Gerry the gerenuk, a type of giraffe-necked gazelle, never seen before in Britain. Frank the brown bear, who became known as the ‘Father of the Zoo’. And a giraffe called Doreen, who has the distinction of being born and bred in Manchester.
But it was another elephant who, perhaps fittingly, brought the Belle Vue era to an end. Lack of investment had finally caught up with the zoo, and in 1977 it was forced to close. Ellie May, a 15-year-old Asian elephant, was the last animal left, but it proved difficult to find her a new home.
Eventually Rotterdam Zoo agreed to take her. But in a Maharajah-like gesture, Ellie May sat down and refused to budge from Belle Vue. Overnight, pneumonia set in, and a marksman had to be called. It was a sad end for a zoo that had been in existence for over 140 years.
THE GREAT ANIMAL ESCAPADE by Jane Kerr is out now in paperback (£6.99, Chicken House)
Find out more at www.chickenhousebooks.com and connect with Jane on Twitter @janekerrwrites
Have you read Jane’s books? Are they on your TBR? I’d love to hear in the comments!
2 thoughts on “The Great Animal Escapade Blog Tour: Belle Vue’s Other Animals by Jane Kerr”
This sounds so cool, great post!
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Glad you enjoyed! 💜
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