200 Years Ago in Newmarket : Drake’s Elephant Tour

In my random series of posts from newspapers of 200 years ago this week, now also covering Newmarket to add some variety, was the story of how an elephant was placed on display in the town. I’ve written before about the Travelling Zoos, but it’s impressive to think that someone traipsed an elephant around Suffolk.

“In the night of Wednesday last, the bustle of our Fair being over, Mr Drake set out with his tremendous charge, the Elephant, for Newmarket, where we will remain a short time. That such an animal should submit to confinement, even in a caravan of so large dimensions as that which contains him, is a striking proof of his docility; for doubtless the exertions of his utmost strength would shiver to bars to atoms. There is, however, no fear of such an event, for even in his wild state the Elephant is harmless, except when provoked by injury. “He is born” says Buffon, “an enemy to no living creature, and if provoked his anger is confined to the person who has injured him”. Mr Drake’s Elephant we consider the largest in England, not except that in Exeter Change. It is at the time the most tractable and the most sagacious. The Boa Constrictor has often been exhibited; but the Sea Serpent never until now. This curiosity resembles the Constrictor in form; but is much larger and more beautifully marked; and should be seen by every one, if it be only to set at rest the doubts which prevailed as to the existence of such an inhabitant of the waters.”

The Exeter Change, or Exeter Exchange, was a building on the north side of the Strand which was used as a menagerie for around fifty years in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. Their elephant, Chunee, was brought over on a sailing ship from India, one of several transported in this way to excite and delight audiences across Great Britain. I don’t unfortunately know the name of the elephant that came to visit Newmarket, but as it wasn’t reported again in the local press I can only imagine that it didn’t rampage through the streets. I assume that this sea snake was dead, although I’m sure it attracted some interest at the time as it would have been most unusual.