Victorian London - Entertainment and Recreation - Zoo's and Menageries - London Zoo / Zoological Gardens

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This capacious range of cages for the larger carnivora, as lions, tigers, leopards, &c., is in course of construction from the designs of Mr. E. W. Elmslie, and will, when completed, be one of the most important buildings in the society's gardens. Its site ranges with the bear-pit and great terrace; and of the latter the structure itself will form a continuation.
    The building is in length divided into six compartments by substantial walls, and in width into three, also by walls, the outside compartments thus formed being about 25 feet long by 10 feet wide, and serving as the day-cages. The middle division is longitudinally divided into twenty-four, giving four sleeping apartments to the length of each outer den. Two of these will communicate with each of the outer dens by means of a lifting door, which will be worked from the exterior of the outer cage. All the sleeping dens can be thrown into one for the purpose of moving the animals from one part of the building to another, or for cleaning, &c. The outer or day cages will be 10 feet high in the clear, and raised on arches 2 feet 6 inches from the level of the lawn, and the sleeping dens 3 feet 6 inches, in the same way. The outer cages wilt be enclosed on three sides with walls, and on the fourth side with strong iron railings, through which the animals will be seen. The roof is formed by a cast-iron framing filled in with arches and covered with asphalte in such a manner that the tops of this cages will form a terrace-walk, commanding a view of the whole of the gardens.

from The Illustrated London News, 1843

The Zoological Society was instituted in 1826. It owes its foundation to the late Sir Stamford Raffles, Lord Auckland, Sir H. Davy, and other lovers of science, and was established with the view of promoting the study of ecology. The museum oh the Zoological Society, at present closed, awaits the erection of a building intended for its reception it contains several thousand specimens of stuffed birds and animals; the collection made by Sir S. Raffles in Sumatra; and a curious collection of horns; the major part of these varieties being presents from various persons to the Society. The gardens and menagerie of the Society, on the north side of the Regent's Park, were opened in 1828. For the admirable arrangement of these beautiful grounds, and judicious distribution of the several buildings, the Society are indebted to the talent of Mr. Decimus Burton, whose well-known taste and judgment are throughout strikingly exemplified. This grand collection is here displayed to the greatest advantage; the selection of site, and form of dwelling, being rendered at all times as congenial to the habits of the animals as the extent of the premises and a due regard to safety will permit ; and aviaries, dens, paddocks, and poles have all been formed in furtherance of that object; together with ponds for the beavers, water-fowl, &c. These gardens are one of the greatest attractions of the metropolis; they have long been the resort of rank and fashion, and enjoy, as they deserve, a large share of public patronage, not fewer than 112,000 persons having visited them in the course of one year: they are open from ten till dusk upon every day, save Sunday (when they are accessible only to the members and their friends), and may be seen upon payment of one shilling at the entrance, and presentation of a member's order, obtainable of any of the subscribers, of whom a list may be seen at the Society's office, No. 57. Pall Mall.

Mogg's New Picture of London and Visitor's Guide to it Sights, 1844

The Zoological Society has recently accomplished a piece of wonderful liberality in throwing open to the public the entire collection of animals at a low charge instead of going through the farce of insisting on a  Fellow's order (and almost any fellow would do), with the accompanying shilling. We understand that the authorities of the Stock Exchange are about to throw open to the public their celebrated collection of living Bulls and Bears, at a low figure. The Bulls will go through their wonderful feats of tossing up, by way of illustration of the gambling spirit that pervades the Stock Exchange; and it is intended also to combine a choice collection of Stags, being the small remnant of this breed that happened to be preserved after the famous panic in the Railway Share-market.

Punch, Jan.-Jun. 1848

ZOOLOGICAL GARDENS, REGENT'S PARK. The gardens of the Zoological Society of London, a Society instituted in 1826, for the advancement of Zoology, and the introduction and exhibition of the Animal Kingdom alive or properly preserved. The principal founders were Sir Humphrey Davy and Sir Stamford Raffles. Visitors are admitted to the gardens of the Society without orders on Monday in every week, at 6d. each; on the following days at 1s. each; children at 6d. The gardens are open from 9 in the morning till sunset. The rooms of the Society are at No. 11, Hanover-square. A member's fee on admission is 5l., and his annual subscription 3l. These Gardens are among the best of our London sights, and should be seen by the stranger in London. The number of visitors in the year 1849 was 168,895. The collection on the 31st of December, 1849, contained 1352 living animals, viz. 354 mammalia, 853 birds, and 345 reptiles. The giraffes and rattle-snakes are very rare and fine. [See Surrey Zoological Gardens.]

Peter Cunningham, Hand-Book of London, 1850


    As many of our country readers naturally feel anxious to know how the Hippotamus passes his time in a strange land, where he is so far away from home and all his relations, we have gone to the expense of procuring the following particulars, which are now printed for the first time.
    The Hippopotamus gets up generally about six. The first thing he does is to wag his tail; he then grunts, nodding his head all the while to the Arabian, which is his peculiar method of saying "Good morning!" At seven he has a pail of porridge and maize, which he refers to tea or coffee. After that he washes his hands - we mean his feet - in the tank which ii put in his room as his washhand-basin. He sleeps till ten, when he turns out to receive the numerous company that is always waiting to see him. He takes several rounds m the park that is attached to his dwelling-house, bowing to his guests politely as he passes along. After this exertion, he lies down in the hottest patch of sand he can pick out and curling himself up, till he looks like an immense ball of india-rubber, he goes fast asleep. He rarely wakes up till the latter part of the day, when his first thought is to run and tap at the door of the Giraffes, who hang out in the next room to him. This act of civility over, he takes his bath, which sometimes lasts two or three hours. During this time very little more than his nostrils are visible above the water. The fact is, the Hippopotamus is of a modest, retiring disposition, and likes to hide himself as much as possible from the public eye. At six o'clock he leaves his bath and retires to his bed-room. He never sees any one after six. A small bucket of porridge and maize of which he is amazingly fond, is brought to his bedside and the Arab boy feeds him with a spoon. After this he generally feels very sleepy, and lies down. He lays his head on the Arab's lap, and, throwing his legs round his neck, is very quickly in the arms of Morpheus.


    EVERYBODY is still running towards the Regent's Park, for the purpose of passing half an hour with the Hippopotamus. The animal itself repays public curiosity with a yawn of indifference, or throws cold water on the ardour of his visitors, by suddenly plunging into his bath, and splashing every one within five yards of him.
    Much disappointment has been expressed at the Hippopotamus, in consequence of its not being exactly up to the general idea of a sea-horse, and many hundreds go away grumbling every day, because the brute is not so equestrian in appearance as could be desired. Many persons thought the Hippopotamus was a regular sea-horse, kept expressly for running in harness in a sea-captain's gig; but as the creature turns out to be very like a hog, there are many who go the entire animal in finding fault with him The consumption of milk is still something terrific. though the pump has been called in as an assistant wet-nurse.

Punch, Jul.-Dec. 1850


WE have again to record a very interesting addition to the menagerie of the Zoological Society, which promises to be nearly as popular as the Hippopotamus acquisition of last year.
    On Saturday last there was first exhibited to the Society a female Elephant, which was taken by the natives who captured her, to the fair at Cawnpore, at the end of August, 1850: she was purchased by Mr. Wallace, a Calcutta horsedealer, who for several years has frequented the native fairs of Bengal. During the journey towards Calcutta Mr. Wallace made a halt of three weeks in the month of September, and the Elephant then gave birth to the healthy little Calf which is now at her side. Within very few minutes after that event, the Calf, which is said then to have weighed about half a hundredweight, stood up and began to suck. This operation is performed in a very singular manner. The udder of the elephant is situated between the fore-legs, and the calf assists himself with his trunk in placing the teat in his lips at the side of his mouth. He sucked several times a day during the journey down to Calcutta, the keeper generally halting twice or three times in the course of each morning's march for the purpose of permitting him to take nourishment. At that time, the calf was not able to walk more than a mile in each march, and was therefore carried in a cart. The mother came close behind it, and generally caressed her offspring with her trunk as they moved along, as if to assure herself of his safety. The fatigue of the march, probably, diminished the mother's supply; and the keeper found it necessary to add to the nourishment of the calf by a certain quantity of zebu milk, which he readily took, and which agreed with him perfectly. Arrived at Calcutta, the elephants were sold, and shipped immediately on board the Wellesley, Captain Parish, where the Calf grew rapidly, notwithstanding the inconveniences to which live stock of such magnitude are necessarily subjected at sea. The mother suffered considerably in condition in consequence of the fatigue which she has under gone, but is now improving under more succulent diet, and will, probably, in a few weeks, be as sleek and well furnished with flesh as if she had never left the jungle. The natives who saw the Calf on the march to Calcutta regarded it with great interest, as there is no recent instance, if any, of elephants breeding in domestication; consequently, a sucking elephant is almost as rare a sight in the neighbourhood of Calcutta as the hippopotamus was at Alexandria. The present instance is certainly the first in which so young an animal of this species has ever reached Europe.
    The Zoological Society now possess a herd of four elephants; eight lions and lionesses, besides the hippopotamus, rhinoceros, and both species of tapir, being the largest collection of pachydermata ever possessed by the society, or ever exhibited in Europe. The number of carnivora is also unprecedentedly large. These large animals are in themselves an exhibition of the highest interest; and, in the instance of the hippopotamus and elephant calf, entirely without parallel. The herd of giraffes, the ostriches, and the aviaries, are also prominent attractions. The collection of living animals has been greatly increased during the Winter and now contains upwards of 1500 specimens.
    Among the preparations for the ensuing season is a building expressly for the exhibition of a splendid collection of mounted humming birds of which 300 species exist. Early next month a large aviary will be completed for rapacious birds, including a more extensive series of eagles and vultures than has ever yet been seen at one view. The hippopotamus has continued to advance in health and condition during the winter; and the Council have had formed for him a large tank in the open air, where he may disport his "recreant limbs" within view of a thousand spectators at one time.
    The Gardens were thronged with visitors on the morning of Easter Monday; and it deserves to be mentioned, that the liberal policy of the Zoological Society has rendered this costly collection as accessible to the masses as any place of public resort and amusement can be which is not maintained by the Government.

Illustrated London News, Jan.-June, 1851

The Zoological Gardens belong to the Zoological Society of London, established, in 1826, to encourage the promotion and advancement of zoological science. Sir Humphrey Davy and Sir Stamford Raffles lent their vigorous efforts to secure its permanent foundation. During the period which has elapsed since the opening of the Gardens in the Regent's Park, in 1828, a very large number of species of mammalia and birds has been obtained. To these have been added, in 1849, a collection of reptiles, which has afforded great facilities to the scientific observer of this class of animals, and more recently a collection of fishes, and of the lower aquatic animals, both marine and freshwater, which has given rise to many interesting discoveries in their habits and economy. The Menagerie contains upwards of 1500 animals, and sufficient "animal curiosities" to satisfy the most inveterate sightseer.
    The Gardens are open from 9 a.m. until dusk Admission, daily, 1s. each person. On Monday, 6d. Children, half-price. Official guide-book, 6d.

Cruchley's London in 1865 : A Handbook for Strangers, 1865

see also James Greenwood in The Wilds of London - click here

see also London : a Pilgrimage - click here

Zoological Gardens. These gardens, which contain the largest and by far the best-ar?ranged collection of wild beasts and birds in the world, are situated at the northern end of the Regent?s Park, and may be approached by omnibus from the York and Albany, at the Gloucester Gate Bridge over the Regent?s Canal, or by railway to the St. John?s Wood-road Station, from which the gardens are distant about a mile; cab fare from Charing-cross, 1s. 6d. ; from the Bank of England, 2s. The special points of attraction are the new houses for the greater carnivora, the elephant-houses, the snake-room, the monkey-houses, and the seal-pond; but the gardens are full of objects of interest, and a long summer day can be very pleasantly spent in them, more especially as the presence of a good restaurant renders it unnecessary for the visitor to leave the gardens for refreshment. A band plays on Saturdays during the season. The charge for admission is 1s., except on Mondays, when it is reduced one-half. On Sundays the gardens are only open to Fellows of the Zoological Society, by whom the establishment is kept up, and to holders of tickets from them. NEAREST Railway Station, Portland-road; Omnibus Routes, Al?bany-street and Albert-road; Cab Rank, At north exit.

Charles Dickens (jr.), Dickens's Dictionary of London, 1879

see also Richard Rowe in Life in the London Streets - click here

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John Fletcher Porter, London Pictorially Described, [1890]

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Black's Guide to London and Its Environs, (8th ed.) 1882

    JUMBO! That's a name which I think all of you will know. But perhaps for the sake of those who, like myself, know of kittens, dogs, and even a boat, named 'Jumbo,' I had better say that the Jumbo we know is an Elephant, and a very knowing one, too. Early in 1882 there was quite an excitement about him, when it became known that he was to be sold to an American showman. He had lived in the 'Zoo' for so many years, and had given so many children a ride on his broad back, that we hardly thought the 'Zoo' could be the 'Zoo' without him: and so, when we were told that Jumbo was to go across the sea to America, we all thought it a right-down shame.
    But fortunately Jumbo is not the only elephant who is so tame as to let our young folks mount for a ride, for the other elephants left at the Zoo' are trained to carry young people.

Uncle Jonathan, Walks in and Around London, 1895 (3 ed.)

ZOOLOGICAL GARDENS, REGENT'S PARK ... These beautifully laid out grounds contain the collection of animals belonging to the Zoological Society. To see the animals fed, being one of the great attractions, we append the feeding times: Pelicans, 2.30; Otters, 3; Eagles, 3.30; Lions, Tigers &c. 4. Open from 9 till sunset. Admission 1s; on Mondays 6d.; Sundays, by Member's order. "Waterloo" omnibus, via Charing Cross and Regent Street.

Reynolds' Shilling Coloured Map of London, 1895

The Gardens of the Zoological Society, popularly known as the Zoo, are among the chief sights of London. Since their establishment some sixty-eight years ago, they have been visited by close on thirty millions of people. They have now over six hundred thousand visitors a year, and sometimes they have more, as in 1876 when the Indian Menagerie of the Prince of Wales was temporarily housed in them, and brought he numbers up to the best on record, 915,000.
    The present animals are valued at ?23,500,the vertebrates alone numbering over 2,300 of which 1,300 are birds and 350 reptiles. It is a fine collection and every year the Gardens improve, though the loss of a specimen now and then that was a conspicuous feature may make some difference in the attraction. About 1,200 animals are added every year, half of them presented, a fifth of them deposited, a sixth of them purchased. The death rate is naturally high, about 379 per thousand, the birth rate being 39 per thousand; but these figures are gradually altering for the better. Fifty years ago the lions and tigers and their kin were kept in a stuffy room artificially heated all year round, and they only lived two years, one dying every month. Then the terrace was built, and in the open air their expectation of life greatly increased. In process of time came the new lion house, with further improved conditions, and now many of the inmates live long enough to become quite old acquaintances.

W.J.Gordon, article in The Leisure Hour, 1896

May 30, 1899:?WENT to the Zoo with Arthur.  All the beasts were asleep when we arrived except a bear or two. The Polar Bear was like one of our decadent poets, marching up and down in his own poems. The two Grizzly Bears are young and innocent, I think, of blood. The old gray?headed villain who used to be here, and who was blind, is dead. He had slain his foes. I always saw his claws ruddy with gore. All the lions, tigers, etc., were munching bones, like American capitalists. A new giraffe has come, a young, guileless male; a lily, a birch-sapling, destined to be husband when he reaches puberty, of a huge female, huge in comparison with this boy, who looks at him now over a high wooden ledge with infinite scorn. The Rhinoceroses were sound asleep, pillowed on hay, and one had covered his eyes with straw. They snored, and shook the house. The Hippo has got huge warts on his hind feet, and hates them. If ever I saw a weary cynic, I saw the creature in him. Walked home through the park, a warm, dull, gray, vicious day! No colour anywhere.

Stopford Brooke, Diary, 1899

Victorian London - Publications - History - The Queen's London : a Pictorial and Descriptive Record of the Streets, Buildings, Parks and Scenery of the Great Metropolis, 1896 - The Zoological Gardens : The Lion's House

The Zoological Gardens : The Lion's House - photograph


Without question one of the chief attractions of the Zoological Gardens is the Lions' House. The present building is 230 feet long by 50 feet wide, and is admirably adapted for its purpose, being well warmed and ventilated. The cages are roomy and separated from teasing visitors by a broad barrier. Every afternoon when the lions are fed the house is crowded, so much so that warnings to "beware of pick-pockets " are prominently displayed but on Sundays, when admission to the Gardens can only be obtained on presentation of a Fellow's order, the "function" can be seen with less difficulty. In the Lions' House is a bust of the first President of the Zoological Society, Sir Stamford Raffles. The London lions, although not a numerous collection, are splendid specimens of their tribe.

Victorian London - Publications - History - The Queen's London : a Pictorial and Descriptive Record of the Streets, Buildings, Parks and Scenery of the Great Metropolis, 1896 - Scene in The Zoological Gardens

Scene in The Zoological Gardens - photograph


The elephants form one of the most popular features of the '' Zoo". "Men are but children of a larger growth,'' and those who ride on the lordly beasts' backs are by no means only little ones, as our illustration of a characteristic scene in the Gardens on a summer s day shows very clearly. The elephants live in the northern portion of the Gardens, between the Regent's Canal and the Outer Circle, and behind their house is the pond where they bathe when the weather is warm, to the infinite enjoyment of bystanders. But the ponderous creatures come through the tunnel to take their walks abroad in the leafy neighbourhood of the eagles' avaries. One of the Indian elephants now in the Gardens is only a few inches shorter than the much-lamented Jumbo.

I can, however, well recollect how dismally I in particular suffered from the agonised howls from the Zoological Gardens on Sundays, and I think these first gave me the religious doubts I have always possessed. From my earliest days I have adored animals. I would cause Miss D--- anguish by patting every stray dog we met in our walks, and by catching up and kissing every dirty little kitten, and the animals in the Gardens were very near and dear to my heart. Would it be believed that in those days the wretched creatures were not fed from Saturday night until Monday morning, by which time the neighbourhood resounded with their savage howls? The noise I believe, and not the animals' sufferings, was the cause of this wicked cruelty being knocked on the head, and I can well remember saving, aye and stealing, bits to give to the creatures, when we used to go to see them on Sunday afternoons. We were always at the Zoological Gardens; we not only had friends who gave us the green tickets, but we knew the keepers, one of whom lived in a lodge where we sometimes had tea, which always smelt of lion, and which now and then contained baby lions or other beasts, very small, very soft; which were being warmed and fed in front of his fire, and which I distinctly remember being allowed to nurse. I further recollect the feel of the rough tongues which licked our fingers, and being solemnly warned not to allow them to draw blood, for we were given to understand that, if they once tasted blood, the soft little kitteny things would become violent and gobble us up on the spot. Once I was in very real peril in these same gardens; I did not know that the horrible creature advancing towards me dragging a bit of chain and waving a stick was an escaped ourang-outang-the one specimen, I believe, then in any civilised country - and I was about to try and make friends when a white-faced keeper, followed by two or three other men, sprang out of the bushes and seized the chain; afterwards I heard the nurse tell my mother of the dreadful risk I had run, for our keeper friend had told her if they had not caught the beast when they did, he would have torn me limb from limb. I can't say if he would; I saw an ourang-outang the other day which did not look so very large or so very alarming, yet I distinctly remember the beast towering above me, so I think I must have been quite small enough to demolish if he had desired to do so. Yet another monkey obtained my undying hatred by stretching out a long lean arm, and grabbing a beautiful long feather out of my best hat, and when 1 stamped and raved with rage the beast ran up to the top of the cage, and tore it into the smallest of atoms. I also remember calling in agony to the seals when they were fed to mind the bones, arousing roars of laughter, at my expense which enraged me, for honestly I could not see what there was to laugh at, as it was an ordinary request made to us whenever we had fish in the school-room. But much as I loved the gardens then, I love them a thousand times more now, when the animals are decently housed and treated, called by their names and looked after by their keepers, who really understand and care for their charges. The only thing that remains to be done is to teach the public to behave, to cease to prod the beasts with "swagger sticks," and to realise that monkeys don't eat sardine-tin lids or orange peel; and that the beautiful tame squirrels that now run fearlessly about the place, will soon lose their confidence in humanity if they are teased as they are at present, and not made friends with as they are in the Central Park in New York. I do not recollect such tiresome teasing on Sundays in the Zoo in old days, but I fancy the Fellows were more particular about to whom they gave their tickets; I know we used to be greatly envied because we had so many; now it seems to me that most of the Council School children, and brats of that ilk, disport themselves in the sacred spot on Sundays.

Mrs. Panton, [writing about her 1850s childhood in] Leaves from a Life, 1908