Thursday, July 16, 2009

The Prince's Elephant

In 1870, Prince Alfred, Duke of Edinburgh and son of Queen Victoria, paid a visit on board his ship the Galatea to India and Sri Lanka. While there, he engaged in one of his favorite pastimes -- shooting elephants. The reigning head of Nepal at the time, Sir Jung Bahadoor, gave him what was probably, therefore, an appropriate gift: a young, four-year-old elephant.
"The young elephant that was presented by Sir Jung Bahadoor to the Duke of Edinburgh has not been allowed to lead an idle life on board the Galatea. His services were utilised at Galle [Sri Lanka] for the purpose of hauling in some 300 tons of coal, which would otherwise have employed upwards of thirty men. He rather objected to the occupation at first, but a little coaxing and quiet treatment soon reconciled him to his fate, and he cheerfully went through his task to the great delight of the Jack Tars."
(The Hull Packet and East Riding Times, England, 24 June 1870)

Continuing on his journeys, the Prince stopped off at Auckland for the second and final time in his life. His previous visit, in 1867, had been a resounding success. This time, the visit was supposed to be more low-key, as it wasn't so much a state visit by a member of the Royal Family as it was just a ship of the Royal Navy calling into port. I'd say his elephant took a lot of the weight of publicity from his shoulders. By this time, the elphant was referred to as coming from Ceylon, rather than Nepal.

"H.M. ship Galatea arrived in harbour yesterday morning, having on board H.R.H the Duke of Edinburgh. On his former visit he came as a member of the .Royal family, but this time he simply comes as a captain in the British navy …

Amongst the stock on board the Galatea, is a live elephant, which, although not fully grown, is yet from six to seven feet in height. During the lengthened stay in this port, we understand that it is intended to land the elephant, and quarter him for some time in the Albert Barracks."
(Southern Cross, 9 December 1870)

"The Auckland correspondent of the Lyttelton Times writes as follows: —

"Tom," the Duke's four-year-old Ceylon elephant and his inseparable companion a tortoise, were conveyed to Albert Barrack Grounds on the 9th. These grounds being well grassed, and enclosed by a substantial stone wall, may be looked upon as forming a small park of about 50 acres. Tom is of a reddish-brown colour, and wears silver rings in his huge flapping ears. He is large for such a mere baby in years, and is of a most gentle, playful disposition. As he is the first of his species that ever visited New Zealand, I have to note his peculiar idiosyncrasies.

In the first place, he is not a teetotaller, for on the way to his present quarters he stopped at a public-house and took a hearty draught of colonial beer with much apparent satisfaction. Later in the day, he indulged in alcoholic stimulants, of which, a temperance advocate might say, he was by far too fond. He likes buns, but does not despise plain bread and butter, and his infantine instincts are displayed by a decided penchant for lollies, with which, and every variety of comestibles, he is liberally supplied by a crowd of juvenile admirers.

He is ridden Mahout fashion by a handsome young servant of the Duke, at whose orders he kneels down for the rider to ascend or get off his neck, performs on his trumpet, and makes fair attempts to master such interjections as ha ! ho ! he! The youngsters take advantage of his good nature sometimes. For instance, not content with hanging on to his tail, feeling his feet and trunk, and taking similar harmless liberties, a crowd of young ragamuffins on the day of his arrival wanted to get on his back, where Tom is not wont to be ridden. Two had mounted the dangerous elevation, upon which others commenced hooting and twisting the poor brute's tail. This was adding insult to injury, and shows how true it is that " familiarity breeds contempt."

For a time, Tom peered round appealingly to his puny tormentors, but getting no redress, and being as is thought a little tipsy, he suddenly blew his trumpet, threw his riders, and rushed after his enemies, who fled in all directions, appalled by the unusual, and to them dreadful sounds. Scattered through the barrack grounds were a number of ladies and gentlemen, who, like the youngsters, quickly absconded. One boy ran between the great stone barrack buildings, and emerged, as he thought, safe. He met Tom face to face in a narrow passage, who overthrow him by a stroke of his trunk. Another boy he pushed over, whilst two urchins who were with him crawled under a wooden building. Tom thought to extract them from their retreat by feeling for them under the house with his trunk. Failing to get them, he bid defiance to all and sundry, by " casting dirt " on the crowd. Fortunately, the arrival of his keeper immediately restored peace, and it was touching to see how poor Tom ran to his friend and embraced him with his strange projection; five minutes later, the children were playing with him the same as before. He has taught them a lesson, however, which is likely to have good results.

Strange to say, no one was even slightly injured, from which I inferred that Tom really had no desire to hurt his foes, otherwise, a stamp or two with his hoofs might have sufficed to crush any one of them to a jelly. On the same night, he broke out of his strong lodgings twice. The first time, he made for some clothes hanging to dry, and which belonged to some of his shipmates of the Galatea. A strong mutual attachment exists between the sailors and Tom, whose aid in hauling on ropes is said to be equivalent to that of twenty men. It seemed hardly fair of him to "rend their garments," but they don't mind it a bit, and say, " It's only Tom's fun."

The second time he got out he went to the residence of a General Government official, and tried to open the door with his trunk, but not succeeding, kept sentry on the verandah all night. The tortoise is a beautifully marked specimen of his genus, and chiefly serves as a pedestal for children to stand upon all day. For that matter, he appears willing enough to fulfill the office of a pedestal in one particular spot for ever. There are several other living curiosities on board the Galatea, amongst them an ethereal looking Chinese boy, and a minute, jet black, negro sailor. They generally run in couples."
(Christchurch Star, 23 December 1870)

"About 6 o'clock yesterday evening the Duke of Edinburgh's elephant was ridden down the Barrack Hill, and past the Mechanics' Institute, into Queen-street, by a marine. The distinguished stranger was accompanied by a numerous concourse of children, who thronged about him, and displayed the very liveliest interest in his movements. Some of the more forward colonial youths ventured to stroke the animal's ponderous legs or to pull his tail, and many of them walked in dangerous proximity to his feet. The tractability of the creature was very remarkable, in the midst of the noisy gesticulating crowd of children. When the driver got into Queen-street, he proceeded along the footpath as far as the Exchange Hotel. Here, however, the elephant was confronted by two of Mr. Branigan's constables, who seemed about to take him into custody, but happily an understanding was come to, the elephant thenceforth proceeding along the roadway. Had the driver been summoned for a breach of the Municipal Police Act, the charge would certainly have been a novel one. Driving an elephant on the footpath is a kind of offence which is not likely to come before our local Bench; indeed, we doubt very much whether such an offence is provided against under the Municipal Police Act. The elephant afterwards went up Edwards-street, and on into Symonds-street. In the former an enthusiastic Maori woman purchased a loaf of bread, which the elephant disposed of as a delicate morsel. A man, apparently under the impression that the animal was thirsty, brought a pint of beer, which the elephant, to the scandal of teetotallers, appeared to "suck up" with the taste of a confirmed toper. A great many other interesting incidents occurred on the way, which was like a triumphal march."

(Southern Cross, 13 December 1870)

"We have a letter from "The Elephant", in answer to the charges made against him and his driver of becoming a nuisance. He contends "that he cannot be answerable for the safety of all who clamber on to his back; and, if people or children cannot hold on, they had much better keep off. He regrets that the other night, from this cause, a little boy was injured, by half-a-dozen men 'slithering' off at his tail on to the little boy. This accident did not arise from having partaken of too much beer, as he is limited to one quart a day. He is always anxious to amuse the children, and feels pleasure in carrying them on his back about the streets."

(Southern Cross, 15 December 1870)

Even when it came to the serious business of governing the Province -- if an elephant was happening to go by at the time, all proceedings ceased for a time in the Provincial Council, as the members scampered like the children they once were to see this strange marvel.
"At this stage of the proceedings some confusion was observable in the Council, hon. members rushing to the windows, and Dr. Nicholson was heard to move that the Speaker leave the chair in order to allow hon. members an opportunity of seeing the elephant, which, it appears was passing at the time."
(Southern Cross, 16 December 1870)

"The Galatea arrived on the 8th, at daylight, whilst yet this city lay buried in profound repose … At 8 a.m., the Galatea band played " God save the Queen," as St. George's red cross unfolded its snowy field to the morning breeze. At nine the Duke of Edinburgh landed, and proceeded to Government House, where he remained until 11 a.m., when he returned to his ship. The remainder of the day, until sunset, was occupied on board the Galatea with getting down royal and topgallant masts, yards, and rigging; the Blanche, at the same time getting up hers, in accordance with orders brought by the Duke for her to proceed forty-eight hours later for Hobart Town. After dark, the Galatea crew amused themselves with singing, loud enough to be heard at a great distance.

Next morning, Tom, the Duke's Ceylon elephant, and a fine tortoise, Tom's chum, were taken to the grassy walled-in space at Albert Barracks, where they will remain during their owner's visit ; there is good feed there since the late rains, and plenty of water, and the place is secure and well- adapted for Tom's recreation. Tom is large, for a four-year elephant, and is the first of his species that has paid a visit to New Zealand. He is so gentle that ladies and children constantly ride him; of the latter I have seen eight at once on his back — he kneels for his riders to mount, and lifts his near fore foot as a step to descend by. He permits juveniles to play with his tail, feet, and trunk ad libitum, as long as they take no unfair advantage; he is very popular, and, I suppose, has visited most parts of the town and its suburbs during his daily rambles; He is partial to buns, biscuits, and jam, and is anything but a teetotaler-— last Sunday he visited various public houses and drank four gallons of beer, besides a respectable modicum of spirits (for an elephant). I never see him without a small crowd of admirers, and sometime their name is " legion." He never has to go far for food, for he is exceedingly well patronised by high and low ; his great ears are adorned with silver rings, and he peers out of his little eyes with a most benevolent expression at his visitors.

It is very amusing to watch the way he cuts his grass, using his trunk as a hand and his foot for a scythe. Like some great men we know, he has no objection "to blow his own trumpet," but, unlike them, he almost always waits until he is desired to do so. I think he can do nearly everything but talk, and in fact he does speak a little, that is to say he has quite mastered such interjections as "Ha!" "Oh!" "Eh?" The sailors idolise him, for he plays with them like an immense kitten, and is ever ready to lend a trunk when it is needful to give a "long pull, a strong pull, and a pull altogether "; but he got angry once since his arrival at Albert Barracks— and not without reasonable excuse. The fact is that the juvenile raggamuffins of Auckland was offering him stones when he looked for bread, not content with which, his young tormentors must needs twist his tail according to the approved mode in vogue for making sulky cows " bail up "; they even pelted the popular idol. He, mild beast, uncomplainingly endured unmerited ignominy and prosecution until fairly wearied. At last he declared war by blowing his trumpet and rushing at his enemies, who fled in dire dismay at the terrific sounds and fierce aspect of the whilom tenant of the jungle — such a screaming and scampering all ways at once. By slight blows of Tom's trunk, two of his foes were immediately stretched supine on mother earth, [an]other two crept for safety under a house, but like crabs went backwards in still further when Tom's trunk appeared with a view of pulling them out.

Fortunately, no one was even slightly injured, and it has been thought that he had no actual desire to do mischief; at any rate, his wrath, real or pretended, vanished the moment his friend the keeper put in an appearance; five minutes after, the elephant was playing with the youngsters the same as ever. "
(Hawke's Bay Herald, 23 December 1870)

"Anyone who visited the Domain on Monday, and witnessed such a large gathering of children from the Auckland Sunday-schools, ! would have come to the conclusion that all i of them had turned out on one occasion j but, as was abundantly proved yesterday, this was not the case …

The presence of the Prince's elephant was again an immense source of enjoyment by the juveniles. Its keeper did all he could to gratify the aspirations of such as desired a "lift” (to the intense delight of not a few) now and then the good-tempered animal would, in obedience to a certain sign, raise itself on its hindlegs, and down would slide half-a-dozen boys— just when they least expected it. Its "salaams" before departing were performed in as polite a way as the elephant knew how ; and it is needless to say that so great a favourite was not forgotten when the eatables were unpacked."
(Southern Cross, 4 January 1871)

On 16 January, the Galatea left Auckland, and headed back to England.

"Tom the elephant, came to the Galatea's port gangway and bade us farewell in a series of grand salaams. He was answered with loud and reiterated cheers."
(Christchurch Star , 30 January 1871)

Once in England, and on the way to his new home at Regent's Park Zoo, tragedy struck.

"The elephant presented to the Duke of Edinburgh in India, and brought home by His Royal Highness in the Galatea, was being conveyed to London last Friday night by the mail train from Plymouth, when it attempted to get out of the horse-box in which it was placed. Its keeper, a corporal of the Royal Marines, while endeavouring to prevent it’s doing so, was knelt upon by the animal and crushed to death …

His Royal Highness, who expressed great regret at the accident to the keeper of his elephant on Friday, directed that the train should be detained a short time at Newton, to give him time to enquire into the circumstances of the accident. The Duke had just bought the deceased, formerly Corporal Paton, of the Royal Marine Artillery, out of the service so that he might remain keeper of the elephant. An official from the Zoological Gardens, Regent’s-Park, arrived at Plymouth on Friday, accompanied by a keeper from that establishment, to assist in conveying the animal to the Gardens. The official did not at first intend to travel with the elephant, but noticing before the train started that the animal appeared restless, stationed himself in the horse van along with the two keepers. The deceased, from his previous knowledge of the elephant in cases of its being conveyed by railway, also remarked that he should have trouble with it for the first twenty miles. The survivors in the van went on with the elephant, which was to proceed from the Gardens to Sandringham."
(The Era (London, England), Sunday, June 4, 1871)

By June 1872, the elephant's home was across another sea, this time in Dublin's Zoo at Phoenix Park, where he was recorded as giving rides to children.

I don't know, at this stage, what finally became of Tom, the second ever elephant seen in New Zealand.

Update 31 January 2011: Liz found Tom, known in Dublin Zoo as "Prince Tommy".

"Tom was known as Prince Tommy he died in 1882.  According the stuff on the Elephant Data Base Tom spent his last years in confinement. His skeleton is now at Trinity College Zoological Museum."

Thanks, Liz. If the early reports were accurate as to his age, he was only 16 years old when he died.

Update 9 November 2012: Initially, I had thought that Tom was the first elephant in New Zealand -- but he had been pre-dated by at least one other, a female Asiatic elephant which arrived in Otago from Hobart in 1868. Liz found this one, and told me tonight.

Performing Elephant.
The public were admitted on Saturday afternoon to view the elephant advertised under the above title, which is now on view at Hurst's Stables, Liverpool-street. The animal is little if it all short of the height of eight feet ascribed to it by its owner, and is evidently quite docile and obedient to the orders given to it. In addition to its interest as a living specimen of the remarkable class in natural history to which it belongs, it possesses, according to the statement of its keeper, the additional attraction of having been, though in a subordinate capacity, an actor in the great Indian mutiny. According to his verbal description it was employed by some of the rebellious sopoys as a boast of burthen, that whilst serving as such it was struck by two musket balls, and that it was subsequently captured by the British troops. In corroboration of this statement he points out two marks on the animal's hide, which present all the appearances of having had their origin in the manner described. Beyond displays of its distinctive natural characteristics in the use of the proboscis as a means of conveying food to the mouth, and brushing flies off its skin with a cloth, both of which actions were per- formed spontaneously, the elephant was not called upon to exhibit any of its peculiar powers; and of the extent to which its intelligence has been cultivated artificially visitors have consequently not yet an opportunity of forming any opinion.

Hobart Mercury 4 November 1867

An elephant has also been a show during the week it goes through the usual menagerie tricks pretty fairly. The animal was imported from Hobart Town in the brigantine Swordfish.

Grey River Argus 7 March 1868

It seems that, whatever her identity, the elephant was reduced to being a sideshow-style attraction for pubgoers. Even then -- she may not have been a successful attraction

GREAT BARGAIN. For Sale, Cheap, the Female Elephant now exhibited at the Hibernian Hotel, George-street. Apply to the proprietor, at the Hotel.

Otago Daily Times 16 March 1868

WANTED TO SELL, Cheap, Elephant, with waggon, before leaving for Christchurch. Apply Smith's Stables, Maclaggan-street.

Otago Daily Times 25 March 1868

And then, she met her death, by poisoning. A death reported from Otago to Auckland as the telegraph keys clacked and word spread from port to port.

An Elephant Killed at the Waitaki.— On Sunday the 21st instant, an elephant which was travelling overland with its keeper from Oamaru to Timaru was killed at the Waitaki very suddenly by eating tutu. From what we can learn the elephant had been exhibited in the Otago province, and the owner arrived with it at the Waitaki about mid-day, intending to cross the river the same evening. For some reason the man was unable to cross the elephant, and had therefore to turn it loose. Soon after being turned out it eat [sic] heartily of tutu and died in less than three hours.

Timaru Herald 29 April 1868 

So -- alive, this likely first ever elephant here created hardly a ripple. Dead, she became a two to three month long sensation. Then forgotten, until Tom the elephant arrived.


  1. hello , i have been tracing the story of prince tom... and visited the zoological dept in trinity and met tom...... i also visited the grave side of william paton in newton abbot do you know if any there any more records of his stay in england

  2. Hi Maurice

    You can possibly try the Sandringham Estate for records on Tom

    The Sandringham Estate
    Estate Office
    PE35 6EN

    Tel: 01485 545400
    Fax: 01485 541571


    Also check out the Elephant Data base as well

  3. A further note for you Maurice. Tom was originally named "Jung' after the man who presented him to the Prince (then a Duke)

    The Metropolitan Intercolonial 24 September 1870 has quite and extensive article which mentions Tom or "Jung" as he was also known by