The Darker Side of 19th Century London - Chunee

Back in March, there was a news story about Anne (above), the 59 year old Asian elephant whose abuse at the hands of her Romanian groom was caught on tape. You can read the full story here and, if you have the stomach for it, you can read the heartbreaking story written by the journalist who met her here.  The abuse videos are embedded in the story, but I chose not to watch them. Anne has been with the Bobby Roberts Super Circus in England since she was a baby and video tape exposed her abuse while the circus was in Northamptonshire during a break in performances, although reports are that this is not the first incident. She could not escape her attacker because she was chained to the floor. The story brought to mind the very sad tale of another elephant, Chunee, who met a tragic end in Regency London and I wondered at the fact that, nearly 200 years on, nothing much had changed in the way that these poor animals are handled.

Chunee was an Indian elephant first brought to London and exhibited at the Covent Garden Theatre circa 1810, and later bought and exhibited at the menagerie at the Exeter Exchange in the Strand.  James Hogg and Florence Marryat describe the Exchange in London Society, Volume 6 (1864) -

"After being used for various public uses, the upper story was occupied as a menagerie, successively by Pidcock, Polito, and Cross: fifty years ago, the sight-lover had to pay half a crown to see a few animals confined in small dens and cages in rooms of various sizes, the walls painted with exotic scenery to favour the illusion; whereas now, the finest collection of living animals in Europe may be seen in a beautiful garden for sixpence! The roar of the Exchange lions and tigers could distinctly be heard in the street, and often frightened horses in tho roadway.

"Chunee had achieved theatrical distinction: he had performed in the spectacle of `Blue Beard,' at Covent Garden; and he kept up an acquaintance with Edmund Kean, whom he would fondle with his trunk, in return for a few loaves of bread. The greatness of the Exeter Change menagerie departed with Chunee; the animals were removed, in 1828, to the King's Mews; and Exeter Change was entirely taken down in 1830."

As Wikipedia tells us, in 1826 "Chunee became dangerously violent towards the end of his life, attributed to an "annual paroxysm" (perhaps his musth) aggravated by a rotten tusk which gave him a bad toothache. On 26 February 1826, while on his usual Sunday walk along the Strand, Chunee ran amok, killing one of his keepers. He became increasingly enraged and difficult to handle over the following days, and it was decided that he was too dangerous to keep. The following Wednesday, 1 March, his keeper tried to feed him poison, but Chunee refused to eat it. Soldiers were summoned from Somerset House to shoot Chunee with their muskets. Kneeling down to the command of his trusted keeper, Chunee was hit by 152 musket balls, but refused to die. Chunee was finished off by a keeper with a harpoon or sword. The floor of his cage was deeply covered with his blood, and it was said that the sound of the elephant in agony was more alarming than the reports of the soldier's guns."

And London Society adds, "During Cross' tenancy, in 1826, Chunee, the stupendous elephant which had been shown here since 1809, having become ungovernable, was put to death by firing ball to the number of 152! Chunee weighed nearly five tons, and stood eleven feet in height. Cross valued the animal at 1000 pounds; and its den, of solid oak and hammered iron, cost 350/. The dissection of Chunee was a mighty labour: the body was raised by a pulley to a cross-beam, and first flayed, which it took twelve active men near twelve hours to accomplish. Next day (Sunday), the dissection was commenced, Mr. Brookes, Mr. Caesar Hawkins, Mr. Herbert Mayo, Mr. Bell, and other eminent surgeons being present; and there, too, was Mr. Yarrell, the naturalist, to watch the strange operations. The carcase being raised, the trunk was first cut off; then the eyes were extracted; then the contents of the abdomen, pelvis, and chest were removed. When the body was opened, the heart—nearly two feet long, and eighteen inches broad—was found immersed in five or six gallons of blood; the flesh was then cut from the bones, and was removed from the menagerie in carts. Two large steaks were cut off and broiled, and declared, by those who had the courage to partake of them, to be a fine relish. Spurzheim, the phrenologist, who was present, was anxious to dissect Chunee's brain, but Mr. Cross objected, as the crown of the head must then have been sawn off. The skin, which weighed 17 cwt., was sold to a tanner for 50/.; the bones weighed 876 lbs.; and the entire skeleton, sold for 100/., is now in the museum of the College of Surgeons, in Lincoln's Inn Fields."

Chunee's skeleton was destroyed during a bombing raid in 1941.

Sked 6/30

Glad to say that Anne is now . . . .