So, in my now topsy-turvy world and firmly in the Gould camp on this one, I only recently discovered W.S. Gilbert’s zoological interests. I became aware of his knowledge of evolution when I nearly appeared in a school production of The Mikado (Asian flu sadly prevented the discovery of another Laurence Olivier). Pooh-Bah, Lord High Everything Else (every town still has one) averred: I am, in point of fact, a particularly haughty and exclusive person, of pre-Adamite ancestral descent. You will understand this when I tell you that I can trace my ancestry back to a protoplasmal primordial atomic globule. Consequently, my family pride is something inconceivable. I can’t help it. I was born sneering. It is worth noting that Gilbert was a pupil of Thomas Henry Huxley’s father.
Nancy McIntosh wrote an article which I have not seen for Country Life on the menagerie and another which can be found online for The Strand Magazine.
He had a regular programme for his days, beginning with waking Sir William, in whose room he slept, at about half-past seven, wishing to play games. He dearly loved boxing, sitting up and striking out most bravely. After superintending Sir William’s toilet, during the whole of which he sat on either his head or shoulder, he rode down to the dining-room and breakfasted. After eating his banana he nearly always went to Lady Gilbert to be fed with brown bread which he like in the morning.
But things did not always go smoothly. Bram Stoker, of Dracula fame, and his wife looked after the first of Gilbert’s lemurs at their house while the Gilberts were abroad. It did not make itself popular. It sat on a chandelier and defecated profusely into a bowl of fruit. The Stokers learnt quickly that useful adage—never look after other people’s animals.
There is a Blogger site entitled Gilbert’s Lemurs. It appeared in 2009 with just two entries.
Gilbert died on 29 May 1911 in the lake at Grim’s Dyke of a heart attack while rescuing a schoolgirl who had got into difficulty while waiting for him to give her a swimming lesson. Lady Gilbert had the lake partly drained after this tragedy. In the lake are Great-crested Newts, Triturus cristatus. Grim’s Dyke is now a hotel surrounded by the gardens created by Lady Gilbert. I have not been able to find whether any of the buildings constructed for the menagerie remain.
Fal, lal, la
|WSG. A portrait taken from around the time
he had the menagerie at Grim's Dyke