Category Archives: Birds and Beasts

Pigs might fly (or be re-animated)


At a certain feast lately, it was resolved to boil a pig whole. But some wicked wag, after the hair was taken off, seized an opportunity to smear it with Indian rubber. The consequence was, that after the pig had been in the cauldron six hours, the water had made no impression on it. When the carver stuck his knife into it, it started up and ran away. Yet it had certainly been killed before it was put into the pot, but it is conjectured that the hot water had such an effect on it as to renew the vital heat, so that it was alive. Such susceptibility of re-animation is not inherited by the pigs of any country but our own.—American Paper

The Hampshire Telegraph and Sussex Chronicle, Monday 29 January 1838


Editor’s Note: I cannot help but entertain some doubts as to the veracity of this story.

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Quite cherry-coloured with the cold


The young hippopotamus, “Guy Fawkes,” completed its third week of existence. Mr. Bartlett, the superintendent of the Zoological Gardens, being of the opinion that it would be safe to admit visitors on Saturday, the hippopotamus house, which had been closed since the birth of the young one, was accordingly opened, and was thronged from twelve o’clock till four p.m. with visitors eager to catch a glimpse of the latest arrival in the gardens. A number of the Fellows and members of the Council of the Royal Zoological Society were present at about three o’clock, when the mother was fed. Mr. Bartlett had kept her a little short during the morning, in order that she might come out of the water when her food was at length brought. His expectations were verified, and for a short time the visitors had a good view of both animals.

The “baby” is now about 2ft. high by 4ft. long, and weighs probably 2cwt. He has taken nourishment from his mother in a most satisfactory manner during his seclusion, and is now beginning to pick up a little food for himself. He is slate-coloured on the back and legs, with a pinkish tinge under the belly.

On Sunday the appearance of such an unusual number of visitors attending the little one’s first levée appeared distasteful to both mother and baby, and they passed most of the day in the tepid bath, only coming up at intervals to breathe. Last week, during some alterations which were being made in the house, the mother got into the outside yard and took her bantling into the cold water. Some apprehension was felt with regard to the effect which the sudden change of temperature might have upon the little one, especially as he came out of the water quite cherry-coloured with the cold, but fortunately no evil consequences ensued.

The Penny Illustrated Paper and Illustrated Times, Saturday 30 November 1872

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The small matter of being possessed of blood-imbibing vampires


The San Franscisco Alta says that while the steamship Nevada was about 80 miles off one of the minor isles of Micronesia, on its way up to Australia to San Francisco, at about six o’clock in the morning, a strange animal of a dark figure was observed to light on the highest peak of the forward mast. Attracted by its peculiar appearance, the officer of the deck, Mr. Burns, the second mate, offered one of the sailors a small bonus to secure it. The man clambered up the mast with a heavy cloth in his hand, and, after a slight struggle, in which he was severely bitten on the hand, it was secured.

Bringing it to the deck, on examination the beast proved to be a fine specimen of a species of the vampire tribe. This animal closely resembles the terrodactyl of the antediluvian ages. In appearance it is like a huge bat, on hasty examination. It is in the head of the animal, however, that the main distinction is found. That of the present one is a perfect counterpart of the black-and-tan terrier dog. Its teeth are over half an inch in length, and are called in constant requisition to discountenance all attempts at familiarity. When flying, the wings of this ill-omened beast stretch, from tip to tip, at least five times the diameter of its body. It is of a deep jet black colour, the body being covered with heavy fur. It is very savage, being constantly on the alert to attack any person approaching it.

Whether this animal is a full and perfect vampire, lulling man to sleep with the waving fan-motions of its wings while sucking in the victim’s very heartblood is yet a question, for as yet it has not been examined by any scientific man. Its appearance is, however, enough to suggest the truth of such a horrible surmise. Be it as it may, the little Micronesian island had always borne a weird and frightful reputation among the native inhabitants of the adjoining ones. Strange stories of cannibalism, tales of savage idolatrous practices, poison valleys, &c., are constantly connected in their minds with its name, and the small matter of being possessed of blood-imbibing vampires, in addition to all the other horrors, few of them would think extraordinary or the least doubtful.

The Huddersfield Daily Chronicle, Thursday 10 April 1873

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Suddenly seized by a ferocious animal


The Exeter mail coach, on its way to London, was attacked last Sunday night at Winterslow Hat, seven miles on this side of Salisbury, in a most extraordinary manner. At the moment when the coachman pulled up to deliver his bags, one of the leaders was suddenly seized by a ferocious animal. This produced great confusion and alarm; two passengers who were inside the mail got out, ran into the house, and locked themselves up in a room above stairs; the horses kicked and plunged violently, and it was with difficulty the coachman could prevent the carriage from being overturned. It was soon perceived by the coachman and guard, by the light of the lamps, that the animal which had seized the horse was a huge lioness.

A large mastiff dog came up and attacked her fiercely, on which she quitted the horse and turned upon him. The dog fled, but was pursued and killed by the lioness, within about forty yards of the place. It appears the beast had escaped from a caravan that was standing on the road side, belonging to the proprietors of a Menagerie, on their way to Salisbury fair.

An alarm being given, the keepers pursued and hunted the lioness into an hovel under a granary, which served for keeping agricultural implements. About half past eight they had secured her so effectually, by baricading the place, as to prevent her escape. The horse, when first attacked, fought with great spirit, and if at liberty, would probably have beaten down his antagonist with his fore feet, but in plunging, he embarrassed himself in the harness. The lioness, it appears, had attacked him in front, and springing at his throat, had fastened the talons of her fore feet on each side of his neck, close to the head, while the talons of her hind feet were forced into his chest. In this situation she hung, while the blood was seen flying, as if a vain had been opened by a lancet. The ferocious animal missed the throat and the jugular vein, but the horse is so dreadfully torn, he is not expected to survive. He was a capital horse, the best of the set. The expression of agony in his tears and moans was most piteous and affecting. A fresh horse having been procured, the mail drove on, after having been detained three quarters of an hour by this extraordinary obstruction.

The Morning Chronicle, Tuesday 22 October 1816




Note: “baricading” and “vain” appear as in the original. I do not like to use the term “sic” on the grounds that it intrudes itself into the reader’s concentration for little purpose other than to impart a sense of the editor’s superiority.

Note 2: This is a somewhat unsatisfactory story, for one is left wondering upon the outcome for both horse and lioness. Being of a melancholy nature, I assume death for both, but am intrigued to know whether any attempt was made to restore the predator to the menagerie from which she made her escape.

Note 3: I realise I should make the effort to research the matters raised in note 2, but at present all I wish to research is the location of the nearest gin bottle.

Note 4: An attack by a big cat was scarcely enough to detain the mail by three-quarters of an hour! What excuse, then, does Mr Amazon give for the fact that I have, to date, waited SEVEN DAYS for my parcel of…  “improving literature”?

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A Canard for Creationists

The Presse Grayloise relates the following story:– “A discovery of great scientific importance has just been made at Culmont (Haute Marne). Some men employed in cutting a tunnel which is to unite the St. Dizier and Nancy railways, had just thrown an enormous block of stone by means of gunpowder, and were in the act of breaking it in pieces, when from a cavity in it they suddenly saw emerge a living being of monstrous form. This animal, which belongs to the class of animals hitherto considered to be extinct, has a very long neck, and a mouth filled with sharp teeth. It stands on four long legs, which are united together by two membranes, doubtless intended to support the animal in the air, and are armed with four claws terminated by long and crooked talons. Its general form resembles that of a large goose. Its membraneous wings, when spread out, measure from tip to tip 3 metres 22 centimetres (nearly 10 feet 7 inches). Its colour is a livid black; its skin is naked, thick, and oily; its intestines only contained a colourless liquid like clear water. On reaching the light, this monster gave some signs of life, by shaking its wings, but soon after expired uttering a hoarse cry. This strange creature, to which may be given the name of living fossile, has been brought to Gray, where a naturalist, well versed in the study of paleontology, immediately recognised it as belonging to the genus Pterodactylus anas, many fossil remains of which have been found among the strata which geologists have designated by the name of Lias. The rock in which this monster was discovered belongs precisely to that formation, the deposit of which is so old that geologists date it more than a million of years back. The cavity in which the animal was lodged forms an exact hollow mould of its body, which indicates that it was completely enveloped with the sedimentary deposit.” Of whatever genus the above animal may be, the whole story bears a strong indication of belonging to the genus Canard, as indeed is estimated by the Latin name assigned to the animal.

 The Morning Chronicle, Monday 4 February 1856




Editor’s Note: The kind assistance of Mr Google has revealed to me the existing popularity of this story. Should any intrigued reader care to investigate further, he or she will at once note that the usual source cited is the Illustrated London News, Saturday 9 February 1856, and, furthermore, that the story is regarded in certain circles as EVIDENCE AGAINST EVOLUTION.

The Illustrated London News did indeed reprint the story upon that date, but the said publication used only the text that here falls within the quotation marks. It did not repeat The Morning Chronicle’s astute concluding statement as to the nature of the tale.

This is not to say that the News’s editor intended to report the events as factual. He gave the story the headline “Very Like a Whale,” in a clear reference to the exchange in Hamlet, Act III, scene ii, in which the protagonist describes the shapes of clouds. Hamlet’s companion, Polonius, agrees with whatever he says, mindful that such interpretations are fanciful and indicative of INSANITY.

My own humble opinion on the subject of Pterodactylus anas is that it came from among the strata to which geologists – and indeed everyone else – can easily designate the name of LIARS.


Filed under Birds and Beasts, Dubious Discoveries, The Editor Gets Drunk and Opines on Things

The cat ladies will always be with us


A SUMMONS of rather an exceptional character—for keeping a large number of cats in a small room at No. 21, Tufton-street, Westminster, used as a living and sleeping apartment by the occupier and the defendant, an elderly female named Louisa Bragg—came before the magistrate, at the Westminster Police-court, on Friday.

The defendant, it was stated, was summoned about three years ago for a similar offence in Marsham-street, Westminster. The defendant then produced a birthday book of her pets, and pleaded very hard to be allowed to retain them, but after a good deal of trouble they were reduced in number by summary measures.

Lightfoot, the sanitary inspector, said that the nuisance was now as bad as ever. When he visited the defendant’s room on the 11th ult. the door was cautiously opened a little way, and an endeavour made to close it when his identity was discovered. He had time to count eight cats—never allowed out—of different sizes and colours. The effluvia was sickening, and there had been many complaints. At subsequent visits he could not gain admission to the room. Personal service of the summons was proved, and in the defendant’s absence the magistrate made an order on her to abate the nuisance forthwith and pay 23s. cost.

The Illustrated Police News, Saturday 16 April 1892


Notes from the Editor:

  1. It is only too evident that some things never change, but Ms Lucy Inglis of Georgian London has further proof, viz: An eccentrical lady
  2. I have not forgotten Mr Amateur Casual’s meme, and shall ‘get onto it’ forthwith.

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Stop press! It’s the scoop of the year!

A Nearly white sparrow has been shot at Pattingham, near Wolverhampton. The bird was slightly streaked with brown, but the white preponderated.

London Journal, 29 December 1883


Editor’s Note: Good grief! How have I hitherto missed the fact that an event of this magnitude has occurred? I have never seen cutting-edge reportage of this calibre in all my born days.  Spread the astounding news, one and all – the WHITE PREPONDERATED. I am struck down with awe. 

London Journal, how can you live with yourself, having been so concise ‘pon a matter of such import? The country waits with bated breath for every detail of this emperor among avians. WHATEVER NEXT?


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A fatal staring competition


The Ceylon Observer vouches for the truth of an extraordinary story which will interest students of natural history.  Some four months ago a young lady, while a guest with some friends in Colombo, saw three house lizards watch each other on a post for five days, and mentioned the circumstance to her father as a curious incident.  Returning to Colombo last month she was astonished to find the three lizards still there watching each other; but now they were skeletons firmly attached to the post of the verandah, about a foot apart from each other, just as she had left them four months previously! The supposition is that they died of starvation rather than move and give an opportunity for attack.

The Star, St Peter Port, Thursday 5 December 1895

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A half-wild, strange animal


JAMES PAGET was summoned at Worship-street Police-court on Wednesday for detaining an opossum belonging to James Williams. The defendant admitted that he had kept the animal, and produced a large rat-trap, in which he had caught it. He said he had caught it in his house after it had been running about at night, frightening his wife and damaging his property, and he thought he had a right to be paid for the damage it had done. Mr. Cooke said he could sue for the damage, but must give up the animal. The defendant then offered the complainant the animal, but insisted that it should be taken out of the trap, which he refused to lend to carry it home in. The complainant objected to take the animal out with his hands, as there was danger that it would escape into the Court. Mr. Cooke then said that the defendant would have been justified in destroying the animal when he caught it, and the complainant could not have complained. If he would keep half-wild, strange animals, he must take better care of them. He made an order for its return to the complainant, and said the defendant must take it home and safely deliver it.

The Illustrated Police News, Saturday 16 September 1876

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A prodigiously long bladder


A gentleman, who said he had reason to know a good deal about the tricks used by smugglers, mentioned at the Mansion-House, London, on Wednesday week, a laughable incident which had occurred in a town on the coast of Scotland. A celebrated actor of that nation determined to run some very find French brandy, and adopted the following plan. He procured a prodigiously long bladder, and caused it to be painted in the exact likeness of a boa constrictor, and being in possession of the stuffed head of a formidable snake of the boa species, fastened it to the bladder, which he nearly filled with brandy. He then tied the tail of the boa to one of his legs, and twisted the body round his body, holding the head, in which there were two tremendous glass eyes, in his breast. When he reached the place which he considered to be most dangerous on account of the inquisitiveness of the revenue officers, he took out the head of the boa, in which, by an ingenious contrivance, he made the eyes and jaws to move with great rapidity, and in an instant every body scampered off, leaving a clear passage to the snake and its master. The fraud was practised several times, but was detected by the curiosity of the actor’s landlady, who was found one night blind drunk on the floor, with the empty bladder in her arms.

The York Herald and General Advertiser, Saturday 27 October 1838

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