A Garden for the Living and a Gallery for the Dead: Consuming Animal and Preserved Specimen Exhibitions in Nineteenth-Century London
Type of DegreeMaster's Thesis
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Throughout the nineteenth century, a diverse array of wildlife arrived in London, the center of both a nation and a global empire. Once in Britain, live animals were exhibited for adoring, middle- and upper-class audiences in two of the city’s most popular entertainment venues, the Exeter Change Menagerie and the London Zoological Gardens. Here, visitors interacted with animals by viewing, feeding, touching, and riding upon them, all ways formulated to consume an animal that, unlike pets, could not actually be purchased by the average Briton. In lieu of this constraint, these modes of interaction provided a way for visitors to feel a sense of transitory ownership over these creatures, thereby turning interactions with animals into a sort of immaterial capital to British consumers. Many animals were already dead before they arrived in Britain—including dinosaurs harbored in the earth for eons—or died in London after a life in captivity. Just as living creatures were exhibited, so too were deceased animals displayed in scientific museums, exhibition venues, and entertainment halls. Britons flocked to see and touch these enormous taxidermies and skeletons, astounded that such colossal creatures had been captured and supplanted from their natural environment for perpetual display in the metropolis. Bridging the gap between life and death and exemplifying the contentions of each prior chapter, this thesis concludes by examining the celebrity elephant Chunee’s lifecycle through London, from his time acting on the stage to his skeleton’s display long after his death.