About

I am a cultural historian with a PhD (2010) from the University of Manchester. I published The Georgian Menagerie: exotic animals in eighteenth-century London with I.B.Tauris in 2015. My thesis doctoral was titled “Exotic Animals in Eighteenth-Century Britain” and has been published as a series of articles in journals. I will update this blog regularly with material either from my thesis, current research, or from forthcoming publications.

In 2009/10 I was a predoctoral fellow at the Max-Planck-Institut für Wissenschaftsgeschichte, Berlin (Max Planck Institute for the History of Science).  More recently, I was temporary lecturer in Museology at the University of Manchester for the academic year 2010/11.

My doctoral thesis and several of the publications to come out of it were generously funded by a doctoral studentship award from the Arts and Humanities Research Council (UK) in 2007-2009 and by a predoctoral fellowship granted by the Max-Planck-Gesellschaft (Germany) in 2009/10.

13 Responses to About

  1. hi christopher, i’m working on an art project looking at early museum developments in malaya – and i was trying to track down the movement of animals and specimens to the uk. i have a list of animals donated to london zoo in 1922, and was thinking about trying to find if they had any offspring i.e. genealogical connection to current zoo animals and also where deceased animals from that collection ended up in. i haven’t had much luck- but came across your bog and found it really interesting. i’m wondering if you have any stories you have uncovered specifically about animals from malaysia/singapore – the orang-utan you wrote about wasn’t given a specific origin and neither a few of the elephants – i’d like to see if i could find their origins….. any suggestions or malaya related connections would be great to know about. vb, erika

    • Hello,

      I would be surprised if there is any genealogical link between animals in UK zoos and those from Malaysia in the past. I think that it was only recently that many animals could be successfully bred captivity, certainly large mammals and primates will not have a direct lineage to the 1920s. I think animals were brought and trapped to order from specialist zoological suppliers until the 1950s or 60s.

      It is probably possible though to date current animals in the ZSL back to the 80s or 70s though – especially primates.

      One thing you could try would be to search the catalogue or database of the Natural History Museum for species from Malaysia or Singapore. They will have records of where these animals are from and who gave them to the collections. Some of these animals will be from the London Zoological Society. You will then be able to find out more about them that way.

      Another way you could find more information is to use google books and search by date, choose the period you want and type something like Malaysia and orang-utan… I suspect a number of nineteenth and early 20th century texts will appear in readable PDFs that will contain stories or accounts of animals from Malaysia in collections.

      As you may know, normally animals often arrived with scant details of their origins.

      Sorry I cannot be of more help. I will run a brief search and email you with anything I may find.

      Best, Chris

  2. Natalie Lawrence says:

    Dear Christopher,

    Apologies for the message out of the blue, but I was wondering whether you might be in the country this summer and would fancy joining an animal-themed panel at the BSHS conference in Aberdeen this summer. I am a PhD at the History and Philosophy of Science Dept at Cambridge, working on exotic animals in the 16th and 17th centuries with Simon Schaffer and Nick Jardine, and will probably be speaking on dodos, another PhD in my department will be speaking on snakes in India in a similar period to you. I gather you are teaching in Seoul, but if you will be around and might be interested, that would be splendid.

    all the best,

    Natalie

    • Hello,

      Thanks for your message. I am really interested in finding out more about your work. What stage in your PhD are you? I am actually working on a book at present, and plan to next be in the UK in the summer of 2015 – the book will be published in September 2015, so actually BSHS 2015 would be the ideal time for me to next present on my work. Perhaps you would be interested in doing a panel then? It would be great if we could do it then. Getting over to the UK this summer is looking impossible, what with trying to finish a book draft by this September. I would like to read some of your stuff, and do let me know if you need any sources… I do have some 17th century stuff.

      Best wishes,

      Chris

  3. Lyanda Haupt says:

    Dear Dr. Plumb,
    Congratulations on the imminent publication of your book. It sounds wonderful. I am a Seattle-based author working on a book about the relationship between art/creativity and the natural world (to be published by Little, Brown in fall, 2016). One of the threads running through the book is the story of Mozart’s starling, a bird he bought in Vienna in 1874, and kept for three years. I have a couple of questions about the pet bird trade in Europe at this time, and I think you would be the perfect person to pester with them: I would love to either email you or talk to you, whichever you prefer. I wouldn’t take a lot of your time (fewer than 15 minutes, I think). Are you open to a couple of questions? If so, please respond by email. Many thanks.

  4. Brad F. says:

    Dr. Plumb,

    I ran across your dissertation while putting together an article on the transfer of American bison to Europe in the 18th century. In my research, I’ve found a lot of information concerning Spain and France’s attempts to transfer the animals, but not as much about British efforts. I did discover that Thomas Penn (son of Pennsylvania founder William Penn) sent two of the animals to King George II in 1734 and they arrived in London alive, but I never found anything concerning their ultimate fate. From what I’ve read about King George, I assumed he may have hunted the animals, but, as I’m not a British historian, I’m unsure about this conclusion. I also found a reference to the Duke of Norfolk receiving an American bison in 1798, but again little information other than the animal arrived in England alive.

    Here’s how I’m hoping you can help me. Do you know anything about the buffalo that arrived in London in 1734? If not, what would you guess was the animal’s ultimate fate? I’m less concerned about the 1798 animal, but I’d love information on it as well. Also, your dissertation mentioned a sweet smelling buffalo in a shop, but it was unclear whether or not this was a European buffalo, an American bison, or an Asian or African water buffalo. I’ve seen some English newspaper ads from the 18th century advertising live buffalo, but they appeared alongside Eastern Hemisphere animals, so I assumed they were water buffalo. Do you think this is the case with the buffalo in your dissertation? Have you run across any requests for American bison?

    Any help you can offer would be much appreciated. If I can assist you in any way, or if my research will help you on your personal projects, I’d be happy to share whatever I have.

    • Brad Folsom,

      I haven’t come across many bison in London in the 18th century, so this is interesting to me. I wasn’t aware of the 1734 ones. The animal in the Bird Shop at the end of the 18thC is not a bison; it was brought from the Nile, so was some kind of African water buffalo. I have found a 1783 satirical caricature of a bison: http://www.loc.gov/pictures/resource/cph.3a05337/ AND
      https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=dOURAAAAYAAJ&pg=PA241&dq=american+buffalo+london&hl=ko&sa=X&ei=2KGWVYfaIISU7Qa7x7CoAg&redir_esc=y#v=onepage&q=american%20buffalo%20london&f=false [PAGES 296/7]

      There is also a mention of a bison in the journal of Benjamin Silliman (a Yale College chemist/ natural historian). He saw a bison in London either living or dead:

      “ANIMALS July 23 Having occupied my leisure hours of late in perusing Buffon Shaw and other writers on zoology I have been naturally led to visit the museums and collections of animals which are found in such perfection in London With these views I spent several hours before dinner in Pidcoek’s menagerie at Exeter Change and at the Leverian Museum There are not many animals of importance which one may not see at this time in London to mention only a few of those which I have examined to day the lion and lioness royal tiger of Bengal panther hyena tiger cat leopard ourang outang elephant rhinoceros hippopotamus great white bear of Greenland the bison elk or moose deer the zebra &c Most of these were living.”

      When it comes to hunting, I don’t think it is likely that they were hunted. I would have thought them to be far too valuable and rare for that. The Hannoverian monarchs tended to keep their animals at Kew, Buckingham Gate (in stables or a paddock), or at Windsor (Sandpit Gate); I suppose the bison would have ended up here. Sometimes these animals were given as favors to others and/or sold on to animal exhibitors for their travelling menageries.

      I don’t have access to ECCO (Eighteenth-Century Collections Online) or the British Library’s collection of 18th C newspapers anymore – but might I suggest that you search those for “bison” or “American buffalo”? Something might come up.

      I don’t know much about North American ecology, but I always assumed that bison lived on the plains in the continental interior – quite some way from the original 13 colonies on the eastern seaboard. Perhaps this accounts for the scarcity of buffalo in Georgian Britain. Moreover, it must have been quite a journey to bring them to the coast for transport (across/ though the Appalachians). The North American species I have regularly come across tend to be those easily trapped in/ near the 13 colonies; rattlesnakes, chipmunks, cardinals, bears etc. Perhaps the historic range of the buffalo in the Louisiana territory meant that naturally the French and Spanish had better access to these animals and thought about acclimatizing them in their respective nations. That said, there certainly was interest in bringing Asian buffalo to England.

      In regards to the bison in France, Louise Robbin’s mentions very briefly living bison in France in her book Elephant Slaves and Pampered Parrots: Exotic Animals in Eighteeth-Century Paris.

      I hope at least some of this is useful, I’m sorry that I can’t give you any more information on bison in the eighteenth century.

      Best,

      Chris

      • Brad F. says:

        Chris,

        Thanks for this info. For a brief time, presumably because of the massive depopulation of North America following the introduction of European diseases, the American bison population grew and their range extended across the Appalachians. Europeans quickly hunted these animals to extinction, so they were almost all gone in this region by the mid-18th century. I agree that this was likely the reason the French (they sent theirs in 1763 at the end of the Sevens Years War) and the Spanish could acquire buffalo in the latter 1700s, while the English could not: after Penn’s buffalo, hunters made the animal rare in English North America, but they remained numerous in Illinois and on the Spanish-controlled plains.

        Thanks for taking the time to write me back and send along the references. I’ve consulted Robbin’s work and the ECCO collection in the past, but it’s good to hear an expert confirm I’m looking in the right places. Please let me know if there’s ever anything you need concerning Texas or Spanish colonial history.

  5. Lucy Peltz says:

    Dear Christopher, I have not been able to find a direct email for you so please excuse my using this web site to contact you about the following:

    I am convening a workshop for January or February 2017 as part of an AHRC Network Grant project in partnership with the Natural History Musey, the Royal Society, UCL and the National Portrait Gallery. The workshop at the National Portrait Gallery will consider Joseph Banks’ self-fashioning, his reputation, patronage, collecting and influence on the study of natural history. I wonder if you are expecting to be in Europe and whether you would be interested in participating in some way. I can be contacted via http://www.npg.org.uk/about/organisation/staff-list.php.

    best wishes
    Dr Lucy Peltz
    Senior Curator of 18th Century Portraits
    & Head of Collections Displays (Tudor to Regency)
    National Portrait Gallery, London.

  6. Dear Christopher, I am a Canadian researcher on sabbatical in London trying to find historical materials on the import of exotic animals into England and Europe for menageries. I am really enjoying reading your thesis, it’s super, although I haven’t finished it yet and I haven’t read your book. I am trying to learn more about the capture of the animals — who caught them, how they were shipped, and so on – and their voyages to England and Europe. I am wondering, do you know anything about this, and would you be interested in talking more when I return in the late winter? You can look me up, thanks, Jody Berland, Professor, Department of Humanities, York University, Canada, jberland@yorku.ca.

    • Dear Jody,

      Thank you for your message. Thanks for your comment about the thesis. I’ll be happy to send you what I know about the topic.

      I’m sorry that it has taken me a week to reply; I didn’t notice the notification from Word Press in my inbox. I will reply properly to your message by email in the next 24 hours.

      Best wishes,

      Christopher

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