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Waterton's Wanderings.
The Wanderings - The Cayman Incident on the River Essequibo
and other encounters with caymans

Waterton's Caiman (Cayman)
Read the full story in The Wanderings Third Journey 1820.

Click to enlarge The capture of the caiman as depicted in the Sturgis & Walton edition of The Wanderings. [5]

The cayman (or caiman) incident occurred during the Third Wandering on the River Essequibo. The scene is depicted below in the painting by Capt. Jones. For the story of the capture, click here. Read about Charles Waterton and the Leeds Literary and Philosophical Society, click here.

Click to enlargeCharles Waterton capturing a cayman on the River Essequibo in Demerara (later British Guiana, and now Guyana). A painting by his artist friend Captain Edwin Jones (1st Royal Lancashire Militia). Note the abundance of wildlife.

Edwin Jones was a friend from Waterton's schooldays at Tudhoe, Waterton's preparatory school. Together with the Squire, Jones climbed to the top of St Peter's, Rome in 1817.

Jones also designed the door knockers on the front door of Walton Hall. He last visited the Hall in 1844, his eyesight was by then failing and he became blind in 1846. (Pictures of the door knockers are on this page, click here.)

The original painting is at Stonyhurst College, where Waterton completed his education in an environment more congenial to him than Tudhoe. The cayman is in the Wakefield Museum, Yorkshire..

Click to enlargeWalton Hall by Capt. E. Jones (unfinished), from the corner of Scotland Wood.

The Squire is shown mounted on the cayman.
The Hall faces North. West of it is an avenue of trees from the direction of Lakeview,
this avenue bends round to the foobridge. The old Lombardy poplar, planted by the
Squie's father in 1756 is on the east bank of the lake. It was blown down in 1869.
The far bank is Ryeroyd Bank. (6)


Click to enlargeCharles Waterton and the capture of the cayman as depicted in the Illustrated London News, 28/08/1844.
This picture is also included in Richard Hobson's book (see note 1) .

Click to enlargeRichard Hobson wrote: When the "South American Wanderings" made its appearance, his mounting the cayman, as stated in that volume, was disbelieved by many; but this denial of believe arose from two mistaken causes, which are, I think, easy of explanation. The former misconception proceeded from a want of knowledge of the man, whose powers, activity, courage, and determination, were not sufficiently known, and had not, even by his intimate friends, been duly appreciated; the latter mistake arose from want of coolly reflecting on the utterly powerless condition of the cayman, when mounted. When I say utterly powerless, I must explain that an immense hook, baited with raw flesh, and securely affixed to the end of a strong rope, had been swallowed by the cayman, and that the peculiarly barbed construction of this hook prevented the possibility of its being returned through the mouth - that several natives along with Mr Waterton's own black servant, had command of the rope, by which they had drawn this saurian reptile from his natural element on to dry ground, where, of course he was neither at home nor at ease. Now, if a man perform the more difficult, and the more dangerous of two feats, we should give him credit for being able to accomplish the less difficult, and the one attended with less danger.

The Squire, in reference to some doubts publicly expressed, as to his ever mounted the cayman at all, observed to a friend, in my presence "Previously to the publication of 'The Wanderings', it was at one time my intention to place on the first page of the work a quotation from Ovid; but I now rejoice that I did not do so, as it might have prevented those ungenerous remarks, which have evidently been disgorged from a malevolently bilious stomach, and consequently highly gratifying to those illiberal sceptics at my expense. The quotation is:-

'Facta canam; sed erunt qui me fixxisse loquantur.'

'I shall sing of facts, but there will be some to say that I have invented fiction.' "

Our friend remarked, "Probably these critics have never seen either you or a cayman." "Of course not," rejoined the Squire, "They condemn that which they do not understand," "damnant quod non intelligunt." Let this, then, be the basis on which to form an opinion, and be the ground-work of our decision, as to the credibility, of a feat, so much questioned at the time of its publication.

I will now describe a far more daring exploit, performed by the Squire at my house, than his mounting the then powerless and terrified cayman. The heroic act to which I allude was witnessed by many of my professional brethren, as well as by myself. Richard Hobson [2], read The Rattlesnakes.

Click to enlargeWrestling with the likes of crocodiles, alligators and caymans looks decidely risky, even when carried out by an expert - such as this chap at Gatorland, Florida.

He was an expert but he certainly treated his reluctant adversary with respect. One wrong move and something painful could happen!

Both man and alligator survived this display without losing any bits and pieces!

Click to enlargeThe real thing - Waterton's cayman:
Charles Waterton's cayman on display in Wakefield Museum.
"We found a cayman ten feet and a half long fast to the end of the rope. Nothing now remained to do but to get him out of the water without injuring his scales: "hoc opus, hic labor." We mustered strong: there were three Indians from the creek, there was my own Indian Yan, Daddy Quashi, the negro from Mrs. Peterson's, James, Mr. R. Edmonstone's man, whom I was instructing to preserve birds, and lastly myself." Read more in Caught at Last - Wanderings, Third Journey, Chapter 4.

Why not visit the museum for a better view?
■ Find out more about Wakefield Museum at Wakefield One. http://www.wakefield.gov.uk

'On top of the staircase (at Walton Hall) is the veritable cayman mentioned in "Wateron's Wanderings", and on which the Squire was mounted in Essequebo, after being caught by a shoulder of mutton bait, and when under the control of the natives and his own servant. Here you see the actual line and hook which captured and safely secured this alligator in the river, and by which he was dragged on to terra firma, evidently much against his own inclination, now that he was favoured with a barbed hook in his stomach, by which his man-eating propensities were doubtless thoroughly subdued.' Richard Hobson [3]

The cayman was captured during the Third Wandering on the Essequibo River.
" We found a cayman ten feet and a half long fast to the end of the rope. Nothing now remained to do but to get him out of the water without injuring his scales." (Extract from Chapter IV of the Third Wandering.)

Gerald Durrell visited the Rupununi during his animal collection expedition to British Guiana in 1950. He stayed with Tiny McTurk at his ranch in Karanambo (Karanambu) in the middle of the savannah. During their time with McTurk they managed to catch a cayman, thanks to his help. More about Gerald Durrell.

Tiny McTurk's daughter, Diane is the visionary behind both the Karanambu Trust and the Karanambu Lodge. The North Rupununi is also her home. She was born at Karanambu soon after her pioneer father, Tiny McTurk, established a cattle ranch there.
(■ Extract from the Read more about the Karanambu Trust.

David Attenborough - The Zoo Quests.David Attenborough gives an interesting and entertaining account of the capture of a cayman by the BBC and London Zoo Expedition to British Guiana in March 1955.

The team included Jack Lester (London Zoo's Curator of Reptiles), Charles Lagus (photography), and Tim Vinall (to look after the captured animals, he was also from the London Zoo).

The account was published in the National Geographic Magazine, June 1957 (Vol. CXI, No. 6) and in Zoo Quest to Guiana and later in the book [4] shown here. More about Sir David Attenborough.

The cayman was captured in the Rupununi area, where the team encountered Teddy Melville, whose father had been one of the first Europeans to settle in the area, and who had taken taken to wife two Wapisiana girls. Of course, there is more to the Zoo Quest than the capture of the cayman; there are many more interesting characters and animals to be found in Sir David's account of the expedition.

■ Changing the subject from capturing caymans, read an interesting article about the Rupununi Rebellion, 1969 in the Stabroek News, by David Granger, 18th January 2009.
(PDF version.)

1. Charles Waterton, His Home, Habits and Handiwork, Richard Hobson, M.D., Cantab. Second Edition, 1867, p. 189.
2. Ibid. pp 66 - 68.
3. Ibid. pp 189 - 190.
4. The Zoo Quest Expeditions (Guyana, Indonesia and Paraguay), David Attenborough. Lutterworth Press, 1980.
5. Wanderings in South America, Charles Waterton. Sturgis and Walton Company, 1909.
6. Letters of Charles Waterton, edited by R.A. Irwin, Rockliff, Salisbury Square, London, 1955.

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