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Handiworks - Jenny the Ape

Click to enlargeDaniel Wise (writing in 1874):
[Whilst Mrs. Wombwell's Royal Menagerie was at Scarborough, Charles Waterton] paid four long visits to the apartment of a species of ape, called the chimpanzee, in a menagerie at Scarborough, for the purpose of studying its forms and habits. It was a female, named Jenny by her keeper. He says of her:-
"Her skin is as black as a sloe in the hedge, while her fur appears curly and brown. Her eyes are beautiful, but there is no white in them, and her ears are as small in proportion as those of a negress." Her nose was large and flattened. She was all gentleness when kindly treated, but showed at times that there was much latent mischief in her temper. Her hands and feet were fitted for movement among trees and not for walking on the ground. So completely did he win Jenny's affections that, when he bade her farewell he says:-
"Jenny put her arms round my neck, looked wistfully at me, and then we both exchanged soft kisses to the evident surprise and amusement of all the lookers on." (1)

■ Read a copy of Waterton's letter to Mrs. Wombwell regarding Jenny (pdf).
■ More about Waterton and Scarborough.

Click to enlargeWe now know that Jenny was a young gorilla, not a chimpanzee. Later on, after her death, Jenny became one of Waterton's satirical commentaries - Martin Luther After His Fall.

■ Visit Wakefield Museum to see Jenny the Ape in her role as "Martin Luther After His Fall", and much more.

Extract from
Charles Waterton's Essays On Natural History

Edited With a Life Of The Author By Norman Moore, B.A.

A third ape which has come under my immediate inspection is a young brown chimpanzee, in the Royal Menagerie of Mrs Wombwell. It was captured on the bank of the river Congo, in Africa. Whilst I was at Scarborough during the autumn of 1855, this ape made its appearance there; and before I left this celebrated watering-place, I wrote the following notice of it in the Scarborough Gazette: "Africa sends us, from time to time, many of her choice productions, some of which are astonishing in their propensities, others of unequalled beauty, and others again of a structure which may give ample scope to the most speculative mind of man. Amongst these is the chimpanzee, upon which I am about to make a few remarks.

Apes hitherto introduced into England have walked on the ground, apparently with comparative ease to themselves, so far as the bearings or irregularities of the ground would permit. But this chimpanzee is a decided exception. He who contemplates it when in motion on the ground, will at once perceive that the knuckle of the fingers alone comes in contact with the floor. This position must obviously give it pain. Let me here remark, that it is not the natural position of the animal, but that captivity has forced it into an attitude so unsuited to it. If we wish to contemplate this gentle ape roving in uncontrolled freedom, we must go in imagination to the far-spreading forests of Africa. There, mounted aloft on the trees, and making use of what are usually called its fore feet by way of hands (and which, in fact, are hands), it will pass from branch to branch with wonderful agility ; and when its hour of frolic has gone by, the chimpanzee will rest on a branch, bolt-upright, no part of its body coming in contact with the tree except the soles of its hind feet, usually so called they being most admirably constructed to support it in this attitude. Thus placed, its abdomen, of enormous dimensions considering the diminutive stature of the animal, will be at rest, whilst the arms are folded on the breast, or moved in playful gambols, or occupied in scratching the body, or in conveying food to the mouth.

Although the room in which this ape was shown seemed small and very unaccommodating to a climbing animal, still our young chimpanzee managed to thread its way up and down the surrounding furniture; and on its reaching me, it climbed up to my neck, where it found a comfortable resting-place. When I had approached sufficiently near to the window, so that the chimpanzee could profit by the movement, it would lay hold of the projecting parts, and then pass onwards, looking for a ledge or shelf to help it in its transit. But when we placed it on the floor again it seemed distressed; the countenance underwent a change; and we could not doubt of its discontentment.

Miss Blight, who is governess to this wild little woman of the woods, has given her the name of Jenny, and has observed that her pet is very fond of celery, a piece of which Miss Blight, in our presence, held out to her from the opposite side of the room, first having cleared the floor for Jenny to pass over. Bending forwards, in the attitude of an old woman who uses two sticks in order to support her tottering frame, Jenny moved slowly, and to all appearance painfully, across the floor, with her hands clenched. On seizing the sprig of celery, she took a sitting position with remarkable composure, and her hands being now no longer in restraint, nor in an artificial posture on the floor, she made use of them just as we ourselves would use our hands and arms.

Through the kindness of Mrs Wombwell, and the courtesy of Miss Blight, I was enabled to pay four long visits to this harmless and amusing young creature, lately kidnapped in the sunny regions of Africa. When I looked at it, whilst it stayed on the floor, I was perfectly satisfied, in my own mind, that it had never been formed by nature to walk on the soles of its feet, or hands, properly so called. In its own native regions, if we may judge by the peculiar formation of its limbs, the whole of its life must be passed amid the ever verdant trees of the forest. Jenny has no appearance whatever of a tail, for she is a veritable ape. Her skin is as black as a sloe in the edge, whilst her fur appears curly and brown. Her eyes are beautiful, but there is no white in them; and her ears are as small, in proportion, as those of a negress. Whilst apes in general, saving one, have little more than two apertures by way of nose, Jenny has a large protuberance there. It is flattened; and one might suppose that some officious midwife had pressed it down with her finger and thumb, at the hour of Jenny's birth.

When kindly treated Jenny is all gentleness; still I fancied that I could perceive at intervals a slight tinge of mischief in her temper, for there was a pretty little dog in the same room with her, and whenever she could get hold of it, she would fix her teeth in it until it yelped aloud. I happened to be amongst the crowd of spectators outside of Jenny's little apartment (for she was not exhibited with the other wild beasts) when she made her final appearance before the liberal inhabitants of Scarborough. Having mounted the steps which led up to the room, in order that I might take my leave of her, Jenny put her arms round my neck; she ' looked wistfully at me,' and then we both exchanged soft kisses, to the evident surprise and amusement of all the lookers-on.

' Farewell, poor little prisoner!' said I; ‘I fear that this cold and gloomy atmosphere of ours will tend to shorten thy days.' Jenny shook her head, seemingly to say, there is nothing here to suit me. The little room is far too hot, the clothes they force me to wear are insupportable, whilst the food which they give me is not like that upon which I used to feed when I was healthy and free in my own native woods. With this we parted probably for ever.

Should little Jenny cease to live, and should her remains reach Walton Hall, I assured Miss Blight that I would spare no pains to make her cherished favourite appear, for ages yet to come, as though the cruel hand of death had never laid it low." The reader will perhaps be grieved to learn, that poor Jenny's death was nearer than I had anticipated. She journeyed on, from place to place, in Mrs Wombwell's fine menagerie of wild animals, till they reached the town of Warrington, in Lancashire. There, without any previous symptoms of decay, Jenny fell sick and breathed her last.

Miss Blight wrapped her up in linen by way of winding-sheet, put her in a little trunk, and kindly forwarded her to Walton Hall, at the close of February, in the year 1856. (2)

~~~ ooOoo ~~~


1. The Squire of Walton Hall; or Sketches and Incidents from the Life of Charles Waterton, Esq., the Adventurous Traveller and Daring Naturalist, Daniel Wise, 1874, Nelson & Phillips, New York.

2. Extract from 'The Monkey Family', Essays On Natural History, Charles Waterton.
Edited With a Life Of The Author By Norman, Moore, B.A. Published 1871 by Frederick Warne & Co., Covent Garden. New York: Scribner, Welford & Co.

Charles Waterton Exhibition
Charles Waterton
1782 - 1865
Traveller and Naturalist
An exhibition to celebrate the 200th anniversary of the birth of Charles Waterton.
Catalogue 1982.
Wakefield Museums & Art Galleries


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