Mini-project one: Hippos then & now [1850]

30 06 2010

To start off with a snapshot of Victorian London–

While browsing and remembering Professor Durant mention his zoology background at the welcome dinner, I came across the following laugh-out-loud (LOL) 1850 description of a hippopotamus at the London Zoo:

victorian hippo


As many of our country readers naturally feel anxious to know how the Hippotamus passes his time in a strange land, where he is so far away from home and all his relations, we have gone to the expense of procuring the following particulars, which are now printed for the first time.
The Hippopotamus gets up generally about six. The first thing he does is to wag his tail; he then grunts, nodding his head all the while to the Arabian, which is his peculiar method of saying “Good morning!” At seven he has a pail of porridge and maize, which he refers to tea or coffee. After that he washes his hands – we mean his feet – in the tank which ii put in his room as his washhand-basin. He sleeps till ten, when he turns out to receive the numerous company that is always waiting to see him. He takes several rounds m the park that is attached to his dwelling-house, bowing to his guests politely as he passes along. After this exertion, he lies down in the hottest patch of sand he can pick out and curling himself up, till he looks like an immense ball of india-rubber, he goes fast asleep. He rarely wakes up till the latter part of the day, when his first thought is to run and tap at the door of the Giraffes, who hang out in the next room to him. This act of civility over, he takes his bath, which sometimes lasts two or three hours. During this time very little more than his nostrils are visible above the water. The fact is, the Hippopotamus is of a modest, retiring disposition, and likes to hide himself as much as possible from the public eye. At six o’clock he leaves his bath and retires to his bed-room. He never sees any one after six. A small bucket of porridge and maize of which he is amazingly fond, is brought to his bedside and the Arab boy feeds him with a spoon. After this he generally feels very sleepy, and lies down. He lays his head on the Arab’s lap, and, throwing his legs round his neck, is very quickly in the arms of Morpheus.


EVERYBODY is still running towards the Regent’s Park, for the purpose of passing half an hour with the Hippopotamus. The animal itself repays public curiosity with a yawn of indifference, or throws cold water on the ardour of his visitors, by suddenly plunging into his bath, and splashing every one within five yards of him.
Much disappointment has been expressed at the Hippopotamus, in consequence of its not being exactly up to the general idea of a sea-horse, and many hundreds go away grumbling every day, because the brute is not so equestrian in appearance as could be desired. Many persons thought the Hippopotamus was a regular sea-horse, kept expressly for running in harness in a sea-captain’s gig; but as the creature turns out to be very like a hog, there are many who go the entire animal in finding fault with him The consumption of milk is still something terrific. though the pump has been called in as an assistant wet-nurse.

Punch, Jul.-Dec. 1850

Please contrast this description with the modern London Zoo description of the hippopotamus.

1850 London: 1;  2010 London: 0




4 responses

30 06 2010
Chelsea Link

Seth: 1; The Rest of Us: 0
This is awesome.

30 06 2010

i love how imaginative the 1850 description is. very funny stuff.

5 07 2010
Chelsea Link

I just read this through more closely and caught the phrase “hang out.” I’m intrigued – I always assumed that phrase must have cropped up much more recently. I’m also delighted by the last paragraph; I guess people really did once think of it as a sea-horse since its name literally means “horse of the river.” It’s a strange thought, though – it always looks more like a cross between a pig and an elephant to me.

8 07 2010

Yo mate, lovely stories since you’ve wandered over the pond!

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