A Hippopotamus in Victorian London

John Simons

Regular price $35.00 Sale

Format: paperback
230 pages
ISBN: 9781743325865

Publication: 01 Jan 2019
Series: Animal Politics
Publisher: Sydney University Press

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Obaysch: A Hippopotamus in Victorian London tells the remarkable story of Obaysch the hippopotamus, the first ‘star’ animal to be exhibited in the London Zoo.

In 1850, a baby hippopotamus arrived in England, thought to be the first in Europe since the Roman Empire, and almost certainly the first in Britain since prehistoric times. Captured near an island in the White Nile, Obaysch was donated by the viceroy of Egypt in exchange for greyhounds and deerhounds. His arrival in London was greeted with a wave of ‘hippomania’, doubling the number of visitors to the Zoological Gardens almost overnight.

Delving into the circumstances of Obaysch’s capture and exhibition, John Simons investigates the phenomenon of ‘star’ animals in Victorian Britain against the backdrop of an expanding British Empire. He shows how the entangled aims of scientific exploration, commercial ambition, and imperial expansion shaped the treatment of exotic animals throughout the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

Along the way, he uncovers the strange and moving stories of Obaysch and the other hippos who joined him in Europe as the trade in zoo animals grew.

’A fascinating microscopic and telescopic look at the life of Victorian England’s most famous animal. John Simons’ richly exhaustive account of nineteenth-century hippomania engages with imperialism, Orientalism, progress, and the cultural history of Europe where Obaysch, captured from an island in the Nile River, had the misfortune to spend his life as a blockbuster attraction at the London Zoo. Poignant and empathetic, this account of an animal’s appropriation and exploitation is one of those books that unfurls more about its moment in time than you could have imagined when you picked it up.’
Professor Randy Malamud, Georgia State University

John Simons is a British Australian writer and academic who currently lives in Tasmania. He is an Emeritus Professor of Macquarie University and has published on a wide variety of topics from medieval romance to the history of cricket and specialises in the history of animals.

Preface and acknowledgements
A note on nomenclature

1. Why Obaysch?
Interchapter: the economy of zoos and hippos
2. The life and times of Obaysch the hippopotamus
3. The several meanings of hippos
4. A bloat of other European hippos

Postscript: the unhappy hippopotamus
Works cited

"[The book] would be of interest to anyone with an interest in the Victorians, the history of exotic animals and, of course, anyone with an interest in those fascinating animals – hippos. It is relevant to both academics and to a wider readership ... The book is part of the Animal Publics series featuring interdisciplinary research in animal studies. If all the books in the series are so absorbing, readable and informative, I look forward to reading more."
Ann Sylph   Archives of Natural History

"riveting ... Alongside his in-depth research into the lives of hippos, Simons raises philosophical issues that have contemporary relevance ... he involves the reader in hippo narratives and the ethics of capture and captivity"
Emerita Professor Wendy Woodward University of Western Cape   Animal Studies Journal

"This is not a trivial undertaking. If we are to understand animals’ lives in any meaningful way, we must, as Simons argues, learn to understand animals as more than mere things whose chief interest lies in what they represent or tell us about ourselves."
James Bradley   Sydney Morning Herald

"[This book] is over and above an accessible, intelligent, charming, sometimes funny, sometimes sad account of Obaysch, who lived at the London Zoo from 1850 until his premature death there in 1878, aged about 28."
Stephen Romei   The Australian

Format: paperback
Size: 210 × 148 × 15 mm
230 pages
28 plates
Copyright: © 2019
ISBN: 9781743325865
Publication: 01 Jan 2019
Series: Animal Politics