One of the absolute best things about the internet is all the historical *stuff* that I discover while I'm hunting for something else. Sometimes these discoveries can inspire a scene or a character in a book, or they simply end up as another entry in our weekly Breakfast Links. The ones I HAVE to share at once land here as blog posts. Which is why today we have photographs of the 2nd Baron Rothschild and his zebras.
Lionel Walter Rothschild (1868-1937) is one of the most fascinating gentlemen of the late 19th-early 20th c. As the heir both to a title and to a legendary financial empire, young Rothschild was expected to join his family's business, and for twenty years, he did. But his heart lay far from the world of international finance. From boyhood, he was fascinated by zoology. He was also an almost fanatical collector, building an unrivaled private museum with literally millions of zoological specimens gathered from every part of the world. Unlike many private collectors, he believed in sharing his passion, not only opening his museum to the public, but hiring scholars and experts to help organize and document the collections for publication.
A shy man, he was still willing to create a sensation to demonstrate a point. Victorians regarded zebras as irredeemably wild animals, resistant to being tamed and made useful to man, an unforgivable sin to the Victorian mind. Walter believed otherwise, and to prove it drove his carriage drawn by a team of well-trained zebras, above, to Buckingham Palace. (In this photograph, there's an ordinary horse hiding behind the first zebra; I have no idea whether he was a calming influence, or simply a ringer.) Nor was this a one-trick pony - er, zebra. Lord Rothschild's zebras became a famous sight to Londoners, and visitors to his home were also treated to sight of him driving a single-zebra cart, below.
Lord Rothschild's remarkable collection continues to delight the public today, with the majority of the specimens divided between the American Museum of Natural History and the British Museum. His private zoo became the Walter Rothschild Zoological Museum at Tring. Click here for more about Lord Rothschild, including a wonderful video narrated by Beth Rothschild.