Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Lord Rothschild's Zebras

Tuesday, July 10, 2012
Isabella/Susan reporting:

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.

12 comments:

bluffkinghal said...

Love Rothschild stories! Didn't he also dine with monkeys? And had snakes on the banisters of the stairs. Amazing man!

Lil said...

Aren't people endlessly fascinating?

Rosi said...

I had no idea about this man or his fascinating life. Thanks for posting this.

Isobel Carr said...

I've always wanted to put this in a book, but am afriad of the letters I'll get.

mem said...

I'm afraid I do not believe that those are actually zebras. First the stripes are wrong and are much too similar from beast to beast. The confirmation is also wrong, especially for the one in the pony cart. I think he was having us on and those are white horses and ponies with painted stripes. I'd need a lot more convincing than just these photos.

Lauren R said...

I hella want a zebra cart.

Anonymous said...

If those are painted horses, where do they hide the horses tails? And how did they make those fake ones? Zebra tails and horse tails are quite different.

I do think I personally would prefer to have horses than zebras, but nice pictures and story anyway :)

Donna said...

Great post, whether they are real or faux zebras!

carriaging lady said...

Not only were they real zebra, but he wasn't allowed to drive them on the public streets/carriageways except very early in the morning before any other equipages were out and about. Reason being: the zebra would frighten other horses. While quite the novelty, their appearance was nontheless "spook worthy" to the horse population of that day and age. Rothschild was said to have commented that driving a team of zebra was similar to driving donkeys (short, stubby little strides). There is another photo of him driving a 4-in-hand of zenra to a roof seat break (very upscale coaching carriage for sporting). That photo is fairly famous.

Isabella Bradford/Susan Holloway Scott said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

Isabella Bradford/Susan Holloway Scott said...

OK, reposting this comment again since the original link at the bottom didn't work.

I'm a believer - there are simply too many contemporary references to Lord Rothschild's zebra-drawn carriages, and not one that I've seen has a wink-wink-all-a-joke tones. Nor, I suspect, would the Walter Rothschild Zoological Museum at Tring use one of the zebra photos on their web if it were a hoax.

Here's a link to another blog that featured the zebras - includes interesting info about the man who actually trained the zebras (though I wish there were documentation!) plus another photograph:

http://shopkins-fossick.blogspot.com/2011/03/taming-of-zebra.html?showComment=1309105869268#c8357987140476547293

Anonymous said...

what an utter bit of nonsense. Of course zebras can be driven and ridden. There are people doing these very things in this day and age.

 
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