Here is the fifth weekly digest for Animal History Daily, which I'm running on Twitter (@hannahvelten) every day for 2014. Using the #AHD tag, I find random titbits of animal history from the newspapers on the appropriate day, from any year (generally the 1800s).
IMAGE OF THE WEEK
Groundhog has his day as cruelty campaigners fail
The Times 3rd February 1999
Since 1889, a groundhog (an American marmot) called Phil has been predicting the coming weather in the town of Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania. Each year on February 2 the groundhog is roused from his burrow on Gobbler's Knob and according to an old Germanic superstition, transplanted to the New World, if he casts a shadow on the ground then bad weather is coming. If there is no shadow, then spring is on its way.
Phil has been the central attraction of the mid-winter festival - Groundhog Day - for 110 years, but in 1999 the animal rights group PETA called for Phil to be left in peace. Dan Matthews of the organisation said, 'This poor creature is dragged into the daylight with people screaming at him. You only have to look into his eyes to see how bewildered he is.'
In 2014, Phil is still going strong and predicted more bad weather...
This week's #AHD offerings: war horse bones, road traffic accident, Queen Victoria's cattle, a 'Queer Hobby', a mining disaster, a very fine badger and Landseer's lions.
29th January: Worcester Prison dig, 1938: animal bones found alongside human (executed criminals?) bones; could be war horses killed in Civil War?
30th January: Dundee, 1934: collision btw motor van and horse-drawn lorry. Horse knocked down, shaft and some harness broken, but horse up and cont'd
31st January: Tributes to Qu. Vict. from farming community: esp. her interest in cattle breeding & perfection of Shorthorn, Hereford and Devon herds
1st February: A Queer Hobby, 1913: Mr Wingfield (Beds)rides pet animals - Spot (boar), Palestine (dromedary) and Peter (zebu)
2nd February: 1896: Welsh mine disaster - 57 men killed during explosion at Tylorstown pits. Out of 130 horses in the mine, 80 killed by afterdamp
3rd February: 1882: very fine badger, weighing 30lbs, caught by ploughman at Crathorne - the animal still alive and now at Crathorne Inn
4th February: 1867: Landseer's lions - wonder and awe of admirers expected the monsters to rise and walk from their pedestals
2) An all too common accident in the 1930s - a horse-drawn lorry, carrying jute, collides with a dairy motor van. Obviously the horse comes off wrost, but seems to have been able to carry on his journey.
3) The loss of beloved Queen Victoria was greatly felt by the agricultural industry because of the great interest that her Majesty took in cattle breeding - she produced Shorthorn, Hereford and Devon cattle of a 'high state of perfection' at Windsor. Her Majesty's name often headed the National Herd Book register (of pedigree cattle) and as the" Agricultural Notes" in the Western Daily Press noted: '...nothing but poignant grief wil be manifested in entertaining the reflection that never again are we destined to have the old familiar name connected with the victorious breeding successes of the Royal herd. Her Majesty shared thoroughly with her illustrious Consort not only ardent admiration for beautiful animals but for country life and farming pursuits in general...'
4) Anthony Wingfield of Ampthill Hall in Bedfordshire - eventually his menagerie was gradually moved to Whipsnade Zoo, mainly because of food shortages during WW2. His animals included numerous donkeys, llamas, ostriches and zebras - all of which were ridden. Wonderful images can be seen at the Ampthill Images website
5) The Welsh mining disaster killed 57 men and 80 horses, mainly as a result of the noxious gases released during the explosion, known as afterdamp. The general manager, Mr Hannah, described the scene under ground (after being revived by brandy): 'Then two other ostlers [stablemen] were found in the stable, in which were a large number of dead horses. Both men were on their knees in front of a chaff-bin, and it was evident that they had been killed while in the act of taking out chaff for the horses.' When some of the horses were recovered, their poisoned blood was injected into mice by Dr Haldene of the Home Office - he wanted to find out which gases were causing the horse and human death - was it carbonic acid gas as was thought, or could it be carbon monoxide? It appears that after this explosion, it became common practice for miners to take canaries down into the pits - they would become distressed and faint if afterdamp was in the atmosphere and the miners would know to make an escape - the canaries would revive in fresh air.
6) I would guess the Inn would have kept the badger for badger baiting - badgers were not uncommon, and I'm sure a 30lbs one wouldn't have made it a sensational sight which regulars would pay to see. Although the baiting of animals had been banned in 1835, the practice continued as part of village life. The ploughman would have probably dug the badger from its sett after church on a Sunday, and the animal would have been kept in a barrel at the pub and tested against dogs. The poet John Clare gives an idea of the sights and sounds of the captured badgers fate....
7) February 1867 finally saw the sculpted bronze lions surrounding Nelson's Column completed - the unfinished column to celebrate the nation's hero had been a source of embarrassment for so long. It had taken Landseer eight years to create the four lions - they replaced the Wellington horses. The London Daily News congratulated Landseer on his work: '... to recognise the earnest and devoted exercise of his genius, in the successful accomplishment of a task which much have taxed his strength and energies to the utmost, and to thank him for having given us at least one public work of art of which the nation may justly be proud as an honour to English art.' However, there was one small criticism... the colossal size of the lions almost dwarfed the column because it had been built 40ft too short!
Hannah Velten - author of