Little Nap
Chimpanzee circus performer dressed as Napoleon, early twentieth century.

I found this photograph of a chimp dressed as Napoleon when I was writing my first novel, The Somnambulist. At the time I'd been searching for the image of a monkey wearing a monocle and cravat, and holding a copy of Charles Darwin's 'Origin of Species'. I felt sure I'd once seen something fitting that exact description. Perhaps I'd dreamed it. I'm not sure. But, I subsequently used it in a scene of the novel.
In other novels, I've imagined a stuffed mermaid, and a dog preserved in death so as to sit inside a Brighton shop. But in my latest Victorian gothic, which is called The Fascination there is yet another monkey in an anatomy museum ...

    Eugene glances warily towards the small capuchin monkey sitting on a nearby shelf. ‘He was my mother’s. Did I tell you? I’ve never had the heart to sell him, although in truth the blasted creature was a perfect misery. Jealous of me! Can you believe? Always biting or delighting in tearing out my hair. If not that, then he’d be busy with the oiling of his whistle. I really should have had him stuffed in the act of masturbation. That might have made him happier.’ 
    The hairless, all too human-looking face of the monkey does appear to hold a sneer of special malice for the doctor ...

Not a very pleasant monkey, but a delight when compared to other hybrid creations that appear in the novel. 

As for real-life experiences, I often recall an East End restaurant which has now closed to the public. Les Trois Garcons was a baroque experience; very exotic and unique. ... as you can see from the photographs I took during one visit. And yes, that is another monkey, and a stuffed dog in fairy wings.

Stuffed tiger and monkey on display in Les Trois Garcons

Stuffed dog with wings attached, as seen at Les Trois Garcons

Thinking of dogs, you might enjoy the true story of Owney...

Owney, a type of terrier, was a stray first discovered in 1888 sleeping among the mail bags at New York's Albany post office. Quite a career lay ahead for the scruffy little dog. Soon, he was riding on the trains that ferried mail across the states, and by 1895 he'd also sailed on postal steamships, as far Asia and Europe. Owney became a kind of mascot, always thought to bring good luck. No train or boat he travelled on had ever crashed or been lost. For each successful trip, a lucky charm was then attached to a collar he wore, although in time there were so many the postmaster commissioned a special jacket to be made.
Sadly, Owney was doomed to a rather tragic end. In old age, he grew bad-tempered and when a newspaper reporter was seriously bitten, Owney was put down. Afterwards the mourning mailmen raised the funds to have him stuffed, and today he's on display in the Smithsonian Institute.

Picture taken from the Smithsonian Institutes website.

In England we have Station Jim and London Jack.

Station Jim - on display on Platform 5 at Sough railway station

From 1894-1896  Station Jim collected funds that went towards the charities formed for needy railway workers, or the orphans of employees killed while working on the lines. Based at Slough Station in Berkshire, Jim can be found on Platform 5. His glass case even still has a collection slot attached. 

This noble chap is London Jack who worked at Paddington Station from 1894-1900. During his lifetime, Jack raised £450 for charities. But, much like Jim in Slough, he carried on collecting more when he was stuffed after death. 

Jack can be seen today at the National History Museum in Tring along with many more examples of nineteenth century taxidermy.


  1. Oh, poor Owney! He looks so sweet.

    Those rabbit and kitten scenes are very like the kind of thing they had at Potter's - there were kittens singing in a choir I think, and guinea pigs playing cricket! It's rather creepy but gives an interesting insight into what the Victorians found entertaining.

  2. They created some very odd hybrids too... which takes me back to a certain mermaid!

  3. I did not know about Owney! Thanks for posting on this.

  4. Poor little Owney! He reminds me of the saddest episode of Futurama...but that's me being a total geek. As a former long-time resident of Albany I never heard of this story! Thank you so much for sharing!

  5. Thank you, Lauren and Heather. I hope you're enjoying the blog.

  6. Thank you, very interesting.