Jumbo the Elephant

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In February 1882 a song appeared in the London Gazette that included the lines:

Jumbo said to Alice I love you
Alice said to Jumbo I don’t believe you do
For if you truly love as you say you do
You wouldn’t go to America and leave me in the zoo

The song was part of a campaign to persuade the authorities in London zoo not to sell the famous and much loved Jumbo the elephant to PT Barnum the renowned American showman. Thousands of letters were sent to the zoo, the national press and even Queen Victoria, to try and keep Jumbo at the zoo.

Jumbo had arrived as a young bull at the zoo in June 1865. By the 1880s he become an enormous (in both sense of the words attraction), weighing in at 7 tonnes and standing over 12 feet tall. It’s at this point in the story that Pickfords became involved. They were asked to transport Jumbo to New York.

Come the day of loading, Jumbo point blank refused to enter the crate that had been built for his voyage to New York. It would take many days before Jumbo would enter the crate. There was suspicion that his keeper, Matthew Scott, was training the elephant not to enter the crate to prevent his charge leaving the country. In the end PT Barnum would employ the keeper to travel with the elephant and care for him in America. It is said 15,000 people turned up at the zoo to say goodbye to Jumbo.

Jumbo’s journey to the docks was apparently quite eventful. One report says that the wagon carrying Jumbo in his crate needed a team of six horses just to pull it out of the zoo. Legend has it that the Pickfords wagon’s wheels sank into the ground three times before it even left the zoo. It then needed 10 horses to pull it along the streets of London to the docks.

There is however an alternative version of Jumbo’s trip to the docks. On being loaded into the crate, Jumbo is said to have trumpeted very loudly and seeing the tail of one of the Pickfords horses nearest to the bars of his crate, yanked the horse’s tail. Jumbo let out a cry of triumph. The horse reared and bolted. The horses in front of it, took this as the signal to start pulling. This they did at great speed charging out of the zoo. On leaving the zoo, they did not turn right to the docks but left back to their depot. On this route there was an archway which had only one inch of clearance either side of Jumbo’s crate. Thankfully the Pickfords’s team of horses and the wagon carrying the crate made it safely through and the arch remained standing!

Jumbo arrived in New York in September 1882 and after starring at PT Barnum’s show in New York toured the US and Canada for the next 4 years. Jumbo was tragically killed by a freight train, whilst being loaded in a rail yard in St Thomas Ontario. You can see his skeleton in the American Museum of Natural History in New York to this day.
Jumbo the elephant
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