14th August 2015
Gabriel Rossetti famously loved animals. So much in fact, that he bought a wombat from Charles Jamrach’s shop, on the Ratcliffe Highway in East London, which was the largest exotic pet shop in the world at this time. Jamrach became the leading importer, breeder and exporter of animals and sold them all around the world to zoos, menageries and noblemen. If you are reading this and are wondering why such shops don’t exist anymore, this story (as well as the obvious animal abuse issues) might shed some light on it! In 1857, a Bengal tiger escaped, and chose a nine year old passing boy to pick up and carry off, until Jamrach forced his hands down the tiger’s throat to force him to let the boy go. The boy was awarded £300 in damages after the incident- but the bronze statue near the entrance to Tobacco Dock commemorates the tiger’s adventures!
Living in Chelsea with a variety of animals including kangaroos, a racoon, a deer, owls, peacocks, a zegu, two laughing jackasses and many more, let to quite a few noise complaints by his neighbours, who weren’t amused about his ever growing collection of exotic animals. Rossetti had two wombats, the famous Top was one of them, he didn’t live long due to Rossetti not knowing how to care for such animals, whom is rumoured to have died as a result of eating Rossetti’s expensive cigars.
We named our Wombat Flora. Wightwick manor had been decorated with Morris interiors, and his contemporaries from the Arts and Crafts movement, by Theodore and Flora Mander, and we therefore thought it a fitting name!
(Lots of information on Rossetti and his exotic animals can be found here)