Peacock at Larmer Gardens, May 2012 [Photo by R. McGoff]

In 1885 Pitt-Rivers joined the Zoological Society of London. This probably coincided with a growth in his interest in exotic animals, and specifically into the inter-breeding of different species of animals. It is not known whether this reflects a wider interest in eugenics or purely arose from his interests in the management of his estate and the improvement of his livestock.

Bowden describes the menagerie's primary purpose as 'zoological experimentation in cross-breeding and the acclimitisation of foreign species.' [1991: 150] The menagerie was not generally open to the public but could be opened to interested visitors if they wrote in for permission. It was situated in the park that surrounded Rushmore.

Bowden relates:

'Ted Coombs recollected that the General 'had a zoo - yaks and zebras and so on. Always experimenting, he was. He crossed yaks with cows and worked them as oxen, for a curiosity. I near as nothing got killed by one - it went mad' [Bowden, 1991: 150]

He continues that:

Some of the hybrids were not unsuccessful. The Yak-Jersey and Yak-Highland oxen, 'although somewhat treacherous animals, were used in carts for hauling hay etc. They were very strong'. The llamas on the other hand had to be confined to paddocks 'on account of their causing much annoyance to the sheep by chasing them'. [Bowden 1991: 150]

Pitt-Rivers himself said of the experiments, in his guide to the attractions on his estate published in 1894:

To those interested in breeding and acclimatization, some of the breeds in the Park and paddocks at Rushmore may be worth seeing. The fallow deer has been crossed with the Mesopotamian deer, the Japanese deer with the red deer, and these again with the Formosa deer. The Yak has been crossed with the Pembroke, the Highland Cattle, the Kerry, and the Jersey. The Zebu (Indian humped cattle) with the Jersey, producing a very fine animal, and these again with the Jersey. The Park and small menagerie contains Llamas, Emus, Rheas and Kangaroos; also a small brown breed of sheep from St Kilda, which resemble the Roman sheep found in the Romano-British villages here, a breed of black four-horned sheep, piebald Assyrian sheep, and Aden sheep. The Prairie dogs have bred, but are now dead. Australian parrots stand the climate fairly well, whilst those from South America are difficult to rear. The white peacocks do not breed true, but reproduce their like occasionally. The Impeyan peacocks and Javanese peacocks have also been bred here. The Australian Bower-bird has built its bower in the bird sheds, but it is now dead. The animals in the menagerie vary from time to time. Reindeer have been let loose in the Park, but have succumbed to the heat in summer months.

Peacocks can still be seen today at the Larmer Grounds, but it is not known if they are the descendants of the ones introduced by Pitt-Rivers.

AP June 2012

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