The elephant who walked from Edinburgh to Manchester

World Elephant Day falls on 12 August every year – an occasion you may think has nothing to do with Manchester.

We can’t offer you elephant-themed cocktail deals but what we can offer is an amazing story about one Manchester elephant.

It might sound like a fairy story. But it’s not.

It goes back a long way – back to when Manchester first had its own zoo, the Belle Vue Zoological Gardens, opened in 1836 by entrepreneur John Jennison and his family.

No zoo is complete without an elephant. It’s believed that the first one to arrive was brought from Ceylon by the Jennison family in 1860.

Although information surrounding the first elephant in Manchester is rather sketchy, the second was called Sally and was particularly popular with the staff. She slept in a stable and, on occasion, even shared the staff kitchen.

But the elephant which really caught the attention of the British public and put Manchester on the map was Maharajah – the elephant who walked all the way to Manchester from Edinburgh.

Maharajah was an Asian elephant bought by the Jennison’s in 1872 when Wombwell’s Royal Number One Menagerie in Edinburgh was closing down.

It’s believed that the elephant cost about £680 (about £30,000 today) and, at eight years of age, stood over two metres tall with tusks at least 50cm long.

He had to walk to Manchester having destroyed the railway carriage of the 10.05 express train from Edinburgh Waverley that was meant to transport him.

And the story continues almost like a fairy tale. The hero who stepped in to help was not a train driver but Lorenzo Lawrence, also known as Lorenzo the Lion Tamer with Fairgrieve’s Menagerie.

At the time he encountered Maharajah, Lorenzo was effectively unemployed and jumped at the chance to help with this unusual task.

He walked Maharajah over 200 miles to Manchester from Edinburgh, managing about 20 miles a day. There are even rumours that the elephant lifted up a toll gate on route.

The last leg of the journey to Manchester was paced so the owners of Belle Vue Zoo had time to assemble a welcoming crowd.

Homage has since been paid to the elephant’s journey. Last year artist Oliver East not only created 20 comic drawings to illustrate the story, but recreated the walk himself, spending 10 days covering the distance from Edinburgh Waverley Station to Manchester Museum.

Lorenzo’s relationship with Maharajah led to a career at Belle Vue which lasted over 40 years.

Maharajah died in 1882. His skeleton was displayed at Belle Vue’s natural history museum before being transferred to Manchester Museum in 1941. And that’s where you can still see him today.

Surely worth a visit – especially on World Elephant Day.


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