Over the next few months, we’ll be taking an in-depth look at some of the iconic characters and landmarks of Exeter. This month we meet Gerald the Giraffe, who stars as the hologram on our £E1 note! Most Exonians know who Gerald is but do you know his story?
Gerald was a bull (male) Masai giraffe (also known as a Kilimanjaro giraffe), the largest subspecies of giraffe, and the tallest land mammal in the world. He weighs approximately 500kg (1102lbs) and is just over 5 metres tall from hooves to horns. Gerald has been on display at the Royal Albert Memorial Museum in Exeter since 1920, but our story starts much earlier.
It begins with infamous big-game hunter Charles Victor Alexander Peel was born in North Rode, Cheshire in 1869. Eaton-schooled Peel enjoyed hunting all over the world, from Australia, South America and China to Assam, North America and Scotland. In his book, the Popular Guide to Exhibition of Big-Game Trophies, he wrote: ‘my advice to young men is, get out of these dirty, narrow-minded towns with their many temptations, and get into the clean country, where a man worries less, for he uses his body more and his brain less, with the inevitable result that he feels well and strong, and can see and appreciate around him the beautiful works – not of man, but of God’.
Peel defended his pastime by explaining that: ‘it exercises all the faculties which go to make a man most manly. The big-game hunter must be endowed with great powers of endurance, self-denial, forbearance, and tact when dealing with the natives, and he must be able to act with great bravery, often at a moment’s notice.’
In 1901, Peel shot and killed Gerald in Moshi, Kenya, among the foothills of Mount Kilimanjaro. Not much is known about the kill, although Peel did note that: ‘they [giraffes] could be closely approached in thick bush as they were continually looking over and beyond one’, in contradiction to his previous quote. Gerald was skinned, dried, and cured on-site and, based on how the sections of skin were sewn together, cut into smaller portions for the porters to carry. He was taken by train to Mombasa from Moshi and shipped as freight to London, where he was mounted by Rowland Ward Ltd, a well-known taxidermy firm.
Just like Gerald, Peel had many of his ‘trophies’ shipped back to Oxford, England where they were displayed in his private Museum of Natural History to promote big game hunting. He offered his 160 specimen collection to the RAMM (including Gerald and the African elephant also on display at the museum) when he moved to Umberleigh, North Devon and, after Sir E. Channing Wills (a benefactor of the RAMM) offered the funds for preparation and transport, they arrived at the museum in 1919. The specimens were housed in a temporary store called the Peel Hut, also funded by Sir Channing Wills. A year after this initial donation, a further 14 skins arrived at the museum. A final collection of specimens was made by Peel’s wife in 1932, after his death the year before.
When Gerald arrived at the RAMM he was originally called George as a tribute to King George V, but was later renamed Gerald by a former museum director who wasn’t so keen on the Royal Family! He is one of only a few specimens who remained at the museum during the redevelopment that began in 2007. He spent months stored safely in a crate until he was moved out of the window on Upper Paul Street via crane and then lowered back into the museum through the roof from Northernhay Gardens. In 2014 Gerald stood as the centrepiece for the Growing for Gold show garden at the RHS Hampton Court Palace Flower Show! To read the full story please click here.
Special thanks to the Royal Albert Memorial Museum (RAMM): further information on Gerald, Mr Peel, and all the other collections housed at the museum can be found here. I highly recommend a visit!
Disclaimer: The details in this article were correct when first published in the Exeter Pound Newsletter on 29th April 2016. I wrote it while volunteering as Communications Editor for the Exeter Pound Project CIC, which was discontinued in 2018. Please click here to read about the project’s aims. For more information about my role in the project, please check out my LinkedIn profile.