The First Elephant in Scotland, 1681

In his Memorialls, the presbyterian minister, Robert Law, recorded the wonder of seeing a ‘bonnie’ elephant in Glasgow in January, 1681:

‘Anno 1680, came an elephant to Brittain, bought by the English merchants at 2000 lib. Sterling, and was sent through the island for sight to gain money; never was there any elephant seen in Scotland before, and it was brought to Glasgow, January 1681, and was seen by many; it was then eleven yeirs old; a great beast with a great body, and a great head, small eyes and dull, lowged like two skats, lying closs to its heid, having a large trunk coming down fra the nether end of the forehead, of length a yard and a half, in the undermost part small, with a nosthrill, by which trunk it breath’d and drank, casting up its meat and drink in its mouth below it, having two large and long bones or teeth of a yard length coming from the upper jaw of it, and at the far end of them inclyning one to another, by which it digs the earth for roots, and then with the trunk takes them up and casts them in the mouth under it, as it does all other meat it eats; it was backed lyke a sow, the taill of it lyke to a cow’s, the legs of it were big, lyke pillars or great posts, and broad feet, with toes lyke round lumps of flesh. It was a male that we saw, and was taught to floorish the collours with the trunk of it, and to shoot a gunn, and to bow the knees of it, and to make reverence with its big heid. They also rode upon it. Plinie writes of them, that they are ten yeirs in conception ere they bring forth, and that they live 200 years, and when its past 60, it is then but past its youth; that they are chast and honest to their dames, great lovers, and very sagacious creatures. In their countries they use to go to the battell with them, and fight on their backs. They grow till they be of 30 yeirs, and then are very big; this was but ane young one, but of a monstrous great grouth, though young. A man told me he saw one whose teeth weighed 250 weight. It has no hair upon the skin of it, but a rough tannie skin, and lirking throughout all its body; the trunk of it lirks, and it contracts it, and draws it in, and dilates and lets it out, as it pleases; it comes down frae the foreheid and streatches out long, great at the root of it, and small at the end, and the nearer the end the smaller. Under it is its mouth, it opens it wide, and is ahle to receive a man’s head in it; the tongue of it lyes close in it’s mouth; the two bones, or teeth of it, as they come from the upper jaw, so they are extended in length before the mouth of it. It’s feet are not hooved, as horse or cows, but bonnie, with thick flesh upon them, and the sools of it are of soft flesh; the feet round, as was said, proportionable to the great legs of it. By it’s trunk it did all it does, took it’s meat, corn, and straw, and loaves off” the ground, casting them in it’s mouth below it’s trunk; takes up any thing with it; it’s for use as a hand to it for any thing. Let this great creature on earth, and the whale at sea, be compared with a midge and mennow, and behold what deep counsell, and great wisdom and power, is with the great God, the creator and preservour of both. O! his great works, sought out of all these that take pleasure in them. In the back parts of it, from the place that the draught passes, to the mid leg, is covered with flesh and skin, through and throw between the legs, covering the pudenda under its belly that they are not seen. When it drinks it sucks up the water with it’s trunk, which holds a great dale of water, and then putting the low end of the trunk in it’s mouth, by wynding it in, it jaes in the water in it’s mouth as from a great spout.’ (Law, Memorialls, 176.)

For more on elephants in early modern Britain, see here.


~ by drmarkjardine on August 12, 2011.

2 Responses to “The First Elephant in Scotland, 1681”

  1. The must have caused a great stir indeed. Interestingly, according to Fountainhall; When Dalrymple persisted in his statement that the people in Galloway were “orderly and regular,” Claverhouse apparently retorted, ‘that there were as many elephants and crocodiles in Galloway as loyal and regular persons’. “Meaning” (as Fountainhall goes on to explain) ” that there were none of either which was a bold accusation and reflection on a whole shire.”

  2. […] many things he recorded were the great comets of 1680 and 1682, a tornado on the River Clyde and the first elephant in Scotland. He was also interested in providential signs and warnings, strange visions and apparitions, as one […]

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