Maharajah the Belle Vue Elephant's Skeleton at Manchester MuseumOn a recent visit to Manchester Museum I was pleasantly surprised, I noticed an exhibit that brought memories flooding back of Belle Vue. In fact the exhibit in question deserves to have a film made about his short life, whether the stories were true or not does not matter, he is without doubt part of local folklore and was a celebrity at Belle Vue. He was born around 1865, the elephant was about 7/8 years old when he was purchased in 1872 as part of a job lot at an auction, animals from Wombwell's Royal Number One Menagerie in Edinburgh were being sold off after closing down.

You have probably guessed who the elephant is by now, althought Belle Vue used many elephants over the years, giving rides to the visiting public. Maharajah was a male asiatic elephant, he had a good temperament and was usually well behaved, from his photo you will notice he had a nice pair of impressive tusks. Maharajah's story begins before he arrived in Manchester, the owner of Belle Vue James Jennison arranged for Maharajah to travel by train from Edinburgh to Manchester. Maharajah was put into a carriage, for some reason he got very upset and tried to get out of the carriage putting big holes in it, as we say in Manchester kicking off good style. The keeper Lorenzo managed to get Maharajah out and calm him down, it was decided with a suggestion from Lorenzo that he and Maharajah would walk to Manchester. It is worth mentioning a bit about Lorenzo Lawrence, who was well known as Lorenzo the Lion Tamer with Fairgrieve's menagerie, part of his act with a lion called Wallace was a re-enactment of Androcles and the Lion, he also performed with a Tigress named Tippoo, tigers were not that well liked by lion tamers because they were unpredictable. Lorenzo was at the time of Maharajah's sale effectively unemployed. So by volunteering his services to take the elephant on the long trek to Manchester he became employed again with a career that lasted over 40 years until 1912 at Belle Vue, ironically it was elephant accident that ended his career.

Maharajah and Lorenzo set off from Edinburgh on a journey of more than 200 miles to Manchester, managing about 20 miles a day, after 8 days they arrived in Bolton. The last few miles were paced so that they would arrive on a particular day, the owners of Belle Vue seized on an opportunity to advertise the arrival of Maharajah and Lorenzo, and ensured a good crowd on the saturday to welcome and cheer them on. Maharajah was a hit for the next 10 years giving younsters rides round the zoo as well as other odd jobs, accompanied by head elephant keeper Lorenzo. Painting of "The Disputed Toll" by Heywood HardyThere was a story of Maharajah and a toll gate, the person operating the toll gate did not know what to charge for an elephant, while discussions were taking place the elephant got impatient and lifted the gate off it's hinges and walked off with it. It is very unlikely this event involved Maharajah, more than likely it was another elephant, but people wanted to believe and it became part of the folklore surrounding Maharajah.

Sadly Maharajah died of pneumonia in 1882, the owners of Belle Vue even got Maharajah to work after his death, his skeleton was put on display in the natural history museum at Belle vue, he was transferred in 1941 to the Manchester Museum when the Belle Vue Museum Closed.

To this day Maharajah is still giving pleasure and is a constant reminder of how great a place Belle Vue was in it's heyday, why not go to the first floor of the Manchester Museum, take the stairs and just as you reach the top few steps, you will be greeted by a magnificent skeleton of an elephant called Maharajah.

 

Maharajah the Belle Vue Elephant's SkeletonMaharajah the Belle Vue Elephant's Skeleton at Manchester Museum

 

Maharajah the Elephant's Skeleton at Manchester Museum

Maharajah the Belle Vue Elephant's Skeleton at Manchester Museum

 

for more about Belle Vue go here and also visit the Community Video section where you will find more memories of Belle Vue.