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How One Of History’s Worst Taxidermy Jobs Became A Victorian Sensation

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Take a look at this walrus. This is what happens when a taxidermist is taxed with mounting an animal he's never seen before. With no idea that real walruses have copious wrinkles and folds, this Victorian just kept stuffing it and studding it until it looked smooth. Whoops.

Image: Horniman Museum and Gardens

Currently the center of the Horniman Museum and Gardens natural history gallery, this walrus was first introduced to the British public in 1886 at the Colonial and Indian Exhibition in South Kensington. At the exhibition, there was a zone devoted to Canada which contained a display on Canadian "animals and their products." At the time, James Henry Hubbard, who had provided a number of mammals for the show, said:

There is no feature of the Canadian Section, or perhaps of the whole Exhibition, that has attracted more widespread attention than the Canadian Game Trophy.


If he was being a little self-congratulatory, so was Canadian high commissioner to the UK, Sir Charles Tupper, who wrote in his report:

Mr. Hubbard's game trophy was was the chief attraction of the whole exhibition to the classes of wealth and leisure ... The numerous specimens, exhausting the catalogue of birds and beasts of the chase, were prepared with the utmost taste and skill ... The collection was constantly visited by persons of royal or aristocratic rank and it would have been impossible to contrive any more effectual means of guiding the powerful sporting element of England in the direction of Canada


To be fair, he makes no claims about the accuracy of the taxidermied creatures.

The walrus was then bought by Frederick Horniman, who eventually erected a museum to hold his collection curiosities in the 1890s. And there the walrus has had a home for over a century, except for a brief trip to the Turner Contemporary last year.

Now, according to the Horniman Museum and Gardens, the overstuffed walrus still one of their most popular exhibitions, necessitating a walrus warden and a twitter account of his very own.

Thankfully, these days the Horniman Musuem's website explains why the walrus is wrong-looking, but how many Victorians came away from the Colonial and Indian Exhibition thinking that Canada was home to a creature that looked like that?