The Bartlett Society's republished edition of Clinton Keeling's book Where the Lion Trod (photograph © The Bartlett Society – reproduced here on a strictly non-commercial Fair Use basis for educational/review purposes only)
I first became friends with Clinton Harry Keeling (C.H. Keeling was how he styled himself when authoring publications) back in the 1990s, when I subscribed to his self-published magazine Mainly About Animals – a fascinating pot-pourri of unusual but always memorable wildlife subjects and trivia of the kind that for the most part had lately and tragically fallen between the cracks of mainstream zoological literature. Back in the 19th century, conversely, much data of this eclectic yet also esoteric nature resided in such famous publications as the venerable, long-vanished periodical entitled The Zoologist. Now, thanks to Clinton's magazine, they could once again thrive in a veritable menagerie of natural history miscellanea, its contents written by Clinton and also a host of enthusiastic contributors.
'Menagerie' is a very apposite word to use here, because one of the most outstanding features of both Clinton and his periodical was the extraordinary wealth of knowledge that this man and his magazine encapsulated regarding the history of British zoos, animal parks, menageries, and travelling sideshows that exhibited animals down through the centuries. A self-taught zoologist born in 1932 who went on to run his own zoological park, establish a highly successful and exceedingly popular wildlife education service lecturing in schools and generally accompanied by various of his exotic animals, Clinton spent a lifetime acquiring this specialized knowledge and enthusiastically disseminated it via innumerable articles published in countless periodicals, both scientific and popular-format.
Sharing his love for this selfsame subject, Clinton and I soon began corresponding on all manner of related themes, especially concerning the possible identity of certain mysterious creatures that had been displayed in such exhibitions at one time or another – and during our correspondence I learned that over the course of time he had self-published an extensive series of books compiling and preserving for future generations this priceless historical material that might otherwise be lost. Having said that, it may indeed have been preserved, but actually accessing it was another matter entirely, inasmuch as these uniquely precious books proved to be just as elusive as some of the controversial beasts documented within them. Consisting of nine volumes in all, among aficionados they were – and still are – fondly referred to as Clinton's Where the… books, on account of their titles' shared tag words. And so, beginning in 1984, they consisted of Where the Lion Trod, Where the Crane Danced (published in 1985), Where the Zebu Grazed (1989), Where the Elephant Walked (1991), Where the Macaw Preened (1993), Where the Penguin Plunged (1995), Where the Leopard Lazed (1999), Where the Peacock Screamed (2002), and Where the Camel Strode (2003 – just four years before Clinton passed away).
Once I learned of these works, I diligently sought them out both online and in physical bookshops far and wide, nationally and internationally – including at Hay-on-Wye, the world-famous 'Town of Books' on the English-Welsh border that at its height contained around 40 second-hand book shops, which I frequented many times each year, purchasing numerous books, but without ever spotting any of Clinton's above-listed ones. Unsurprisingly, any spare copies that Clinton himself may once have owned were long gone, and so my search continued, and intensified – indeed, to a zoobibliophile like I am it became akin to finding the Holy Grail in printed form – but all to no avail. And then, last year, yet another online search by me made a sensational discovery – with permission granted by Clinton's widow Pam, a British natural history society had actually republished the first of Clinton's never-to-be-found ninesome and was planning to republish all of the remaining eight too!
The society in question was The Bartlett Society, named in honour of Abraham Dee Bartlett, the eminent 19th-Century superintendent of the Zoological Society of London's gardens at Regent's Park, devoted to studying yesterday's methods of keeping wild animals, and founded in 1984 by none other than a certain C.H. Keeling! (Click here to visit its website.) When I contacted the Society informing them of my longstanding friendship with Clinton but my hitherto fruitless search for his books and my passionate interest in reading and reviewing their recently published edition of Where the Lion Trod, they very kindly sent me a review copy. Suddenly, after more than two decades, my quest for the first – indeed, for any – of Clinton's legendary Where the… books was at an end, as I found myself holding an exceedingly handsome A4-sized hardback book (RRP £24.95) with crimson covers and truly enthralling contents ensconced within its 146 pages.
Much has changed, especially with regard to zoological classification and animal husbandry, since Where the Lion Trod first appeared in 1984, but in order to preserve its original form and historical significance the Society has made what I feel to have been a wise decision, in that apart from correcting a few typos it has elected to leave the book's content unaltered, so that it remains essentially the very same volume that Clinton wrote more than three decades ago. The only notable difference, and one that is definitely very useful to the modern-day reader, is the addition at the end of each of its 20 principal chapters by the book's editor, John Adams, of an appendix containing a list of all of the animals referred to in it, plus some beneficial explanatory notes and updates where necessary. Each principal chapter is devoted to a different menagerie or zoological garden, arranged chronologically, beginning with the Tower of London Menagerie (c.1245-1832) in Chapter 2 (Chapter 1 is Clinton's own setting-the-stage introduction), and progressing chapter by chapter through such significant establishments as the Exeter 'Change and Surrey Zoological Garden, Windsor Park, the first Liverpool Zoological Garden, the Manchester Zoological Garden, the first Edinburgh Zoological Garden, the Cardiff Zoological Garden, and so on, ending in Chapter 20 with the Maidstone Zoological Garden, which closed in 1959. An additional chapter, entitled Final Cogitations, provides a concise, thoughtful conclusion and in turn offers much food for thought as to what is still to come in the subsequent eight Where the… books.
The Bartlett Society's edition of Clinton Keeling's previously-unpublished book Ligers, Tigons and Other Hybrid Mammals (photograph © The Bartlett Society – reproduced here on a strictly non-commercial Fair Use basis for educational/review purposes only)
Within each of the principal chapters, the content is standard, consisting of the history of how the establishment came into existence, the most notable animals that it exhibited at one time or another, where these animals originated and what happened to them once the establishment finally closed, and as previously noted a list of these animals – which for me is an especially fascinating portion, because it invariably includes a number of mystifying creatures whose zoological identities remain uncertain or entirely unresolved. Like me, Clinton had always been interested in cryptozoology, the investigation of animals whose existence or identity has yet to be ascertained by mainstream science, and he was not averse to speculating that some of the most baffling beasts exhibited at some of these menageries and zoological parks might actually have been species then-unknown and possibly even still unknown to science. Indeed, I have previously documented in a ShukerNature article (click here to access it) that some such beasts were the subject of an extensive communication sent to me by Clinton many years ago, in which he speculated that more than a century earlier some bona fide specimens of the Nandi bear – an infamously ferocious but formally unconfirmed Kenyan mystery mammal – may actually have been exhibited alive in Britain. Clinton was also very interested in hybrid animals, especially mammals, and referred to various examples that were exhibited in the establishments documented by him here. (Interestingly, he even wrote a book on this subject, Ligers, Tigons and Other Hybrid Mammals, pictured above, although it existed only in manuscript form until published by the Society in 2016, and is currently out of print – another Keeling book quest requires my undertaking, methinks!)
Last but by no means least, this already very sumptuous volume is made even more so by the addition of a series of exquisite reproductions of rare vintage illustrations of some of the zoos and their animals, scattered through the chapters. They serve very effectively, and evocatively, in conjuring these erstwhile establishments forth from the shadows of the distant (and sometimes not so distant) past, and breathing a visual life back into them, giving us a precious, seldom-seen glimpse of their heydays, as well as their triumphs, treasures, and tragedies.
I had planned to review this wonderful book some time ago, but as we all know only too well, 2020 has had other ideas as to what would be concentrating our minds and transforming our lives during the several past and likely many succeeding months, so my writings have fallen somewhat behind. Happily, however, I can now via this review wholeheartedly recommend The Bartlett Society's well-presented and extremely welcome resurrection of Clinton's first Where the… book, which I guarantee unreservedly will enthrall and entertain for a long time to come all readers with an interest in the history of zoological gardens in Britain and the vast array of extraordinary animals that they housed, often providing their astonished visitors with the very first views of their exotic species ever obtained on these shores.
I now await with bated breath the republication of Clinton's remaining eight volumes – who knows what surprises and delights await within their all-too-long unseen contents? (Indeed, even as I write this, his second book, Where the Crane Danced, is due to be published soon by the Society and can be pre-ordered there – click here.) Whatever they do contain, I do know with certainty that Clinton would heartily approve of his researches being made available to new and old generations of readers alike. I feel very privileged to have been one of his many friends, and to have been able to review this first volume in the much-deserved renaissance of his greatest works.
Incidentally, I had originally planned to list and briefly examine here some of the still-contentious beasts of mystifying, zoologically-opaque nature exhibited at certain of the establishments documented in this delightful book, but that would spoil the fun for its readers. Consequently, I'll leave them unconsidered, so that you can cogitate and reflect upon their putative identities for yourself when you buy it!
My sincere thanks to John Adams at The Bartlett Society for most generously providing me with a complimentary review copy of Where the Lion Trod.
Coming shortly - The Bartlett Society's soon-to-be republished edition of Clinton Keeling's book Where the Crane Danced (photograph © The Bartlett Society – reproduced here on a strictly non-commercial Fair Use basis for educational/review purposes only)