This painting by Heywood Hardy is based on a rather charming story about an elephant that walked from Edinburgh to Manchester. Maharajah was an elephant in a menagerie that eventually went out of business in Edinburgh. On 9 April 1872, an auction was held in Waverley Market where all the animals were sold off. Attending this auction was one of the owners of Belle Vue Zoological Gardens in Gorton, James Jennison, looking to expand the number of species on display at his park. Belle Vue was a successful leisure attraction and was popular with working and middle classes alike.
Maharajah was booked onto an express train from Waverly Station in Edinburgh to Piccadilly in Manchester, with an antelope, a lioness, a baboon and various other animals providing the elephant company during his sojourn. He was installed in a large horse-box; however, such accommodation was clearly not to Maharajah’s liking. There was a hullabaloo and Maharajah smashed his head out of the front of the wagon and trumpeted his pachyderm contempt for rail travel. Not satisfied with this destruction, he barged backwards into the other end of the wagon and crashed through it utterly. His keeper Lorenzo ‘the Lion Tamer’ Lawrence managed to calm him down and announced that he would walk Maharajah to Manchester.
Their march took ten days and gave Mr Jennison ample time to alert the media and stir up popular excitement about Maharajah’s arrival in Manchester. The elephant and his keeper walked about 20 miles a day and this painting represents an incident that allegedly happened somewhere along the route. Lorenzo got into an argument with a cantankerous tollgate keeper about what the charge for an elephant should be. The argument became rather heated and the gate remained closed. Maharajah once again became impatient, abruptly lifted the gate off its hinges and plodded on leaving both astonished men in his wake.
How much of this is fact and fiction has become rather muddled. One rather cynical researcher has suggested that Lorenzo engineered the normally docile Maharajah’s tantrum at Waverly Station to provide a juicy story about an otherwise humdrum journey to ensure that he kept his job. Either way, both were good publicity for Belle Vue Zoological Gardens and the Manchester Guardian happily swallowed them whole.
Maharajah’s skeleton is on display in the Manchester Museum. We are not permitted to reproduce an image of the Disputed Toll but it can be seen at http://bbc.in/W0IO8p