Zoological Society Foundation and Development and the story of its farm, museum, gardens, menagerie and library.
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Although the Society did not come into existence till 1826, for some years previous various influences were at work that rendered the establishment of such a body not only desirable but necessary. Activity in exploration had increased the sum of human knowledge with respect to the animal kingdom; collections of living beasts, birds and reptiles, skins and fossils, were yearly brought to our shores, and a growing desire for information with regard to them was manifested by educated people generally. As a consequence, existing Societies were unable to deal adequately with the zoological papers presented, or to allow time at their meetings for the discussion of zoological subjects. And during the first quarter of the nineteenth century the only collections of living animals accessible to dwellers in the metropolis were the Royal Menagerie in the Tower and the private one of Mr. E. Cross at Exeter 'Change', just east of Burleigh Street, in the Strand. A visit to the Royal Menagerie near the Sandpit Gate in Windsor Park was not to be lightly undertaken.
This Society was instituted in 1826 under the auspices of Sir T. Stamford Baffles, Sir Humphry Davy, Bart., and other eminent individuals, for the advancement of Zoology, and the introduction and exhibition of subjects of the Animal Kingdom alive or in a state of preservation.
The public were informed that the Gardens in Regent's Park had been pegged out, and that workmen were actively employed upon them. Those interested in the project were invited to inspect the plans and drawings at Bruton Street, and the hope was expressed that the Gardens would be opened in the course of the summer.
The Zoological Society, recently instituted in London, contemplates a more practical cultivation of science than any other which exists. They not only meditate the establishment of a museum, which has already been enriched by the private collection of Mr. Vigors and the Sumatran collection of the late Sir Stamford Raffles; but every exertion will also be made to obtain an osteological collection, and in the end to establish a Menagerie, Aviary, and Piscina. Every lover of Natural History will rejoice to hear that their Museum will be open to the public in the ensuing spring. At the close of the year there were 342 members, whose subscriptions, with those received in 1825, amounted to £1,829, and the expenditure was £679.
In 1829 this was removed to the King's Mews, the site of which is now occupied by the National Gallery.
The first Report printed appears to be that presented by the Council to the General Meeting held April 29, 1829. Yarrell's copy, now in the possession of the Society, bears on the title the word "First" in his handwriting.
The first General Meeting was held at the House of the Horticultural Society, Regent Street, on April 29, and about a hundred persons were present, but only Sir Stamford Raffles, Lord Lansdowne, and the Lord Mayor are mentioned, the rest being covered by an "etc." Sir Stamford was called to the chair, on the motion of Sir Humphry Davy; and, after some formal business, the following resolutions were proposed by the Chairman and carried unanimously:
I. That a Society to be designated the "Zoological Society" be instituted for the advancement of zoological knowledge.
II. That the attention of the Society be directed to the following objects: The formation of a collection of living animals; a museum of preserved animals, with a collection of comparative anatomy; and a library connected with the subject.
III. That the Society shall consist of such members as have already subscribed their names as desirous of joining the Society, or who shall do so on or before the 1st of January next, with the approbation of the Council and of such other members as shall subsequently be admitted by ballot.
IV. That the funds of the Society shall consist of the admission fees and annual contributions of the Members, together with such donations as may be received in furtherance of the objects of the Society. V. That the affairs of the Society shall be directed by a President, Treasurer, Secretary, and Council, the officers being members of the Council.
VI. That the Council shall consist of eighteen Members, exclusive of the officers, and five shall be a quorum.
VII. That the President shall nominate Vice-Presidents from the Council.
VIII. That the President of the Royal Society, the Presidents of the Linnean and Horticultural Societies, and the Presidents of the Colleges of Physicians and Surgeons for the time being shall be ex officio members of the Society.
IX. That the Council shall have the management of the Society during the first year, at the end of which, or sooner, they shall submit to the Members detailed regulations for the government of the Society.
X. The President, Secretary, and Treasurer shall form a Standing Committee for the charge of the collections and for receiving such presents as may be made to the Society.
XI. That committees shall be appointed from time to time for the superintendence and direction of the different departments of the Society's establishment.
XII. That the property and effects of the Society shall be vested in three or more Trustees.
XIII. That Members admitted on or before the 1st of January next shall be considered as original members, and shall pay for admission fee and subscription for the present year the sum of five pounds, and two pounds annually, commencing in January, 1827, or the sum of £25 as a donation.
We learn that in the Menagerie and Gardens (not yet open to the public) nearly two hundred living animals were exhibited in suitable paddocks, dens, and aviarie; "as two beautiful llamas, a leopard, kangaroos, a Russian bear, ratel, ichneumons, etc., etc., besides a pair of emus, cranes, gulls, gannets, corvorants, various gallinaceous birds, and many others."
The visitor entering the Garden from the Public Drive, as the Outer Circle was then called, would pass a rustic lodge, on the spot now occupied by the Main Entrance. Part of the Terrace was laid out, and the bear pit built, as was the llama house on the left. To the right of the Terrace was pasture land, and the boundary ran in a direct line from the western side of the bear pit to the opposite hedge, the intention at first being to continue the Terrace right across. On the left walks were made, and some ponds for waterfowl constructed, while a good many movable dens and cages were dotted about on the green turf.
The "thick ungrateful clay" of the Park was found to be the cause of increased expense in the construction of houses. Consideration for the health of the animals necessitated oak floors, and a thick layer of dry material had to be deposited under enclosures and walks. These disadvantages, however, were considered "amply counterbalanced by the vicinity of the site to town." Flower-beds were laid out, and the Horticultural Society was very liberal in sending supplies for this purpose. An account of the stock puts the number of species and varieties belonging to the Society at 194, of which 69 were "quadrupeds," i.e. mammals, and 125 birds; there were 152 examples of the mammalian and 475 of the avian species, so that the collection consisted of 627 animals, of which the larger portion was in the Garden. There were few that would be considered rare at the present day, but some of the "larger and stronger quadrupeds" were promised as soon as dens and enclosures could be prepared for them.
Towards the close of the year the tunnel was made connecting the two Gardens, and the Repository was built at the east end of the North Garden. This served for the reception of animals on their arrival, and as a place in which to keep those that needed protection. It has been, in turn, the lion house, a reptile house, a small cats' house, and is now the squirrels' house.
A very important part of this year's work was the establishment of a farm under the wall of Richmond Park at Kingston Hill. The Council described it in their Report as well adapted for the work of the Society. With the exception of two or three meadows it consisted of covert and arable land with a light dry soil, and was well supplied with springs, so that stews and fish-ponds might easily be added.
(Partial text:) The Zoological Society of London. This Edition is limited to 1,000 copies, of which this is No.377. 1905. Henry Scherren, F.Z.S., Member of the British Ornithologists; Union.