Come with me into the graveyard, all human life is here

Category: Animals

Tipu: The Sultan, his Tiger, and his Mausoleum

The Victoria and Albert has always been my favourite museum, and Tipu’s Tiger one of my favourite exhibits. Made from Indian jack wood carved and painted, the Tiger straddles a near life-size, red coated British officer. French engineers at Tipu’s court constructed the tiger’s mechanism which is operated by a crank handle causing the soldier’s arm to lift as he wails and squeals in response to the tiger’s mauling, while the latter grunts.

Tipu’s Tiger Savages a Redcoat

Tipu Sultan (Sultan Fateh Ali Sahab Tipu, 1751-1799), also known as the Tiger of Mysore (Sher-e-Mysuru), became the Muslim ruler of the Kingdom of Mysuru in South India following the death of his father, Hyder Ali, in 1782. He fought against the  British East India Company in the four Anglo-Mysuru Wars, seeking to check the Company’s advance into southern India.

The tiger was Tipu’s state symbol: an apocryphal story has him face to face with one who pounced while he was out hunting; when his gun failed Tipu killed the tiger with his dagger. What is certain is that  tiger motifs and stripes decorated the walls of his palaces and the uniforms of his soldiers. In the summer palace, Daria Daulet Bagh, at Srirangapatna,  his golden throne set with rubies and diamonds stood on a life size wooden tiger and was embellished with tiger head finials. The hilts of his swords, his rings, his cannon, the pole ends of his palanquins all flaunted tigers. And in his music room sat the magnificent automaton.

Tipu had built his summer palace  after the Second Anglo-Mysuru War. Lavish decoration covers the interior with floral designs on the ceiling and murals of his campaigns on the walls. The depiction of the victory of Hyder Ali and Tipu over the English under Colonel Bailee at the battle of Pollilur in 1780 shows a nervous looking Bailee cowering in his palanquin despite being surrounded by his redcoats.

Scene from Second Anglo-Mysuru War
Bailee in his pallanquin surrounded by redcoats…
…but still looking very nervous

The Third War  however ended in defeat for Tipu when the Nizam of Hyderabad, seeing which way the wind was blowing, changed sides and signed a subsidiary alliance with the British East India Company. He is portrayed alongside a cow and a pig; the reference is not designed to be complimentary.

The Nizam of Hyderabad is pointedly portrayed accompanied by a pig and a cow

Tipu was forced, by the Treaty of Srirangapatna 1792, to  surrender half of his kingdom to British East India Company  and its allies, and  two of his sons were handed over to Cornwallis as hostages until he paid indemnities. A painting displayed in the palace, today a museum, shows the children with their custodian and Tipu’s Ambassador to France, Mir Ghulam Ali, who accompanied them to Madras (Chennai). Alongside are portraits of Tipu himself, one by  an unknown Indian artist and one  by Zoffany.

The sons of Tipu Sultan, accompanied by Mir Ghulam Ali, were sent to Cornwallis in Madras (Chennai) as hostages until Tipu paid indemnities to the British
Tipu Sultan painted by an unknown Indian artist
Tipu painted by Zoffany

Seven years later Tipu’s defeat and death at the hands of  the British  when they breached the city walls at  the Siege of Srirangapatna, brought the fourth Anglo-Mysuru war to an end. When his advisers urged him to escape via secret passages, Tipu responded: “Better to live one year as a tiger, than a thousand years as a sheep.”(or, in some versions, a jackal)

His death was celebrated with a public holiday in Britain, and the soldiers plundered his palace before the “formal” distribution of loot was organised by the “prize committee,” with the most senior officers  receiving the most valuable treasures. The magnificent Tiger Throne was broken up and the parts distributed to the Company’s officers. Some of the most precious items were sent to the British royal family, including three hunting cheetahs. The mechanical tiger was housed in the museum of the East India Company and when the company was dissolved, and the museum closed, its artefacts were divided between the British Museum and the Victoria and Albert. And so the tiger came to South Kensington.

Tipu’s body, recovered from where it lay near the Hoally Gateway of the fort, was buried beside his parents in the Gumbaz (mausoleum) which he had built for them. A majestic structure, built in the Persian style with an elevated platform supported by black granite pillars, it is surrounded by landscaped gardens.

Tipu’s body was found near the Hoally Gateway of the fort at Srirangapatna
Tipu’s Gumbaz (Mausoleum) at Srirangapatna

Tipu’s wife and sisters did not quite merit admission to the Gumbaz but are buried in the gardens.

Tipu’s Wife
One of Tipu’s sisters

Another Grave which makes me Smile: Norman Thelwell

Norman Thelwell (1923-2004) produced talented landscapes in watercolours and oils. He was better known however for his prolific output of cartoons; some poked gentle fun at human foibles, but it was the Thelwell Pony which brought him lasting celebrity and gave pleasure to generations of children and adults. The pony cartoons were born in the 1950s when, in a field viewed from his studio, Thelwell observed two fat, hairy, bad tempered ponies called Thunder and Lightning. In his autobiography he wrote:

They were owned by two little girls about three feet high who could have done with losing a few pounds themselves. They would arrive to collect their mounts in yellow pullovers, tiny jodhpurs, and velvet safety helmets. Thunder and Lightning would pointedly ignore them, but as the children got near, the ponies would swing round and give a few lightning kicks which the children would sidestep calmly. They had the head collars on those animals before they knew what was happening. I was astonished at how meekly they were led away, but they were plotting vengeance – you could tell by their eyes.

There followed a lifetime association with the trademark plump, stubborn ponies and their equally plump, determined riders. The comic strip  Penelope and Kipper featured in the Sunday Express, and the collections of cartoons  came out on a regular basis, delighting not just Pony Club Members but  a whole spectrum of children and adults.

On the hundredth anniversary  of his birth this year two exhibitions celebrate the work of Thelwell: one at Mottisfont, a National Trust property near his home in Hampshire, the other at the Cartoon Museum in London. The latter features his work alongside that of other cartoonists and environmentalists in an event in support of climate recovery and carbon neutrality. Entitled Norman Thelwell Saves the Planet, it pays tribute to the prescient  concerns raised in  his work The Effluent Society (1971), a humorous but heartfelt plea to take better care of the natural world.

In lieu of commonplace angels  sounding the last trump, Thelwell’s gravestone in St. Andrew’s churchyard at Timsbury, Hampshire features  two resolute little girls with herald trumpets blasting the peace of the graveyard undaunted at being bounced out of their saddles by their recalcitrant ponies.

Thelwell’s gravestone

The Sad Fate of Giro the Nazi Dog

One of the saddest little graves in London is that of a terrier who  endures a distressing notoriety as “Giro the Nazi Dog,” and whose grave marker is said to be Britain’s only Nazi memorial.

Setting aside the preposterous assumption that a dog might hold political opinions, his owner too was innocent of this slur. Giro belonged to Dr. Leopold von Hoesch who was the German Ambassador to the United Kingdom between 1932 and 1936. Von Hoesch came to London following postings in Peking, Madrid, and Paris, as the representative of the Weimar Republic. He lived at 9 Carlton House Terrace, which, as Prussia House, had been the official residence of Prussian Ambassadors since the nineteenth century. After a brief hiatus during the First World War representatives of the Weimar Republic returned to the residence in 1920. Von Hoesch was by all accounts a respected statesman, popular in Britain, and critical of the Nazi regime. He was dismayed when Hitler secured the position of Chancellor in 1933 meaning that he himself became by default the representative of the Third Reich in Britain. He was particularly censorious of von Ribbentrop, and he denounced Hitler’s invasion of the Rhineland in 1936 in direct contravention of the Treaty of Versailles and the Locarno Treaties.

Giro died in the garden of the  Ambassador’s residence in 1934, allegedly after chewing on a live electrical cable. He was buried in the garden but claims that he was given a funeral with full Nazi honours are entirely apocryphal.

The Ambassador himself died at the Embassy two years later of a heart attack at the age of only fifty-five, and the British government granted him an extraordinary funeral parade before his coffin was shipped back to Germany. The coffin was draped in the Nazi flag, by this time the official flag of Germany. As it left Carlton House the German embassy staff crowded the terraces outside and gave the Nazi salute. British government ministers accompanied the cortege as it moved down The Mall. The German national anthem played at Victoria Station and a nineteen-gun salute was fired at Dover as the body was transferred to  a British destroyer which conveyed it to Germany. The Pathe News coverage of the event is  disturbing,  making for queasy watching, and although Hoesch almost certainly had clean hands,  it is hard not to wonder at the wisdom and motivations of those who permitted and organised this event.

 ( and search for von Hoesch funeral).

But certainly, in Berlin no representative of the Nazi Party attended von Hoesch’s funeral.

Ironically it was  von Ribbentrop, of whom Hoesch had  evinced a particular loathing,  who replaced him as German Ambassador. A key member of the Nazi regime von Ribbentrop employed Albert Speer to “improve” the Embassy with a massive staircase made from marble donated by Mussolini, and, reputedly, a swastika mosaic on one of the floors . But two years later von Ribbentrop’s tenure was abruptly ended, and the Embassy closed. When the German Embassy reopened post war it relocated to Belgrave Square.

In the 1960s builders excavating the former Embassy garden to create an underground car park discovered Giro’s grave.  They moved the stone a short distance to its present location at the top of the Duke of York Steps, beneath a tree in a small enclosure outside 9 Carlton House Terrace. The inscription reads:


EIN TREUER BEGLEITER! (a faithful companion)



Giro’s stone outside Carlton House Terrace

It is a bleak location, cold and cheerless. The large, white stucco-faced houses, adorned with pompous pillars, form terraces of unrelieved monotony and smug, dismal uniformity. Steep steps down to the Mall and the absence of people engender a dreary and sterile atmosphere. For many of the houses today are expensive, unoccupied investment properties or exclusive meeting places. It is an area without heart or soul. And poor Giro lies alone in his odd little enclosure. Far better across the Mall in the bustle of pretty St. James’s Park or a little further west in the pet cemetery of Hyde Park.

So, if you are passing, pause to greet Giro, and remember, in the implausible event that he has any political affiliation, he is not The Nazi Dog but The Weimar Dog.

Jenner, Jesty, Mary Wortley Montagu and Blossom

“ I have had my fifth Covid jab as I am immunocompromised,” read a text from my friend, “they can call me whatever they want as long as I am jabbed, jabbed, jabbed.” “ I had pneumonia with my flu jab last autumn,” I countered, but I was outclassed. “Doesn’t cut the mustard,” came the reply “fifth Covid trumps pneumonia.” My friend and I embrace our vaccinations; we belong to the fortunate generation who until recently took for granted the protection afforded to us throughout our lives by vaccines. I have no memory of receiving my smallpox, polio, and diphtheria inoculations but I remember  the sepia photograph on my grandparents’ bedroom wall of a seven-year-old boy in a sailor suit, their son who had died of diphtheria,  and the  two slightly older children in my primary school who wore callipers having contracted polio. Neither disease ever posed a threat to me. In our teenage years when my school friends and I received our BCG vaccinations we gave little thought to  tuberculosis but  speculated enthusiastically on whether our crocodiling from school to the clinic and back might involve missing maths or Latin. Personally, I hoped to miss games, but this was not a popular view. In adulthood  vaccinations  ensured my safety on holidays: typhoid, hepatitis and cholera became routine, immunisation against yellow fever spoke of exotic destinations.

The Covid pandemic  shook my complacency breaching the defences of my protected, inoculated western world, and I was afraid. When in December 2020 Margaret Keenan received the first licensed vaccine against Covid, developed by Ugur Sahin and Ozlem Tureci, I rejoiced. On a bitterly cold day in February 2021, I joined other exultant, albeit masked and socially distanced, individuals at Shepton  Mallet Social Services Hub where we thanked effusively the shivering but cheerful volunteers who told us where to park and those who managed the queue in the freezing hall with its doors and windows flung wide, reserving our most effusive thanks of all for those who administered our jabs.

Later, as the third lockdown passed, I made newly appreciative and grateful visits to early vaccinators.

A weathered slab beside the altar in the church of St. Mary the Virgin, Berkeley marks the grave of Edward Jenner along with his parents, wife, and son.

Grave of Edward Jenner

Having  noticed the immunity of milkmaids from smallpox, and linked this to their exposure to cowpox, which he believed protected them, in 1796 Jenner injected James Phipps, the eight-year-old son of his gardener, with pus scraped from the blisters of a milkmaid  who had contracted cowpox from a cow called Blossom. Six weeks later when he inoculated the boy with smallpox there were no ill effects. Jenner set up a hut in his garden, the Temple of Vaccinia,  offering free vaccinations to the poor.

The Temple of Vaccinia

Jenner’s discovery however was not universally welcomed: sections of the clergy  held it ungodly and unnatural to inoculate people with material from a diseased animal, others feared the effects. The cartoonist Gillray, who pictured people growing cows’ heads after having the vaccine, satirised the credulity of extreme opponents. When vaccination with the cowpox became compulsory in 1853 there were protest marches and calls for freedom of choice. It was not until 1980 that the World Health Organisation was able to declare that “smallpox is dead,” and today specimens remain in only two laboratories in the USA and Siberia for research purposes, held, it is said, with greater security than the nuclear bomb. An exhibition in Jenner’s house, next door to the church,  traces the horrible effects of smallpox and the history of the vaccine.

But Jenner was not  the first to inoculate with cowpox. In the graveyard of St. Nicholas in Worth Maltravers I visited the recently restored grave of Benjamin Jesty. Twenty-two years before Jenner, during  the smallpox epidemic in 1774, the Dorset farmer inoculated his wife and two children with a darning needle coated in pus drawn from lesions on an infected cow . Although his vaccine was widely used by country doctors and farmers,  Jesty  too had met with ridicule and hostility not least from  members of the medical establishment. He wrote his own epitaph  describing himself as “the first person that introduced the cowpox by inoculation.” His wife, fittingly commemorated in a grave alongside him, added the more cautious and modest “known” in parenthesis.

Grave of Benjamin Jesty, the first person (known) that introduced the cowpox by inoculation
Jesty’s wife, Elizabeth, first person (known) that received the cowpox by inoculation
Graves of the Jestys

 Before Jesty or Jenner the exotic Lady Mary Wortley Montagu had brought variolation,  inoculation with pus taken from someone with smallpox itself to produce a mild infection and then immunity in the recipient, to Europe in 1721. The practice was widespread in Africa and Asia, and after observing it in Constantinople where her husband was ambassador, she had her own children inoculated. Later she encouraged trials on Newgate prisoners: faced with execution they were offered the alternative of receiving the inoculation and their freedom if they survived. Happily, all survived. The practice was also trialled on orphans. Criticism of Montagu focused not on the dubious morality of these trials but on fears of the results  and a certain prejudice against oriental medicine. Controversial though the process was  the Straffords at Wentworth Castle  had their children treated. When their  son  inherited the estate he dedicated the Sun Monument, an obelisk  in the gardens of Wentworth, to Montagu. She is buried in the vault of Grosvenor Chapel  in London.

And Blossom? Jenner kept her hide and horns when she died. Today her hide hangs proudly in the library at  St. George’s Hospital Medical School where Jenner did his medical training, but they admit that her horns are wooden copies, a letter in their archives suggesting that an impecunious relative of Jenner’s may have sold the originals to an American university in the 1930s.

Blossom’s hide, St. George’s Hospital Medical School

The museum at Jenner’s House has in its possession no less than seven horns: one magnificent specimen lying on the desk in Jenner’s study bears a silver inscription attesting proudly that  Jenner himself polished it and gave it  as a gift; two others are on display in a glass case.

A horn on the desk in Jenner’s study, inscribed by Jenner
A pair of horns in a glass case in the Jenner museum may be those of Blossom

Rival claimants to the “true horns” include the George Marshall Medical Museum in Worcester which owns a pair; the Thackery Museum in Leeds has another two; the Science museum has one and so does the Old Operating Theatre. But Blossom’s finest memorial, and that of Jenner, Jesty and Montagu, is the protection bestowed on us  with every inoculation we receive.

Thank you, Blossom

Doorkins Magnificat

Southwark is my favourite Cathedral, not least for the warmth of the welcome always extended by the volunteer guides. It was one of them who first introduced me to Doorkins Magnificat. Leading the way to the Bishop’s Chair he indicated a tabby cat comfortably asleep on the cushion. “I always have to check on her” he whispered, “the first thing my wife asks me when I get home is ‘how was Doorkins today?’” Doorkins, he explained, first appeared at the south-west door of the cathedral in 2008. Named by one of the vergers, she was timid at first but after a few weeks of being fed decided to make the cathedral her home, sleeping there by day and prowling Borough market by night. “At Christmas,” my guide continued, “she likes to sleep in the straw around the nativity scene.”

 Doorkins lived at the cathedral for eleven years and if the vergers and clergy  cast their bread upon the waters in offering her hospitality and sanctuary, they were more than repaid. For Doorkins not only brought joy to her carers and visitors, but she also developed her own successful line of merchandise in the gift shop, with cards, mugs, mouse mats, fridge magnets and her own book. She was a philanthropist too, donating the food and treats which her many admirers left, and which far exceeded her own needs, to Catcuddles, a cat rescue organisation pairing unwanted cats with loving homes.

Towards the end of 2019, as Doorkins grew old, suffering with kidney problems, failing sight and hearing, she retired to the home of  Paul Timms, the head verger, where almost a year later she died peacefully in his arms .

Meanwhile the cathedral had been seeking another cat to keep its mouse population under control and on 30 September 2020, the very day that Doorkins died, a stray from Catcuddles arrived at Southwark. He was called after Dr. Johnson’s cat, Hodge, and in a short video Paul Timms recounts the story of how when Boswell remarked that Hodge was a fine cat, Johnson responded “yes, sir, but I have had cats whom I liked better than this” but seeing Hodge’s reproachful look, he added hastily “but he is a very fine cat, a very fine cat indeed.”

A month after her death  the clergy and vergers held  a Thanksgiving service  for Doorkins in the cathedral. It was live streamed because the pandemic lockdown meant that  only thirty people were able to attend. A few voices were raised in criticism that a service should be held for a cat mid pandemic. The Dean, Andrew Nunn, responded gently  in his eulogy, saying, “She arrived, she entered, and we made her welcome. People concluded that if this little cat is welcome, maybe I am too,” and he continued modestly “She did more to bring people to this place than I will ever do.”

Last time I visited Southwark I met Hodge proudly patrolling the cathedral aisles, and he is, like his  namesake, a very fine cat indeed. And in the churchyard  beneath a wall separating the cathedral garden from Borough market I found Doorkins in her final resting place.

Southwark will always be Doorkins’ Cathedral but Hodge, and the rest of us, are very welcome.

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