Train commuters in Manchester are being stopped in their tracks although they’re used to being delayed. The reason is an elephant skeleton has arrived at Piccadilly Station, where it’s being displayed for the next fortnight. It’s the remains of the most famous elephant in Manchester, Maharajah.
Maharajah was an Asian elephant bought by the Jennison’s in 1872 when Wombwell’s Royal Number One Menagerie in Edinburgh was closing down. It’s believed that the elephant cost about £680 (about £30,000 today), and at eight years of age, stood over two metres tall with tusks at least 50 cm long. He walked all the way to Manchester from Edinburgh. His journey to Manchester began nearly 150 years ago, when the owners of Belle Vue Zoological Gardens in Gorton bought the elephant from a travelling circus in Edinburgh.
He was supposed to travel down from Scotland to Manchester on the train, but things didn’t quite go to plan. Finally, he had to walk to Manchester, because he destroyed the railway carriage of the 10.05 express train from Edinburgh Waverley which transported him. And the story continued almost like a fairy tale. The hero who helped him was Lorenzo Lawrence, also known as Lorenzo the Lion Tamer with Fairgrieve Menagerie. At the time he encountered Maharajah, Lorenzo was effectively unemployed and jumped at the chance to help with this unusual task.
He walked Maharajah over 200 miles to Manchester from Edinburgh, managing about 20 miles a day. There are even rumours that the elephant lifted up a toll gate on route. The last leg of the journey to Manchester was paced so the owners of Belle Vue Zoo had time to assemble a welcoming crowd.
After ten years as the star attraction in Belle Vue, Maharajah died in 1882. His skeleton was displayed at Belle Vue’s natural history museum before being transferred to Manchester Museum in 1941. And that’s where you can still see him today. But from now until June 16, it will be on display at Piccadilly Station (from 7.am to 7.pm).
Mrs.Esme Ward, director of Manchester Museum, said : “The aim of taking Maharajah to Piccadilly Station isn’t just to add more miles to his journey..It is about bringing the museum’s collections to people who might not usually get the chance to witness them. We’re also using the exhibition to raise awareness of population levels of Asian elephants, as they’re at a high risk of extinction.”
During this time, the museum is working with local communities and businesses to display its collections across the city and is inviting people to share their ideas of where in Manchester they would like to see other museum artefacts.
Mrs.Esme added: “We have 4.5 million objects in our collection and will be taking some of our favorites directly to the people of the city to the places they live, work and play. We’re on a mission to become the most imaginative, inclusive and caring museum in the country – and Maharajah in Piccadilly exemplifies this ambition. Only in Manchester could the story of an elephant that refused to get on a train end in a train station.”