W. S. Gilbert and his menagerie of animals

Samantha PillingHistory, Latest News

Robin Red Breast

W. S. Gilbert had spent thirty-five years being a professional writer, so the decision to retire was a hard one for him. However, retiring allowed him to enjoy the prestige and wealth he’d worked hard to achieve, and this left him free to spend his time at Grim’s Dyke, surrounded by his family and friends. It also gave himself, Lucy and Nancy the opportunity to spend time together and to share their mutual love and admiration for all of the many animals they’d acquired.

Ring-tailed lemurs

The Gilberts filled the house and grounds with animals and they each had their favourites. Sir William had a particular fondness for ring-tailed lemurs – a fondness that started with Job, who’d been acquired, quite by chance, with a group of monkeys for the monkey-house.

When Job died, Sir William imported a pair of ring-tailed lemurs from Madagascar, naming them Adam and Eve. These later produced the much loved baby lemur ‘Paul’.

Although the lemurs were mischievous, Sir William showed his deep love for them by having extraordinary patience when it came to training them. He also allowed them to have run of the house and grounds, as well as, more often than not, letting them have their own way! When Adam disappeared, Eve’s sadness was unbearable, so much so that Sir William bought her a new husband to try and fill the void she had.

The menagerie

The house and grounds were filled with a variety of feathered and furry creatures, including parrots, bullfinches, pigeons, dogs and cats. They even had a resident fawn that became very attached to Adelina, the pet donkey! They all were treated as part of the family, with the dogs and cats dining with the family, each with their own separate tablecloth on the floor!

Lady Lucy had a particular fondness for chickens and turkeys, both of which, along with her prized roses, were frequent prize winners and occupied her spare time. Sir William, often considered a bit conceited, showed his love and patience in the garden too – taking the time to tame a garden robin to eat from his hand.

Nancy’s main task was to keep an eye on the mischievous lemurs, so she was often seen walking around with Job who, although he didn’t care much for anyone, had a lifelong friendship and love for Nancy. Nancy was also known to have once made a pet of a bee, feeding it moistened sugar and giving it a box for a bed.

The menagerie of animals at Grim’s Dyke clearly illustrated the deep love and admiration Sir William, Lady Lucy and Nancy had for all creatures. It also highlights their deep dedication and patience, as well as their understanding that all creatures, both big and small deserved their love, attention and, ultimately the space and time to thrive on their own.

Written with reference to information within the book ‘Gilbert of Gilbert & Sullivan: His Life and Character’ by Andrew Crowther and page 604 of The Strand Magazine (1909), entitled ‘Gilbert’s Lemurs’.

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