Jenks as Museum Curator: Queen Victoria’s Pony

By BECKY SOULES

Despite Jenks’ desire to create a scientific natural history museum befitting the university, some of the collections acquired for the museum clearly catered to the interests of the general public. In addition to Jenks’ taxidermy apprentices and other Brown students, one might see the occasional visitor from Providence wandering through the museum.

Jenks as Museum Curator: Queen Victoria's Pony

One of the attractions that drew public interest was a small Shetland pony, scarcely three feet in height with shaggy red hair, placed in a position of honor in the center case of the museum. Reputed to have belonged to Queen Victoria of England, acquiring the pony for the museum proved quite a challenge for museum curator Jenks.

Although Jenks was an avid taxidermist, his facilities at the museum were not really equipped to deal with large specimens. On February 19, 1876, he wrote to Henry Augustus Ward, a fellow naturalist and taxidermist: “I called upon Mr. Pierce this afternoon. He is unwilling to do more than to contribute the Pony to me to do what I please with. Now I want terribly both the Stuffed Pony and the Skeleton Pony. But as yet the College owes me for the Horse and Buffalo & I cannot raise a nickel.”

Funding the museum was a perennial problem for Jenks, and he received only limited assistance from the university. Instead, he decided to send the live pony to Ward, with hopes that he would be able to buy the mount and the skeleton at a later date: “If I pay you nothing both & all are yours to do what you please with. It is a genuine Shetland, such as I have never seen except in Victoria’s Equinery & in the Shetland Islands — a magnificent fellow I assure you. About 17 years old, a perfect horse.”

Jenks discovered, two weeks later, that he could not ship the live pony all the way to Ward in Rochester, New York. “I went two miles into the country this afternoon, cut the jugular of the Pony & let it bleed to death, boxed it up & put in aboard the Freight Car for Rochester via Worcester, Albany, etcetera, nailing your cards upon the box.”

Jenks did eventually get the stuffed pony back from Ward for display in his museum. Featured in a story about the museum in the Providence Journal in the 1890s, it was noted that: “After being brought over from England the pony was for nearly 15 years on a farm in East Providence, where it died a quiet death in a peaceful old age.”

With changing sensibilities, the story of the pony’s acquisition changed as well.

 

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