The Secret Life of the Leeds Tiger

The Leeds Tiger over at Leeds City Museum is one of our best-loved exhibits, but how did it get here and was it really once a rug?

Thanks to some amazing research by Ebony Andrews, (in her PhD thesis ‘The Biographical Afterlife of the Leeds Tiger’), we have the answers to some of these questions!

The Leeds Tiger came from Dehradun in the Himalayas. It was shot in 1860 by an Anglo-Indian Army Officer, Colonel Charles Reid of thje Sirmoor Battalion (2nd Gurkhas) and sent back to Britain as a prize specimen.

This tiger is rumoured to have threatened the local population and may have been shot as part of a cull. Former curator Henry Crowther wrote of it ‘having destroyed forty bullocks in six weeks and was considered so formidable that no native dare venture into the jungle where this noble beast reigned supreme’ in a 1906 guide book.

Preservation – from skin to mount

The tiger would have been skinned in the field and then more carefully cleaned, with the head mounted by a taxidermist. At this point, Colonel Reid sent the skin to London, where it was exhibited at the 1860 International Exhibition in South Kensington.

By 1862, the skin had arrived in Leeds, where it was presented to the Leeds Philosophical and Literary Society Building Committee. A local taxidermist, Henry Ward, was commissioned to shape the skin into a full body mount.

Emma, our Conservator, working on the Leeds Tiger.

It seems that Ward had a difficult task, as he wouldn’t have known exactly what the original tiger looked like. Researcher Ebony Andrews believed that the skin might have been trimmed after it was tanned, leaving missing sections underneath the tiger’s chin, neck and up all four legs.

Posing the Leeds Tiger

Henry Ward decided to present a ‘fearsome’ tiger, pinning the ears back, stretching the jaw wide and putting the claws out. We’ll never know for certain whether the Leeds Tiger really lived up to its dangerous reputation, but today it sends a shiver down the spines of visitors to Leeds City Museum.

By Jen Newby, Digital Media Assistant

Sources:
Ebony Andrews, PhD thesis ‘The Biographical Afterlife of the Leeds Tiger’ (September 2009)

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