In all the annals of history, it would be tough to come across a more hard done by creature than the Rhinoceros of Versailles.
Unceremoniously plucked from its native India, the rhinoceros left Calcutta in December 1769, arriving in Lorient six months later in June 1770, after a long and arduous boat journey. At Lorient, there was no suitable transportation for such a big and heavy beast, and so it was forced to remain in the port town for several weeks, before a specially constructed vehicle could be obtained. Only then did it finally make the uncomfortable 450kms journey from Brittany across France to Versailles.
Things little improved for the rhinoceros when it arrived in Versailles. A gift for King Louis XV, the rhino was kept in a small pen at the Royal Ménagerie. Here it lived, an exhibit of wonder for local Parisians, until its violent death in 1793 at the hand of a sabre-twirling revolutionary during the Reign of Terror in the French Revolution.
However, the Rhinoceros of Versailles has been treated with a little more reverence in death than it experienced in life. The body of the rhino was preserved by eminent taxidermists Jean-Claude Mertrud and Félix Vicq d’Azyr. Never before had such a large specimen been attempted to be stuffed. The finished result can now be viewed at the Grande Galerie de l’Evolution in the Jardin des Plantes, while the skeleton of the rhino can be seen at the neighbouring Galerie de Paléontologie et d’Anatomie comparée.
And such relates the history of the Rhinoceros of Versailles. Poor bugger: it wasn’t even given a proper name of endearment. Although for me, I will always think of you as Vince.
© E. C. Glendenny
E. C. Glendenny likes to remember the underdog.