Hans and Marguerite: The Elephants of France

Hans and Marguerite
The Two Elephants Listed as Parkie and Hans, Public Domain

Two young elephants were captured in 1785 in Sri Lanka. They eventually ended up in the Netherlands with William V, Prince of Orange, and during the revolution, they were confiscated by France and sent to the Jardin des Plantes in Paris. The two elephants were male and female. Hans was the male and the female was called Parkie (or sometimes Peggy), but she was renamed Marguerite in France.

After two attempts to leave Sri Lanka with the elephants — one attempt in June of 1795 and the other in November 1795 — the elephants finally left for France on 25 September 1797.  To convey Hans and Marguerite to Paris, numerous crates were constructed. Hans and Marguerite were unhappy about the trip and the crates. They “made incredible efforts to break down the partition [between them]; but having found that their endeavors were vain, they became resigned and remained tranquil during the rest of the journey.”

Hans, Courtesy of Wikipedia
Hans, Courtesy of Wikipedia

At the time Hans and Marguerite were about the size of horses. Their crates were restrictive and did not allow the elephants “any progressive motion.” This resulted in the elephants contracting a habit:

“[They balanced] themselves, but each in a different manner. The male, for example, advancing one of the front feet, and drawing back one of the hind ones, on the opposite size, gave to his body a slow oscillation backwards and forwards; the female was content with lifting her head up and down briskly.”

In Paris, a special hall had been prepared for Hans and Marguerite. One person described their enclosure:

“[It was] well-aired and lighted. A stove warmed it in winter, and it was divided into two apartments, which had a communication by means of a large door, which opened and shut perpendicularly. The enclosure consisted of rails made of strong and thick beams, and a second enclosure, breast-high, surrounded it, in order to keep spectators from too near an approach.”

The elephants arrived in Paris on 23 March 1798. The morning after their arrival, they were moved into their new enclosure. Hans was suspicious and examined every corner, every nook, and every steel bar. Deciding it was safe, he settled down and began to eat his breakfast. Shortly thereafter, Marguerite, was removed from her crate. She was thrilled to be at liberty and greeted her freedom with a squeal of happiness. Hans and Marguerite had not seen each other since their departure from the Hague, and there was no expectation that they would see each other again. Thus, when she entered the same enclosure as Hans an unexpected reunion occurred:

“[Marguerite] did not immediately observe Hans who was feeding in the inner lodge; neither was he directly aware that she was near him; but the keeper having called him, he turned round, and on the instant the two elephants rushed into each other’s embraces, and sent forth cries of joy, so animated and so loud, that they shook the whole hall. The breathed also through their trunks with such violence, that the blast resembled an impetuous gust of wind.”

Marguerite by Nicholas Huet the Younger in 1810, Pubic Domain
Marguerite by Nicholas Huet the Younger in 1810, Pubic Domain

Of the two Marguerite seemed the most happy while Hans was the most emotional. Marguerite flapped her ears and drew her trunk over Hans tenderly as if hugging him. She then put her trunk in his ear and left it there for a time. Then she drew her trunk affectionately over his whole body and “put it tenderly into her own mouth. Hans did exactly the same … but his pleasure was more concentrated … expressed by his tears, which fell from his eyes in abundance.”

Soon after Hans and Marguerite arrived, an experiment was conducted related to the influence of music on animals. On 29 May 1798, eleven musicians from the Conservatory of Music provided a concert for the two elephants as they dined. Among the pieces played was a piece in B minor from Gluck’s Iphigenia and an adagio from the opera Dardanus. The orchestra was arranged around a trap door so the elephants could not see them. When “everything was ready, and a profound silence reigned; the trap-door was noiselessly opened, and the concert began.” The elephants responded with “curiosity, astonishment and anxiety.” 

A report on the reactions of Hans and Marguerite to the music was later published in the Musical Record and Review: “In their gait — sometimes precipitate, sometimes retarded in their movements, someone would have said that they followed the undulations of the melody and the measure.” It was compelling that the elephants were actually enjoying the music. One witness wrote that the elephants swayed to the music. He stated:

“[T]hese effects, however wonderful they may appear, ought not to astonish us, if we but reflect that passions of animals, like those of human beings, have naturally an absolute rhythmical character totally independent of all education and custom.”

The remainder of their lives Hans and Marguerite were never separated. While they may have been happy about the constant companionship of one another, Marguerite became unhappy over a certain strict guard. Visitors wanted to feed the elephants, but they were admonished by one particularly guard not to do so. In fact, the guard watched visitors incessantly to make sure they did not disobey his orders. One day an opportunity presented itself whereby Marguerite might obtain a small bit of bread. Unfortunately, the strict guard was on duty:

“[Marguerite] … placed herself before him, watched all his gestures, and, the moment he opened his mouth to give his usual admonition to the company, discharged in his face a large stream of water. A general laugh ensued, but the sentinel having calmly wiped his face, stood a little on one side, and continued as vigilant as before. Soon after, he found himself obliged to repeat his notice to the spectators not to give the elephants any thing; immediately [Marguerite] snatched his musket from him, twirled it round in her trunk, trod it under her feet, and did not restore it until she had twisted the barrel in the form of a screw.”

Once a naturalist came to the elephant’s enclosure to draw them. He entered into one of their compartments and what happened next proved unexpected and dangerous:

“Hardly had the artist began his labours, when the male, without being perceived, took out the peg with his trunk, which kept the door fast, and opened it. He was preparing to inflict vengeance on his victim, if the female, who luckily heard the noise, had not turned round, and placed herself suddenly across the door to prevent the male from coming out: she drove him to the other side, and with a bow of the nose, in a contrary direction to that given by the male, she closed the door again: all which afforded time and opportunity for the artist to escape.”

Georges Cuvier, Author's Collection
Georges Cuvier, Author’s Collection

Many people mourned the deaths of Hans and Marguerite. Hans died at the age of 20, on 17 February 1802, of pneumonia. A taxidermy of him was undertaken and completed in 1803. After Hans’s death, Marguerite was moved to the rotunda in the zoo of the Jardin des Plantes. She was 34 when she died on 15 March 1816. Similar to Hans she was dissected with great care by the well-known French naturalist and zoologist Georges Cuvier. Cuvier discovered an abscess in her lungs, which he attributed to her death.  However, one writer noted there were at least three tradesmen particularly affected by Marguerite’s death: “her baker, her green-grocer, and her hay-merchant.”

References:

  • Belle Assemblée, Volume 3, 1807
  • Chomet, Hector, The Influence of Music on Health and Life, 1875
  • Leslie, Frank, Frank Leslie’s Pleasant Hours, Volumes 1-2, 1867
  • Marguerite, in Kentish Weekly Post or Canterbury Journal, 28 March 1817
  • Musical Record and Review, 1879
  • Perry, John, The New London Gleaner, 1809
  • The Literary Gazette, 1817

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