Tales of Monkeys as Pets in the 18th Century and 19th Century

Many people desired a pet monkey in the 1700 and 1800s. One nineteenth century gentleman claimed a pet monkey was “a mischievous beast … but affording so much amusement as to compensate for the trouble,”[1] and another person wrote, “there is no pet which can be so interesting or amusing as a monkey.”[2] Because of the monkey’s popularity, in 1888, Arthur Patterson published a book called Notes on Pet Monkeys and How to Manage Them. In the book besides noting how to choose a monkey, what to feed them, and how to care for them, Patterson wrote:

“Persons who have a strongly-developed propensity for keeping of pets, have, in most cases, at some time or other included a monkey in their list of specialties; but with few exceptions, from some mishap or devilry on the part of the little imp, the fancy in that line has come to an abrupt, and, to the rest of the household, a very welcome termination.”[3]

Title Page from Patterson's Book, "Notes on Petr Monkeys," Public Domain

Title page from Patterson’s Book “Notes on Pet Monkeys.” Public domain.

There are numerous stories about monkeys and their mischievous propensities. One humorous story involves a Marquis and his valet’s pet monkey. One day the Marquis became sick and was attended by a physician “who had the reputation of possessing the greatest skill and who certainly wore the largest periwigs of any doctor in the province.”[4] As the doctor was writing a prescription for the Marquis, the monkey snatched his periwig off his head, disappeared out the window, and reappeared on the roof of the neighbor’s house. No amount of coaxing could convince the culprit to return the wig, and the physician, who was highly embarrassed, had to send home for another wig. Thus, to punish the thief, every morning the valet made the monkey sit quietly for any hour in the Marquis’s study with the periwig on its head. At the end of the hour, the monkey was dismissed with “Adieu, mon ami, pour aujourd’hui — an plaisir de vous revoir.”[5] (Goodbye for today my friend — a pleasure to have seen you.)

Jeanne de Valois-Saint-Rémy, Known Better as Comtesse de la Motte, with a Monkey, Courtesy of Bonhams

Jeanne de Valois-Saint-Rémy, known better as Comtesse de la Motte, with a monkey. Courtesy of Bonhams.

Another monkey named Ned was apparently mischievous too. Besides hiding the maid’s aprons, running off with the footman’s knives, and teasing a tame owl, he also persecuted a tame squirrel by waking him when he was sleeping, stealing his nuts, and throwing the empty shells back into his cage. Once, Ned even stole a wig and paraded around in it for some time before deciding to hang it in the topmost bough of a cherry tree. Ned also got into trouble after watching a shoe-boy blacken his master’s boots. Ned thought black was a nice color and picked up the shoe-boy’s brush and began to blacken himself. After he had blackened himself about half way up, it looked so good, he decided to finish the job by blackening his face and head. In the midst of this blackening frolic his master caught him, called for a small tub of cold water, and commanded Ned to wash himself. Ned did, but it was with the greatest “reluctance and the most ludicrous expressions of regret … wringing his hands and casting the most rueful glances, first at his master, then at the cold element.”[6]

Another story about pet monkeys was told by English art historian, man of letters, and Whig politician, Horace Walpole. The story involved a French woman named Madame de Choiseul who purchased a parrot and then became enamored with the idea of owning a monkey. She soon fixed her desire on the celebrated monkey variously called “Jacko” or “General Jackoo” at Astley’s Amphitheatre. Unfortunately, General Jackoo’s owner wanted such an exorbitant amount, she was forced to purchase another monkey. This monkey was brought up in a kitchen where the cook taught it to “pluck fowls with inimitable dexterity.”[7] Madame de Choiseul was so pleased with her new monkey she named him General Jackoo II. One night she went out leaving Jackoo II and the parrot locked up in her room. When she returned the parrot was nowhere to be found, and after a search was conducted, the bird was located “under [the] bed shivering … cowering, and without a feather.”[8]

A Favorite Poodle And Monkey Belonging To Thomas Osborne, The 4th Duke of Leeds, By John Wootton, Public Domain

A favorite poodle and monkey belonging to Thomas Osborne, the 4th Duke of Leeds. By John Wootton. Public domain.

Despite all the mischief pet monkeys caused sometimes real attachments existed between them and their owners. One story of attachment involves a sailor, a showman, and a monkey in 1820. The sailor and showman appeared before the Lord Mayor each claiming the monkey was his. It seems the sailor had lost his monkey a month earlier and found it while viewing an exhibition in Bartholomew Fair. The sailor immediately told the showman, but the showman refused to return the monkey. When the case was brought before the Lord Mayor, he decided the wisest thing was to let the monkey choose its owner.  “The monkey clung about the neck of the sailor licked him, patted his cheeks, and caressed him in the most affectionate manner.”[9] The Lord Mayor then told the showman to take the monkey from the sailor, but the attempt exasperated the monkey and the monkey hit the showman on the head with a stick. A few other such demonstrations convinced the Lord Mayor as to ownership, and he advised the showman to give up his claim. But when the disputants left, the showman was still arguing with the sailor while the monkey held tight to the sailor’s neck.

A Monkey Merchant, By Thomas Rowlandson, 1812, Courtesy of Lewis Walpole Library

“A Monkey Merchant,” By Thomas Rowlandson, 1812. Courtesy of Lewis Walpole Library.

Another story showing the affection between a pet monkey and its owner involves a Major in the Bengal army. He had a pet monkey and when he was ordered to active service he had to part with it and sold it to a menagerie that was going to England. Two years later, the Major found himself in England and by chance visited a menagerie. There he was surprised to discover his former pet, whose “frantic joy and cries affected all present.”[10] The Major was also affected by their reunion so much so he resolved to purchase the monkey back as soon as he completed some unfinished business in town. He was delayed a week and when he returned, the menagerie owner informed him that upon his departure the monkey’s “wild excitement changed into the deepest despondency. He refused to eat. No delicacies could tempt him; he pined away, day by day; and, shortly, before the Major reappeared, his poor monkey … died of a broken heart.”[11]

Image from an 1870 Nursery Rhyme Yitled, "Conceited Monkey," Author's Collection

Image from an 1870 nursery rhyme titled, “Conceited Monkey,” Author’s collection.

This attachment for the monkey to its owners was noted by others. For instance, a Mr. M.J. Fischer who owned a pet monkey wrote an article for a scientific journal known as the Revue Scientifique. The title of Fischer’s article was “My Monkey,” and in the article he noted, “No dog ever showed so exclusive an attachment to me as this monkey, a fact the more singular because the animal had come from a wild life, and not, like a dog, from trained ancestors.”[12] A Dr. R.L. Garner also emphasized the same loving traits of the monkey. He wrote:

“I cannot discern in what intrinsic way the love they have for me differs from human love … The psychic spark which dimly glows in the animal bursts into a blaze of effulgence in man. The one differs from the other just as a single ray of sunlight differs from the glorious light of noon.”[13]

However affectionate people may have thought the pet monkey to be, Patterson knew monkey’s could be highly destructive. So, in the last lines of his book, he issued this warning to monkey owners: “The very moment interest and novelty are lost in the pet, [the owner] should sit down and write off an advertisement to The Bazaar, Exchange and Mart, or get rid of the animal through some other channel as speedily as possible.”[14]

References:

  • [1] Parrots and Monkeys, 1879, p. 125.
  • [2] Hardwicke’s Science-gossip, 1889, p. 158.
  • [3] Patterson, Arthur, Notes on Pet Monkeys and How to Manage Them, 1888, p. 1.
  • [4] Moore, John, The Works of John Moore, M.D., Vol. 2, 1820, p. 432
  • [5] Ibid., p. 433.
  • [6] Sketches From Nature, 1830, p. 169.
  • [7] Walpole, Horace, Horace Walpole and His World, 1884, p. 227.
  • [8] Ibid.
  • [9] The Scrap Book, 1821, p. 270.
  • [10] Parrots and Monkeys, 1879, p. 125.
  • [11] Ibid., p. 126.
  • [12] Goldthwaite’s Geographical Magazine, Volume 5, 1893, p. 28.
  • [13] Ibid., p. 29.
  • [14] Patterson, Arthur, p. 105.

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