Obaysch: A Hippopotamus in Victorian London
Obaysch: A Hippopotamus in Victorian London
John Simons
Sydney University Press
ISBN: 9781743325865

Obaysch: A Hippopotamus in Victorian London is the story of Obaysch the hippopotamus, the first ‘star’ animal to be exhibited in the London Zoo.

In 1850, a baby hippopotamus arrived on English shores, allegedly the first in Europe since the Roman Empire, and almost certainly the first in Europe since prehistoric times. Captured near an island from which he took his name, Obaysch was donated by the viceroy of Egypt in exchange for greyhounds and deerhounds. His arrival was greeted with a wave of ‘Hippomania’, doubling the number of visitors to the zoo.

Uncovering the circumstances of Obaysch’s capture and exhibition, John Simons investigates the notion of a ‘star’ animal, as well as the cultural value that Obaysch, and the other hippos who joined him over the following few years, accumulated. This book also delves into the historical context of Obaysch and his audience, considering the relationship between Victorian attitudes to hippopotami and the expansion of the British Empire into sub-Saharan Africa.

About the author

Emeritus Professor John Simons is an historian specialising in the history of animals. He has written or edited twenty books, on topics ranging from Middle English chivalric romance to Andy Warhol to the history of cricket. His previous books on animals include Animal Rights and the Politics of Literary Representation (2002), Rosetti?s Wombat (2008), The Tiger That Swallowed the Boy: Exotic Animals in Victorian England (2012) and Kangaroo (2012), which was listed for the Royal Society of Biology’s Book of the Year Award. He is a published poet and has just completed his first novel. He has worked in universities on every continent except Antarctica and most recently was Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Academic) at Macquarie University in Sydney.

Praise for Obaysch: A Hippopotamus in Victorian London

‘From its very first word this book drew me in, made me cry and elicited understanding and unease … This thoughtful, meticulously researched book begs to be read by animal studies scholars and anyone concerned about the plight of species other than ourselves.’ —Carol Freeman, author of Paper Tiger: How Pictures Shaped the Thylacine

‘John Simons is a skilful storyteller and Obaysch is a compelling read. Meticulously researched and generously illustrated, the book fulfils Simons’ determination “to treat Obaysch as an actor in his own life” at the same time as exploring how this unfortunate hippo became “the most important animal of the Victorian era”. The result is fine addition to the Animal Publics series, and a significant contribution to the emerging field of animal biography.? —Steve Baker, Emeritus Professor of Art History, University of Central Lancashire

‘John Simons’ richly exhaustive account of nineteenth-century hippomania engages with imperialism, Orientalism, progress, and the cultural history of Europe … Poignant and empathetic, this account of an animal’s appropriation and exploitation is one of those books that unfurls more about its moment in time than you could have imagined when you picked it up.’ —Randy Malamud, Regents’ Professor of English, Georgia State University, Atlanta, author of Reading Zoos: Representations of Animals and Captivity

‘?Simons’ breadth of reference, his often witty commentary, and even his footnotes (what connection can there possibly be between the notorious drug lord Pablo Escobar and hippopotamuses?) make fascinating reading.’ —Helen Tiffin, University of Wollongong, author of Wild Man from Borneo: A Cultural History of the Orangutan

Animal Publics Series

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