Erica Burrows gives an account of the arrival of the Giraffe at Ipswich Museum and how her family played a part.

In my last article I wrote about an obscure item in the collection at Ipswich Museum known as the Evenki suit. This time, it’s about one exhibit you really can’t miss – the Giraffe in the Victorian Gallery, a favourite, together with the Rhino and the Mammoth, with visitors young and old. The old-stagers among us may not count the Mammoth as an old favourite, however – it’s only been there since the 1990s, whereas the Giraffe has been in its huge glass case for well over 100 years.

It is a male giraffe, accession information lists it as “Giraffe; Mammalia, Artiodactyla, Giraffa cameleopardis” and it was shot in Somaliland, or Somalia as it is now known.  Of course, we would be rightly horrified by trophy-hunting of this sort today, but in the 19th and early 20th C, it was accepted.  It stands 17 ft 2 “ or 16 ft 10” or 5.2 m, depending on who you ask!  It was given to the Museum by a Mr John Hall and arrived here in 1909.

It famously arrived in Ipswich by train on a specially adapted carriage. Transporting giraffe on trainThe giraffe was tipped forward on a very low bogie so that it could fit under the bridges on its journey from London.  It’s said that there was only an inch or so to spare between the giraffe and the top of the tunnels it had to pass through.  A railway inspector was detailed to accompany it, and it was suggested he should ride astride the giraffe on its journey. The Inspector cited age and portliness as good reasons to excuse himself from this duty. The story is recorded in the GER staff magazine of 1909 and also in “A Rhino on the High Street” by Bob Markham.

A well-known taxidermist, Rowland Ward, arranged for its transportation from London for £2 8s 8d. Receipt for Giraffe Mr Hall paid for it to be encased in protective glass at a cost of £121 2s 6d – a very large sum of money in those days. The glazier who erected the glass case insisted that all staff left whilst he carried out the task of fitting the glass. He had trade secrets about the construction he did not wish to share.

From the upper gallery there is a fine view of the giraffe’s head, which brings me to my tenuous personal connection to the giraffe.

My Great Uncle, Frederick Henry Scoffield, worked for the Great Eastern Railway. He took delivery of the giraffe when it arrived at Ipswich Station and saw it transported to High Street. My Grandad, his brother, told the family that in order to get it through the doors of the Museum, the giraffe’s head was cut off. Now, there is no visible join, no matter how hard you look, and it seems unlikely that so much trouble would be taken in transporting it on a special carriage only to dismantle it when it arrived. So, although the legend persists in the Scoffield family, it seems that this must be a family myth.

The Giraffe was actually only supposed to be on loan for three years- so it is overdue by some 105 years. Let’s hope that no-one ever asks for it back.

As for Great Uncle Fred – he died at Ypres on Christmas Day 1916 aged 24, almost exactly 100 years ago.  He is remembered on the Ipswich Cenotaph and on the GER memorial at Liverpool Street Station. His family also remember him every time we visit Ipswich Museum and that amazing giraffe.

Leave a Reply