119 pages, b/w photos, b/w illustrations
Language: English, with source material in French, Dutch, German, Polish, and RussianCzech,
In 1827, a dead whale was found floating in the North Sea by some fishermen, and then towed to Oostende, Belgium, where first the carcass and then the skeleton were put on display. Hence it became known as "The Ostend Whale", and sometimes also, after being presented as a gift to the King of the Netherlands, as "The Royal Whale".
Several instances of travelling whale skeletons in Europe are known from the 17th century onwards, but none travelled so extensively or were seen by so many people in so many countries as that of the Oostende whale. Kings, queens, princes, princesses, nobility, archbishops, academics, scientists, local dignitaries, and large numbers of members of the public flocked to see the spectacle of the huge skeleton, generally described as being 95 feet long. The great wooden pavilion, 33 m long, in which it was housed, specially constructed so as to be easily dis-assembled and re-erected, was a fine sight as well. It was beautifully decorated inside, brightly lit, and in one instance at least filled with flowers and plants.
Now, one would have thought that tracking the route of so enormous, and at the time so unusual and wonderful an object would not be difficult, but difficult it has proved to be. Despite a great deal of research in numerous libraries around the continent, and much kind help from many people, the story remains incomplete. For some places information is plentiful, for others it is minimal. There remain many unanswered questions.
The Travels of the Oostende Whale Skeleton brings together for the first time references to the skeleton from contemporary newspapers, advertisements and posters, from travellers' accounts, and from the annals, bulletins, transactions and journals of museums, societies and institutions. Sometimes accounts contradict each other. Later sources also cannot always be relied upon. There are several detailed descriptions of the skeleton and its wooden pavilion. There are just a handful of contemporary illustrations of the skeleton, but these, with two exceptions, show it out of any context.
This is the fullest and most detailed account that has yet been published of the skeleton's journey. But, as will be seen, it is by no means the whole story. The author hopes that others will build on this starting point to amend or correct what he has written and, more importantly, to find where the skeleton went during the missing years. In any event, he encourages readers to go to Saint Petersburg and take a look at the skeleton of this great and famous whale in its imposing setting.
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