Portrait of Jenny

by mpalmer on

jenny.jpg

Portrait of Jenny, the first orangutan at London Zoo. Printed by W Clerk, High Holborn, in December 1837.
Portrait of Jenny, the first orangutan at London Zoo. Printed by W Clerk, High Holborn, in December 1837.

 

This drawing is of Jenny, the first orangutan to be shown at London Zoo. She arrived on 25 November 1837, purchased from a Mr Moss for £150. She was put in the specially heated Giraffe House and soon attracted excited crowds of people.

On 28 March 1838, Charles Darwin came to the Zoo to see Jenny. It was his first sight of an ape. He described Jenny in a letter:

“the keeper showed her an apple, but would not give it her, whereupon she threw herself on her back, kicked & cried, precisely like a naughty child. - She then looked very sulky & after two or three fits of pashion [sic], the keeper said, 'Jenny if you will stop bawling & be a good girl, I will give you the apple.' - She certainly understood every word of his, &, though like a child, she had great work to stop whining, she at last succeeded, & then got the apple, with which she jumped into an arm chair & began eating it, with the most contented countenance imaginable.”

Jenny made a profound impression on Darwin. Leading him to write in his notebook: “Let man visit Ouranoutang in domestication, hear expressive whine, see its intelligence when spoken [to]; as if it understands every word said - see its affection. - to those it knew. - see its passion & rage, sulkiness, & very actions of despair; ... and then let him boast of his proud preeminence ... Man in his arrogance thinks himself a great work, worthy the interposition of a deity. More humble and I believe true to consider him created from animals.”

Darwin visited Jenny two more times, noting that she was "astonished beyond measure" when she saw her reflection in a mirror.

Another distinguished visitor, Queen Victoria, did not see the first Jenny, but did see the next orangutan to arrive in 1839 after Jenny’s death. As part of a tradition, the new orangutan was given the same name by her keepers, and so was also called Jenny. (This has lead to a certain amount of confusion…)

Queen Victoria was fascinated but repulsed by her first view of an orangutan in on 27 May 1842, calling Jenny “frightful and painfully and disagreeably human.”

This second Jenny was also seen by the zoologist Richard Owen and his wife on their visits to London Zoo. Mrs Owen wrote: “We saw Jenny have her cup of tea again. It was spooned and sipped in the most ladylike way, and Hunt, the keeper, put a very smart cap on her head, which made it all the more laughable. Hunt told me that, a few days ago, the Queen and Prince Albert were highly amused with Jenny's tricks, but that he did not like to put the cap on Jenny, as he was afraid it might be thought vulgar!”

Select a blog

Artefact of the month

Every month one of the pieces held in ZSL’s Library and at ZSL Whipsnade Zoo will feature here as Artefact of the month.

Arts and Culture

Follow the latest news on ZSL’s Arts & Culture projects at ZSL London and Whipsnade Zoos, and ZSL’s conservation work through the lense of the Arts.

Asia Conservation Program

Get the latest on ZSL's conservation work in Asia.

Conservation

Catch up on our latest Conservation Blogs

Discovery and Learning in the Field

Join the ZSL Discovery and Learning team as they venture out of the zoo and in to the wild.

Elephantastic!

ZSL Whipsnade Zoo's elephant keepers give an insight into the daily goings on in the elephant barn.

Tiger conservation

Read about conservation of tigers in Asia.

Videographer Blog

One man is boldly going where no other ZSL videographer has gone before - the land of Mountain Chicken Frogs.

ZSL London Zoo

A blog for lovers of ZSL London Zoo. Bringing you amazing animal facts and exclusive access to the world's scientific oldest zoo.

Wild Science

From the field, to the lab, catch up with the scientists on the cutting edge of conservation biology at ZSL’s Institute of Zoology.

Wildlife Wood Project Cameroon

The Wildlife Wood Project has been working in Cameroon since 2007 to encourage better wildlife management in logging concessions.

Penguin expedition blog

Updates from penguin conservation expeditions to Antarctica

Amur Leopard

Amur leopard conservation blog

Baby Giraffe Diaries

Meet ZSL Whipsnade Zoo's latest (and leggiest) arrival, a baby giraffe!

Biodiversity and Palm Oil

Follow the ZSL Biodiversity and Palm Oil team, based in Bogor, Indonesia.

Chagos Expedition

The Chagos marine reserve, designated in 2010 and currently the world’s largest no take marine reserve, is a sought-after spot for marine research.

Frog Blog

Follow ZSL’s amphibian experts in their quest to find out why 41% of the world’s amphibians are threatened and what can be done to stop more species becoming extinct.

Tsaobis Baboon Blog

Follow ZSL conservationists studying desert baboons in Namibia.