by Ann Sylph on

We are featuring 'penguins' as our seasonal 'artefact' during the two months of December 2013 and January 2014.

The first live penguin at ZSL London Zoo, or indeed the first at a UK zoo, was a King Penguin from the Falkland Islands. The penguin arrived in 1865. According to the annual report for that year it was `skilfully conveyed to this country by Commander Fenwick, of H.M.S. 'Harrier'...this strange looking bird attracted universal attention'. In the V&A's collections there is a wonderful cartoon by Ernest Griset of the penguin surrounded by artists trying to depict this unusual creature. The cartoon is reproduced in Lionel Lambourne's book Ernest Griset : fantasies of a Victorian illustrator

2021 Update - according to the 'Daily Occurrences' for 1865, this first King Penguin arrived on 27 March 1865. The penguin lived a very short time, dying on 19 May 1865 [1].

The next King Penguin was presented by Mr F.P. Cobb, Manager of the Falkland Islands Company, Port Stanley. It was brought by Mr W.H. Hyde, R.N. on H.M.S. 'Reindeer', arriving on 8 January 1872. It was a young penguin with immature  brown plumage, sadly it died a few weeks later [2].

Two penguins in a drawing John Gould, 1848

Other species of penguin arriving at ZSL London Zoo in the nineteenth century were rock hopper penguin in 1873 and then gentoo penguin in 1874. These were followed by jackass in 1882, blue in 1887 and yellow-crested in 1891.

One of the oldest books in ZSL Library is Belon's L'histoire nature des oyseaux, 1555. Although it does not include an image of a penguin our copy has a later image of penguin from 1769 stuck into the book! [2021 Update, we subsequently found it was a picture of a great auk not a penguin]


Ernest Griset : fantasies of a Victorian illustrator / Lionel Lambourne, London : Thames & Hudson, 1979
Penguin / Stephen Martin, London : Reaktion Books, 2009.
Report of the Council of the Zoological Society of London, 1866, p. 20 
ZSL Archives

[1] Proceedings of the Zoological Society, 1865, Vol. 33, issue 1, p. 318 and 'Daily Occurrences' 1865 in ZSL Archives.

[2] Proceedings of the Zoological Society 1872, Vo. 40, issue 1, pp. 183-4 and 880.

These historic books form part of the 'special collections' in ZSL Library and Archives, you are welcome to visit and consult/view them but an appointment is necessary to consult our 'special collections' and archives. Please email or telephone 020 447 6293 to make an appointment.

Many resources are available in ZSL Library and no appointment is necessary to use these, however if you are a ZSL member please bring your membership card. Non-members will need proof of address and photographic ID if you are not already a member of ZSL.

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Fairy penguin by John Gould 1848
Fairy penguin by John Gould 1848

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