Wombats, pangolins and platypuses in a Victorian mansion... in Wales


While on holiday in Wales recently, we visited Cardiff Castle. Located within the grounds is the Victorian House, extensively transformed between the late 1860s and 1930s by William Burgess under John Crichton-Stuart, 3rd Marquess of Bute. I was quite surprised to find carved platypuses, armadillos, wombats and pangolins on some of the bookcases.


Apparently they commemorate particular countries of the then Commonwealth: any idea which countries armadillos and pangolins might be associated with? There were bears and otters, too. Sorry the photos aren't great. I couldn't use the flash, and therefore couldn't focus.

I don't have anything interesting to say about these carvings. But... neat, huh? And is that really a wombat? Or a hyrax? I vote wombat.

PS - larger, higher-res versions can be viewed on the Tet Zoo facebook page. Remember to 'become a fan', as they say.

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I think the armadillo represents either Belize or Guyana. Those are the only former British colonies where they're found. A lot of former British colonies intersect with various pangolins' ranges, but, since it's Victorian, I'd guess it's supposed to represent South Africa, which was the colony within that region most oriented towards permanent settlement by Europeans (as opposed to, say, Nigeria, which was mainly an "exploitation colony", a source of raw materials for export to other parts of the Empire).

Bears and otters are probably both Canada.

I've been in the castle quite a few times but have never been in the Victorian house. While I've little to no interest in old buildings (or indeed, buildings in general - with one or two exceptions), I'm slightly disappointed I didn't get to discover these carvings for myself. I hope you also noticed the stone animals on the southern wall of the grounds.

Oh and I agree - wombat.

I can't say whether that's a wombat, but I can say with utter confidence that Facebook Is Evil.

By Nathan Myers (not verified) on 25 Aug 2010 #permalink

Pangolin could also represent Sri Lanka or Singapore. The wombat doesn't look all that wombatty to me so I'll go with hyrax (although it doesn't look to hyraxy either).

To me it looks like neither a wombat nor a hyrax. I agree its nose is too small to be a wombat, it looks like somewhat feline. To me it looks like some sort of carnivorous marsupial...Although I am not sure of it.

By Longfinmako (not verified) on 25 Aug 2010 #permalink

Fat cat might be appropriate. The 3rd Marquis was very wealthy.

By Frits Burghardt (not verified) on 25 Aug 2010 #permalink

I'd vote 'wombat' too â it's not a particularly accurate carving but then neither is that of the 'duck-headed' platypus. But this is nit-picking; overall I think this is beautiful artwork.
Wombats were certainly kept as pets at that time (as opposed to hyraxes?), at least by Pre-Raphaelite poets. For anyone interested there's a bit more on that here;

Just strange. But at least Victorian people had sense of humour.

Darren, what species of wood were the carvings made from?

I think the pangolin probably represents Zimbabwe (then Rhodesia). It was used as an emblem by the British forces there for a while.

Pomposa- Thank you! I think my girlfriend the artiste will find at least one thing to like about Rossetti now. And don't dead artists really just want to be liked?

By CS Shelton (not verified) on 29 Aug 2010 #permalink

Don't laugh at me and I'm not a vulgar sentionalist, but the last carving could actually represent a Thylacoleonid. I have seen the provided link on Facebook and I could tell you such incisors are no way those of a cat, since I have one at home.
Moreover, Thylacoleonid are closely related to Wombats, so we could expect one to look like both a Wombat and a Cat. Just compare this with a restoration of Thylacoleo by Jaime Chirinos on this site : http://www.zooartistica.com/
I would like to add there were numerous reports of Queensland Tiger in mainland Autralia until the 1950's and Dr. Naish himself has written an article about it :

Finally, I find all those carvings quite accurate.

Very possible carving could be a wombat. There was a fad about the time the carvings were created of owning exotic Australian animals as pets. The artist Rosetti was quite found of a pet wombat named Top, so I've recently read, on the Internet. Amazing what you can find anymore.