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Chambers's miscellany of instructive & entertaining tracts (Volume 4) online

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the edge of the neck ; then, without altering the position, she turned
her trunk round the bottle, so that she might reverse it, and thus
empty the contents into the extremity of the proboscis. This she
accomplished without spilling a drop, and she delivered the empty
bottle to her keeper before she attempted to discharge the contents
of the trunk into her mouth. The affection of this poor animal for
her keeper was so great, that she would cry after him whenever he
was absent for more than a few hours. She was about twenty-nine
years old when she died, early in 1829, of what was understood to be
pulmonary consumption.

It is not always, however, for mere amusement or curiosity that
the docility of the elephant is exhibited : it would say little for
human ingenuity, were not the strength of such a powerful animal
brought to bear upon useful and necessary operations. We have
seen that in India he is made a beast of carriage and draught,
carrying indifferently the howdah and baggage-chest, and dragging
the ponderous artillery-car j but besides these, there are many other



minor occupations in which he can be successfully engaged. Thus
elephants were at one time employed in the launching of ships,
being trained to push in unison with their powerful fronts and heavy
bodies. It is told of one that was directed to force a large vessel
into the water, but which proved superior to his strength, that, on
being upbraided for his laziness, the distressed animal increased his
efforts with such vehemence, that he fractured his skull on the spot.
In piling wood, drawing water, removing obstructions from the way
of an army on march, &c. the elephant is highly serviceable ; and if
properly directed, will perform his duties with astonishing precision.
* I have seen,' says M. D'Obsonville, ' two occupied in beating down
a wall, which their keepers had desired them to do, and encouraged
them by a promise of fruits and brandy. They combined their efforts ;
and doubling up their trunks, which were guarded from injury by
leather, thrust against the strongest part of the wall, and by reiterated
shocks continued their attacks, still observing and following the effect
of the equilibrium with their eyes ; then at last making one grand
effort, they suddenly drew back together, that they might not be
wounded by the ruins.' It is also told of an elephant at Barrack-
pore, that would swim laden with parcels to the opposite shore of
the Ganges, and then unload himself with undeviating accuracy.
In the year 1811, a lady, staying with her husband, an officer in the
Company's service, at a house near the fort of Travancore, was
astonished one morning to observe an elephant, unattended, march-
ing into the courtyard, carrying a box in his trunk, apparently very
heavy. He deposited this, and going his way, soon returned with a
similar box, which he placed by the side of the other. He continued
this operation till he had formed a considerable pile, arranged with
undeviating order. The boxes contained the treasure of the rajah of
Travancore, who had died in the night, and of whose property the
English commander had taken possession, thus removing the more
valuable for greater security.

Much of what is called docility in animals arises from mere un-
reasoning habit, forced upon them by frequent repetition, by food,
punishing them when the act is ill executed, and by giving them
delicacies when it is well performed. Thus a horse will go to his
own stall, and stand in it untied as well as when tied ; go to and
from the water, place himself between the shafts of the cart, and do
other similar acts without any interference ; just as an elephant will
tie its own legs at night, or kneel when a person of rank passes by.
But there are many duties which the latter will learn to perform
almost at first sight, the knowledge of which he acquires with an
aptitude that would do credit even to human reason. ' I have
myself,' says the author of Twelve YcarJ Military Adventure, 'seen
the wife of a mahoud (for the followers often take their families with
them to camp) give a baby in charge to an elephant, while she went
on some business, and have been highly amused in observing the


sagacity and care of the unwieldy nurse. The child, which, like
most children, did not like to lie still in one position, would, as soon
as left to itself, begin crawling about ; in which exercise it would
probably get among the legs of the animal, or entangled in the
branches of the trees on which he was feeding ; when the elephant
would, in the most tender manner, disengage his charge, either by-
lifting it out of the way with his trunk, or by removing the impedi-
ments to its free progress. If the child had crawled to such a
distance as to verge upon the limits of his range (for the animal was
chained by the leg to a peg driven into the ground), he would stretch
out his trunk, and lift it back as gently as possible to the spot
whence it started.'

Perhaps the docility of the elephant could not be better illus-
trated than by the aptitude and precision which it manifests in the
capture of its wild brethren. The female decoys are the very
impersonations of duplicity and cunning : they can be taught not
only to lavish their false caresses, but to bind the fetters of the
captive ; nay, they even outstrip their lessons, and seem to rejoice
in the capture. Dr Danvin tells us that he was informed by a
gentleman of veracity, that in some parts of the East the elephant
is taught to walk on a narrow path between two pitfalls, which are
covered with turf, and then to go into the woods and induce the
wild herd to come that way. The decoy walks slowly onward till
near the trap, and then bustles away as if in sport or in fear, passing
safely between the pits, while some of those which follow in the wake
are inevitably entangled. The same gentleman says also, that it
was universally observed that such wild elephants as had escaped
the snare, always pursued the traitor with the utmost vehemence ;
and if they could overtake him, which sometimes happened, they
beat him to death.


The elephant, when carefully tamed, is one of the most gentle,
most obedient, and most affectionate of all domestic animals. He is
so fond of his keeper that he caresses him, strives to please him,
and even to anticipate his commands. His attachment, indeed,
sometimes becomes so strong, and his affection so warm and durable,
that he has been known to die of sorrow when in a paroxysm of
madness he had killed his guide. This disposition, however, is
wholly acquired ; in a state of nature he has no regard for man, but
shuns rather than seeks his presence. Whether this acquired regard
be the result of fear, of habitual obedience brought about by a system
of rewards and punishments, or of an innate gentleness which insen-
sibly attaches itself to that which daily surrounds it, it would be
difficult to decide, though, along with most naturalists, we are
inclined to adopt the latter opinion. The animal is naturally


gregarious, and when denied the companionship of its fellows, will,
like the horse, dog, &c. expend its sympathies on those creatures
with which it is most familiar.

In the Philosophical Transactions a story is related of an elephant
having such an attachment for a very young child, that he was
never happy but when it was near him. The nurse used, therefore,
very frequently to take the child in its cradle and place it between
its feet. This he at length became so much accustomed to, that he
would never eat his food except when it was present. When the
child slept, he used to drive off the flies with his proboscis ; and
when it cried, he would move the cradle backwards and forwards,
and thus rock it again to sleep. Nor will this instance of sagacious
affection appear at ah 1 improbable to those who are acquainted with
the thorough intimacy which generally subsists between the family
of the Indian mahoud and his elephant, which may be said literally
to live under the same roof, eat the same bread, and drink the same

We have seen how attached the Duke of Devonshire's elephant
became to her keeper, crying after him when absent, and even
refusing to be comforted. The same affection almost always subsists
between the Indian mahoud and his charge. Nor is it at all sur-
prising, seeing that he is ever with it, feeds it, cleans it, adorns and
caresses it, with unfailing attention.

The following instances of gratitude are in the highest degree
praiseworthy, and might well put to the blush many who lay claim to
a higher position in the scale of intelligence. An elephant in Ajmeer,
which passed frequently through the bazaar, or market, as he went
by a certain herb-woman, always received from her a mouthful of
greens. At length he was seized with one of his periodical fits of
rage, broke from his fetters, and, running through the market, put
the crowd to flight, and among others this woman, who in her haste
forgot a little child she had brought with her. The animal, grate-
fully recollecting the spot where his benefactress was wont to sit,
laid aside his fury, and, taking up the infant gently in his trunk,
placed it safely on a stall before a neighbouring house. Again, there
was a soldier at Pondicherry who was accustomed, whenever he
received his share of liquor, to carry a certain quantity of it to one
of these animals, and by this means a very cordial intimacy was
formed between them. Having drunk rather too freely one day,
and finding himself pursued by the guards, who were going to take
him to prison, the soldier took refuge under the elephant's body, and
fell asleep. The guard tried in vain to force him from this asylum,
as the animal protected him most strenuously with his trunk. The
following morning, the soldier, recovering from his drunken fit,
shuddered with horror to find himself stretched under the belly of
this huge animal. The elephant, who, without doubt, perceived the
man's embarrassment, caressed him with his trunk, in order to


inspire him with courage, and made him understand that he might
now depart in safety.


Though generally mild, docile, and even affectionate, there are
none of the domestic animals half so prone to resent injuries and
insults as the elephant. The horse, for example, will endure patiently
under the hardest labour, starvation, and the harshest treatment
rarely if ever avenging the brutalities to which he is exposed. Not
so with the elephant ; for, goad him beyond his accustomed speed,,
and he becomes furious ; overload him, and he throws off his
burden ; refuse him a promised delicacy, and he punishes the insult ;
treat him harshly, and he will trample the aggressor to death. The
manner in which he resents his insults is, however, frequently as
ludicrous as his revenge is fatal.

Every one must have read of the mishaps of the Delhi tailor.
This individual was in the habit of giving some little delicacy, such
as an apple, to an elephant that daily passed by his shop, and so
accustomed had the animal become to this treatment, that it regu-
larly put its trunk in at his window to receive the expected gift.
One day, however, the tailor being out of humour, thrust his needle
into the beast's proboscis, telling it to be gone, as he had nothing to
give it. The creature passed on, apparently unmoved ; but on
coming to the next dirty pool of water, filled its trunk, and returned
to the shop-window, into which it discharged the whole contents,
thoroughly drenching poor Snip and the wares by which he was
surrounded. Again, a painter was desirous of drawing the elephant
kept in the menagerie at Versailles in an uncommon attitude, which
was that of holding his trunk raised up in the air, with his mouth
open. The painter's boy, in order to keep the animal in this posture,
threw fruit into his mouth ; but as he had frequently deceived him,
and made him an offer only of throwing the fruit, he grew angry ;
and, as if he had known the painter's intention of drawing him was
the cause of the affront that was offered him, instead of revenging
himself on the lad, he turned his resentment on his master, and
taking up a quantity of water in his trunk, threw it on the paper
which the painter was drawing on, and spoilt it.

A sentinel belonging to the menagerie at Paris was always
very careful in requesting the spectators not to give the elephants
anything to eat. This conduct particularly displeased the female,
who beheld him with a very unfavourable eye, and had several times
endeavoured to correct his interference by sprinkling his head with
water from her trunk. One day, when several persons were collected
to view these animals, a bystander offered the female a bit of bread.
The sentinel perceived it ; but the moment he opened his mouth to
give his usual admonition, she, placing herself immediately before



him, discharged in his face a violent stream of water. A general
laugh ensued ; but the sentinel having calmly wiped his face, stood
a little to one side, and continued as vigilant as before. Soon
afterwards he found himself under the necessity of repeating his
admonition to the spectators ; but no sooner was this uttered, than
the female laid hold of his musket, twirled it round with her trunk,
trod it under her feet, and did not restore it till she had twisted it
nearly into the form of a corkscrew. It is stated, amongst the
traditionary stories of elephant resentment, that Pidcock, to whom
the Exeter 'Change menagerie formerly belonged, had for some years
a custom of treating himself and his elephant in the evening with a
glass of spirits, for which the animal regularly looked. Pidcock
invariably gave the elephant the first glass out of the bottle, till one
night he exclaimed : 'You have been served first long enough, and
it 's my turn now.' The proud beast was offended, refused the glass
when he was denied the precedence, and never more would join his
master in his revelries.

Innumerable stories of ludicrous resentment might be collected,
but we shall close this section with the following abridgments from
the Menageries : ' Mr Williamson tells an anecdote of an elephant
who used to be called the Pangul, or fool, but who vindicated his
claim to another character in a very singular manner. He had
refused to bear a greater weight upon a march than was agreeable
to him, by constantly pulling part of the load off his back ; and a
quarter-master of brigade, irritated at his obstinacy, threw a tent-
pin at his head. In a few days after, as the animal was going from
the camp to water, he overtook the quarter-master, and seizing him
with his trunk, lifted him into a large tamarind-tree which overhung
the road, leaving him to cling to the boughs, and get down as well
as he could. Lieutenant Shipp, to try this memory of injuries, gave
an elephant a large quantity of Cayenne pepper between some bread.
The animal was much irritated by the offence, and about six weeks
after, when the unsuspecting joker went to fondle him, he endured
the caresses very placidly, but finished the affair by drenching his
persecutor with dirty water from head to foot.'

It is not always, however, in this harmless and jocular manner
that the elephant displays his resentment, as the following well-
authenticated instances will shew : An elephant that was exhibited
in France some years ago, seemed to know when it was mocked by
any person, and remembered the affront till an opportunity for
revenge occurred. A man deceived it, by pretending to throw some-
thing into its mouth : the animal gave him such a blow with its
trunk as knocked him down, and broke two of his ribs ; after which
it trampled upon him, broke one of his legs, and bending down on
its knees, endeavoured to push its tusks into his body ; but they
luckily ran into the ground on each side of his thigh, without doing
him any injury. In this case the provocation was certainly not



deserving of the punishment ; though in many instances the animal
is but too justly excited. M. Navarette tells us that at Macassar an
elephant-driver had a cocoa-nut given him, which, out of wantonness,
he struck twice against his elephant's head to break. The day
following, the animal saw some cocoa-nuts exposed in the street for
sale, and taking one of them up with its trunk, beat it about the
driver's head till the man was completely dead. ' This comes,' says
our authority, 'of jesting with elephants.'

Some years ago, at Liverpool Zoological Gardens, after delighting
groups of young holiday folks by his skilful and docile performances,
the elephant gave some offence to one of the deputy-keepers, and
was by him chastised with a broomstick. No one was by to see
what occurred in the next few minutes ; but at the expiration of that
time, the unfortunate deputy-keeper was found dead at the feet of
the insulted beast, having been killed, in all probability, by a single
blow of the animal's trunk. The body presented a most appalling
spectacle, the arms and legs being fractured in several places, the
skull cloven, and the entire body crushed to pieces by the animal,
who, it would appear, in his rage, had repeatedly trampled upon


That the elephant remembers with precision the lessons taught
him, that he will resent an injury long after it has been committed,
and will recognise an old guide many years after he has been parted
from him, are facts that sufficiently prove the possession of a very
retentive memory. In this respect, however, he is by no means
superior to the horse ; but seems to associate his ideas more slowly,
and with greater difficulty. Many feats ascribed to his sagacity and
memory are eminently the effect of habit meaning thereby the
following of a particular line of conduct which one has been accus-
tomed to, without any special effort of the understanding at the time
of its repetition. The following instances, recorded in the Philoso-
phical Transactions for 1799, seem to establish this position : 'A
female elephant that had escaped to the forest, and had enjoyed her
liberty for more than ten years, was at last caught, along with a
number of others, in a keddah. After the others had been secured,
with the exception of seven or eight young ones, the hunters, who
recognised this female, were ordered to call on her by name. She
immediately came to the side of the ditch within the enclosure, on
which some of the drivers were desired to carry in a plantain-tree,
the leaves of which she not only took from their hands with her trunk,
but opened her mouth for them to put a leaf into it, which they did,
stroking and caressing her, and calling to her by name. One of
the trained elephants was now ordered to be brought to her, and
the driver to take her by the ear and order her to lie down. At


first she did not like the koomkee to go near her, and retired to a
distance, seeming angry ; but when the drivers, who were on foot,
called to her, she came immediately, and allowed them to stroke
and caress her as before ; and in a few minutes after, permitted the
trained elephants to be familiar. A driver from one of these then
fastened a rope round her body, and instantly jumped on her back,
which at the moment she did not like, but was soon reconciled to it.
A sm.all cord was then put round her neck for the driver to put his
feet in, who, seating himself on the neck in the usual manner, drove
her about the enclosure in the same manner as any of the tame
elephants. After this he ordered her to lie down, which she instantly
did ; nor did she rise till she was desired. He fed her from his seat,
gave her his stick to hold, which she took with her trunk and put
into her mouth, kept, and then returned it, as she was directed, and
as she had formerly been accustomed to do. In short, she was so
obedient, that had there been more wild elephants in the enclosure,
she would have been useful in securing them.

' In June 1787, a male elephant, taken the year before, was travel-
ling, in company with some others, towards Chittagong, laden with
baggage ; and having come upon a tiger's track, which elephants
discover readily by the smell, he took fright and ran off to the woods,
in spite of all the efforts of his driver. On entering the wood, the
driver saved himself by springing from the animal, and clinging to
the branch of a tree under which he was passing. When the
elephant had got rid of his driver, he soon contrived to shake off his
load. As soon as he ran away, a trained female was despatched
after him, but could not get up in time to prevent his escape.

' Eighteen months after this, when a herd of elephants had been,
taken, and had remained several days in the enclosure, till they were
enticed into the outlet, there tied, and led out in the usual manner,
one of the drivers, viewing a male elephant very attentively, declared
he resembled the one which had run away. This excited the curiosity
of every one to go and look at him ; but when any person came near,
the animal strtick at him with his trunk, and in every respect
appeared as wild and outrageous as any of the other elephants. An
old hunter at length coming up and examining him, declared that
he was the very elephant that had made his escape.

' Confident of this, he boldly rode up to him on a tame elephant,
and ordered him to lie down, pulling him by the ear at the same
time. The animal seemed taken by surprise, and instantly obeyed
the word of command, uttering at the same time a peculiar shrill
squeak through his trunk, as he had formerly been known to do, by
\vhich he was immediately recognised by every person who was
acquainted with this peculiarity.

' Thus we see that this elephant, for the space of eight or ten days,
during which he was in the enclosure, appeared equally wild and
fierce with the boldest elephant then taken ; but the moment he was


addressed in a commanding tone, the recollection of his former
obedience seemed to rush upon him at once, and, without any
difficulty, he permitted a driver to be seated on his neck, who in a
few days made him as tractable as ever.

' A female elephant belonging to a gentleman at Calcutta being
ordered from the upper country to Chotygone", by chance broke loose
from her keeper, and was lost in the woods. The excuses which the
keeper made were not admitted. It was supposed that he had sold
the elephant : his wife and family therefore were sold for slaves, and
he was himself condemned to work upon the roads. About twelve
years afterwards, this man was ordered up into the country to assist
in catching the wild elephants. The keeper fancied he saw his long-
lost elephant in a group that was before them. He was determined
to go up to it ; nor could the strongest representations of the great
danger dissuade him from his purpose. When he approached the
creature, she knew him ; and giving him three salutes by waving
her trunk in the air, knelt down and received him on her back. She
afterwards assisted in securing the other elephants, and likewise
brought with her three young ones, which she had produced during
her absence. The keeper recovered his character, and, as a recom-
pense for his sufferings and intrepidity, had an annuity settled on
him for life. This elephant was afterwards in the possession of
Governor Hastings.'

These, and several other instances, establish the possession of a
very good memory ; but not a memory associated with any high
degree of reasoning, otherwise the animals would never have allowed
themselves to be again entrapped. It is clear that in the above
cases habitual obedience was more powerful than reason ; the
sudden rush of recollection overpowering that faculty, and making
them the slaves of that higher intelligence to which all flesh has
been declared to be subject.


According to some, the elephant is the most sagacious of animals,
while others consider him inferior to the horse and dog. Taking
the brain as the index of intelligence, there is nothing in the propor-
tionate size of that organ which would lead to the former opinion,
and therefore we must look to the general conduct of the animal for
evidence of the assertion. His docility, obedience, attachment, and
memory all certainly point to no mean degree of endowment ; but
perhaps not more than is evinced by the horse and dog ; while his

Online LibraryWilliam ChambersChambers's miscellany of instructive & entertaining tracts (Volume 4) → online text (page 22 of 58)