Taxidermy: I am the walrus... get me out of here

 

First he was shot, stuffed and introduced to Queen Victoria. Now Britain's most celebrated walrus is leaving his home on a fake iceberg in south-east London for his first glimpse of the sea for more than a century.

The one-ton beast, who was overstuffed by taxidermists thought never to have seen a real walrus, is being loaned by the Horniman Museum in Forest Hill to an exhibition on the Kent coast.

He has been one of the London institution's most popular exhibits since it opened in 1901, never moving more than 25 feet. But over two days this week a specialist team of art movers winched him from his plinth for a 70-mile journey east to the Turner Contemporary in Margate. He will be the star of "Curiosity: Art and the Pleasures of Knowing", an exhibition opening on 25 May.

Once secured in a lorry, the monster move was straight-forward, but preparations gave museum staff the opportunity to discover more about their walrus. X-rays revealed a wood-and-steel construction, as well as a full skull and bones in his stubby flippers.

Joanne Hatton, the Horniman's keeper of natural history, has communed daily with the animal for the past seven years. "We'll miss him a lot," she says. "He's popular with several generations of visitors who can't wait for him to come back."

The walrus was brought to London from Hudson Bay in Canada by the Victorian hunter James Henry Hubbard. It was first exhibited at the Indian and Colonial Exhibition in South Kensington in 1886, when Queen Victoria was said to have admired it. Frederick John Horniman, a tea trader and public benefactor, acquired the nameless animal in the early 1890s. After a summer by the sea, he'll return to his iceberg in Forest Hill in September.

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