In Chapter 33, John meets Elinor and Marianne at Gray’s and he makes his excuses for not calling on them sooner because they had to take Harry to see the wild beasts at the Exeter Exchange. Here is some information from the L&T archives.
It was built in 1676 on the site of Exeter House, which was the London home built for Sir Thomas Palmer in Edward IV’s reign, and was eventually given by Queen Elizabeth I to William Cecil, Lord Burghley, whose son was created the Earl of Exeter- hence the name of the building, linked here.
It was in our period a little like a small shopping mall, with drapers, milliners and hosiers setting up shop in the building. Sadly too few traders took up leases and this part of the business was not a success. Offices eventually took over the available space.
Except for one interesting part.
In 1773 Edward Cross set up a menagerie here, and that is where John Dashwood takes his little boy.
The playbill/advert is fascinating.
Note the name “Nillguas” for more info below.
Byron in his journal gives a rather touching description of the elephant who could be found there, amongst the other animals, and was typically rude about a few humans in the following passage, though, IMHO, he was generally admiring and sympathetic to the animals in the menagerie:
Two nights ago I saw the tigers sup at Exeter ‘Change. Except Veli Pacha’s lion in the Morea, — who followed the Arab keeper like a dog, — the fondness of the hyaena for her keeper amused me most. Such a conversazione!
There was a ‘hippopotamus,’ like Lord Liverpool in the face; and the ‘Ursine Sloth’ had the very voice and manner of my valet–but the tiger talked too much. The elephant took and gave me my money again–took off my hat–opened a door–trunked a whip–and behaved so well, that I wish he was my butler.
The handsomest animal on earth is one of the panthers; but the poor antelopes were dead. I should hate to see one here:–the sight of the camel made me pine again for Asia Minor. Oh quando le aspiciam?
Journal, November 14, 1813
This most scientific elephant had an unfortunate end. He was called Chunee. He was killed in 1826 when his attendants thought he threatened to break through the bars of his cage.
Here is a picture recording his demise (Ed. Note: it’s too graphic and sad for me). He was shot by a party of soldiers from Somerset House (nearby) but survived this assault. They then sent for a cannon with which to shoot him, but before this arrived, the elephant’s keeper fatally wounded him with a harpoon.
Nine butchers took 12 hours to flay the hide from the elephant’s dead form. The poor beast was then dissected by ten surgeons who were in turn observed by a hoard of medical students.
Mr Cross displayed the skeleton of the Elephant in the damaged cage until the Exchange closed in 1829, when the remaining animals were put on display at the Surrey Zoological Gardens.
(See The London Enclyopaedia, edited by Ben Weinreb and Christopher Hibbert.)
‘Nilgau’ is actually ‘Nilgai’…the Indian/Hindi name for the Blu Bull.
Nil = blue
Gai = cow