The Linnean Society was founded in London in 1788 by a young Norwich physician, Dr. James, Edward Smith, with its object being “cultivation of the science of Natural History in all its branches, and more especially of the Natural History of Great Britain and Ireland”. The society put more emphasis on botany than zoology, but some members were just as interested in animals as they were in plants. A meeting was held in 1822 and it was decided to form a club, with membership restricted to Fellows and Associates of the Linnean Society. The new club was named the “Zoological Club of the Linnean Society of London”.
Sir Stamford Raffles, the founder of Singapore, was a Fellow of the Linnean Society but he never joined its Zoological Club. However for some time he had been considering the formation of a collection of animals. He discussed his idea with Sir Joseph Banks, the President of the Royal Society, when he visited England in 1817. And in 1826 he succeeded in founding such a society. Much later his widow said “at this time he meditated the establishment of a society on the principle of the Jardin des Plantes, which finally, on his last return from the East, he succeeded in forming, in 1826, under the title of the Zoological Society of London”. The members of the Linnean Society’s Zoological Club, seeing that Sir Stamford’s new society had more promise than theirs, dissolved their own club and joined his society. They made up the majority of the Zoological Society’s membership. The chairman of the old club, Mr. N.A. Vigors, became the secretary of the Zoological Society. Many influential men joined. Among the first were Sir Humphrey Davey (the new President of the Royal Society), Robert Peel M.P. (the founder of the Metropolitan Police), and many members of the aristocracy. There was a joining fee of £3 and an annual membership fee of £2. Charles Darwin became a Fellow in 1837, eleven years after it was founded.
The society established gardens and a menagerie in a corner of London’s Regent’s park. And shortly afterwards the lakes and islands near the park were added to form a home for waterfowl. A contemporary engraving of the gardens is shown below.
The Zoological Garden opened, for members and their guests only, on the 27th of April 1828.
In December of that year, Benjamin Misselbrook, a young man from Chilworth, near Southampton in Hampshire, came to London to work in the new Garden.
In 1833 Jane Goulden, a girl from Chilworth, came to London and married Benjamin. They lived near the zoo and started a family. Their first child was a girl called Kate.
The plan below shows the zoo as it was in 1929.
In the years following their foundation the gardens were extended several times and the zoo developed quickly. The first elephant was acquired in 1831, followed by a rhinoceros in 1834 and the first giraffes in 1836. The world’s first reptile house was opened in 1849, followed in 1853 by the world’s first public aquarium. There would have been a great deal of work for the labourers, including Benjamin.
Benjamin seems to have quickly risen to a position of trust. By 1832 he was in charge of the birds which were kept on the islands in the lakes. There were duck-winged game, Indians, silkies and bantams. Control of rats would have been one of his priorities because in that year more than one hundred chicks were hatched but many were taken.
In 1841 he and his family were living in Cochrane Terrace, just outside the north-western corner of the park, and by then they had four children. In 1851 they still lived in the same place, but now they had nine children. By 1861 several of their elder children had left and they had moved to an apartment in a large villa. Their neighbour in the same villa also worked at the zoo. His name was Henry Self and he gave his occupation as menagerie keeper. Benjamin said he was a gardener.
From 1847 the general public were admitted to the Gardens, at first on Mondays and Tuesdays only, without the necessity of obtaining an ‘order’ from a Fellow. There was a fee of one shilling. Soon this was extended to all weekdays, expcept for “Promenade Days” when the Gardens were open to Fellows of the Society only.
Benjamin was involved in many aspects of the work of the zoo. In 1866 he and two other keepers were awarded bronze medals for “their meritorious success in breeding foreign animals in the Gardens”
In 1869 Benjamin was appointed Head Keeper and the family moved to the Head Keeper’s Lodge within the Gardens. Only three of his children still lived with him and one of them, George, worked at the zoo; he was a “Money Taker”.
The following article from the London Standard reports that on the 30th of November 1878, Benjamin was about to complete fifty years service with the zoo.
“Mr Misselbrook, the head keeper at the Zoological Gardens in the Regents Park, will complete his fiftieth year of service to-morrow. He has been head keeper for many years, and his long and large experience has on many occasions been of the greatest service to Mr. Bartlett, the superintendent, and to the other officers of the society.”
Benjamin was Head Keeper for twenty years. The following exerpt from the 1881 census shows him living in the Head Keeper’s Lodge with his wife and daughter Jane.
Benjamin retired on a pension in 1889, when he was about 79 years old.
During his retirement, Benjamin lived with his wife Jane in Hampstead, in a house in Achilles Street. He died there on the 19th of October 1893 and was survived by his wife. His estate, valued at £297 14s 6d, was administered by his son Walter, who was a builder’s foreman.
Benjamin Misselbrook’s family relationships
Benjamin and his wife Jane had ten children. They were: Kate (born 1834), Ann (born, 1836), Thomas (born 1838), Walter (born 1840), Henry (born 1842), George (born 1844), Charles (born 1846), Emma (born 1848), Alfred (born 1849) and Jane (born 1851).
Benjamin is related to the Bennett family of Chilworth in Hampshire through his sister, Elizabeth, who married Henry Bennett. And Elizabeth was a great-grandmother of Dorothy Bennett, the grandmother of the author of this web page. Details of Dorothy’s ancestors can be found at Dorothy Bennett’s Ancestors, and details of Dorothy’s husband Sidney Parsons’ ancestors can be found at Sidney Parsons’ Ancestors.
The known ancestors of Benjamin Misselbrook are shown below.
Benjamin’s father Thomas Misselbrook was a gamekeeper from the Chilworth estate in Hampshire.
His mother Elizabeth Misselbrook née Ireland came from North Stoneham, a parish which adjoins Chilworth.
The diagram below shows Benjamin’s brothers and sisters and his relationship to the Bennetts. His own children have been excluded to save space.
You are free to make use of the information in these web pages in any way that you wish but please be aware that the author, Mike Parsons, is unable to accept respsonsibility for any errors or omissions.
Mike can be contacted at email@example.com
The information in these web pages comes from a number of sources including: Hampshire County Records Office, Somerset Heritage Centre; Dorset County Records Office; Southampton City Archives; the General Register Office; several on-line newspaper archives; several on-line transcriptions of Parish Register Entries; and several on-line indexes of births, marriages and deaths. The research has also been guided at times by the published work of others, both on-line and in the form of printed books, and by information from personal correspondence with other researchers, for all of which thanks are given. However, all of the information in these web pages has been independently verified by the author from original sources, facimile copies, or, in the case of a few parish register entries, transcriptions published by on-line genealogy sites. The author is aware that some other researchers have in some cases drawn different conclusions and have published information which is at variance from that shown in these web pages.
Copyright © 2013 Mike Parsons. All rights reserved.