It all began at the ‘Eland Dinner’, held in 1859 at the London Tavern, when all the braver naturalists assembles to see if they thought eland should be introduced to the national diet.1
Once upon a time there was a fellow by the name of Francis Trevelyan Buckland. Frank, as he was known, “set standards for the sensory appreciation of British wildlife, especially vertebrates, that have seldom been matched and never exceeded. Not content to confine his fascination to the more usual diagnostic characters (appearance, morphology, and the like), Buckland also set himself the challenge of demonstrating, not the mere edibility, but the actual palatability of British and exotic wildlife.”2 In other words, Frank was no vegetarian. Not only did Frank eat wildlife, but he led the brief but popular natural history fad of eating exotic species as a way of studying them for England, otherwise known as zoophagy.
Born in England to William Buckand, a noted geologist and palenotologist of the time and his wife Mary (who was a gifted natural historian in her own right), Frank grew up in a well to-do and well connected family. He attended Oxford, where he received his B.A. and then trained and worked as a surgeon briefly, before quitting his post and turning to natural history. Frank became a popular author and lecturer, particularly among the working classes, his most noted work being his Curiosities of Natural History.
…in 1860 (Buckland) initiated the Acclimatization Society to further the search for new food. A French Société Impérial d’Acclimatation had already been in existence for six years, awarding medals and prizes for domestication of the kangaroo, the Australian emu, the Tibetan kiang ad the South African peetsi. After all, it seemed unsatisfactory to many people that only four new species of animals had been domesticated within historic times–the turkey in the 16th century, the musk-duck in the 17th and the golden and silver pheasants in the 18th. Sheer patriotism demanded some gustatory return for the vast and rapid expansion of the British empire: it was absurd that Englishmen in Queen Victoria’s glorious reign should still be eating the same monotonous diet as their midieval forefathers.1
Frank came by his interest in tasting the animal kingdom quite naturally–dinner at his father’s house included meals as varied as horse tongue, puppies, and crocodile. Nor were the Bucklands some sort of natural history culinary pioneers–in addition to the aforementioned ‘Eland Dinner’, others of their field studied such dishes as well. Frank, however, elevated the consumption of broiled porpoise, elephant trunk soup and accidentally barbecued giraffe (there was a fire in the giraffe house at the zoo) into an institution. While this seems quite odd, or even sacrilegious to our modern palates and sensibilities, the work of these men (via the Acclimatization Society) actually contributed to the advancement of the British fishery and aquaculture by promoting hatcheries and bringing attention to the problem of pollution causing decreased fishery productivity. With the institutionalization of tasting wildlife, comes the institution of breeding it.
As a result of his work in the advancement of the commercial fishery, Frank Buckland would be appointed as “Her Majesty’s Inspector of Salmon Fisheries”, and remain in that position until his early death at the age of 54 (perhaps of tuberculosis or lung cancer)–even today there is an award for British scientists whose research focuses on the issues facing the fishing industry. Frank Buckland is mostly remembered (though only by those with a quirky interest in science and history) for his diversely experimental palate, of which I would bet kangaroo was a part (it may not have been served in casserole form) though he should really be remembered for bringing the knowledge of scientists to the working classes and the knowledge of the working classes (from fishermen to rat catchers) to scientists (Darwin’s writings even include material from his better work, despite Darwin’s personal dislike of him). But I also think that perhaps Frank Buckland is the sort of fellow that would prefer it that way…
His great merit as a writer was his power of rendering natural history attractive to the multitude; this he did to perfection… Whilst other writers of popular natural history simply compile, Buckland described from his own quaint and singular points of view. His descriptions were therefore vivid, and, if not always consistent, were eminently readable, and doubtless have served their own good turn by attracting many to the study of nature and natural objects.
~From the obituary of Frank Buckland in Field, Land and Water
References and Links of interest:
1) The Heyday of Natural History by Lynn Barber (Chapter 10: The Pioneer of Zoophagy)
2) A bit about Frank Buckland, from the Annals of Improbable Research (AIR=one of my favorite sites!)
Frank’s Wiki page
Blog post on zoophagy with an image of a 1905 menu of “Filet of Bornean Rhinoceros” (now critically endangered)
Blog post detailing a bit about Frank Buckland
About Frank Buckland’s legacy–the founding of the Buckland Foundation, which awards the Buckland Professorship to further research in understanding the problems of commercial fisheries.
A book about Frank
Frank Buckland’s Curiosities in Natural History, reprinted in 2008