The Cornish Pixie

On the night of Jan. 5th, 1905, a fearful storm raged on the South and South West coast of England. A vessel was seen making desperate struggles to keep her course. She was, however, lost to sight and the eager eyes watching, could see no more. Next morning some fishermen searching among a quantity of wreckage, discovered the mannikin, known as Dick Trelawny, tied to a beam of timber.

Washed up on the coast of Penzance in Cornwall, the fishermen who initially found Dick Trelawny eventually became wary of him and came to think of him as something sent to them by the Devil. He went to live with an old lady and, so the story goes, it was there he remained until Captain Jack Neville came across him.

Captain Neville said that he recognised the “importance of this little mite from a scientific and physiological standpoint…“and, after several Doctors looked him over, they came to the conclusion that Dick Trelawny was between 48 and 75 years of age, weighed over four kilos and was about 65 cms tall.

Cornish Pixie ImageHe initially spoke in a “guttural tongue” unable to be deciphered by linguists but soon learnt English and French.

His features, though pensive, are constantly illumined by a sweet smile which, with his merry little laugh and winning eyes, make him a most interesting and pleasant study.

He was given the name ‘The Cornish Pixie’ and agreed to go with Captain Neville to be exhibited around the world.

By June 1908 a similar story such as the one printed in The Cornish Telegraph was printed in The W.A. Record. While much of the information was the same, there were a few additional facts.

Smoke

On 1 December 1908, Captain Neville, his wife and The Cornish Pixie arrived in Fremantle, Western Australia via the S.S. Charon.

Two days later, The Daily News reported on their arrival and stated that The Cornish Pixie was on display in the window of a vacant shop opposite Brennan Brothers located on Hay Street in Perth. Advertising soon appeared in the newspapers.

Advertising

Articles boasted that The Cornish Pixie would prove immensely popular in Perth and described the “unanimous expressions of wonder and approval” by the public who had come to see him. The Australian was the only newspaper to provide a description.

Description

While initially only exhibited two times daily, it later changed to three, perhaps suggesting The Cornish Pixie was proving to be very popular with the people of Perth after all.

This wonderful mannikin proved a great source of attraction on Saturday evening, when a continual crowd of visitors thronged to and fro. Captain Neville gives a very interesting and comprehensive explanation to every batch of visitors, allowing them to lift Pixie for themselves…

Subsequent articles always took on a glowing tone, even going as far as stating how immensely popular Pixie (as he came to be known) was with the ladies. While it is possible that the writer(s) genuinely felt the exhibit was amazing, in my opinion, the articles scream of bias. Perhaps Captain Neville had befriended local reporters or, was simply supplying the Albany Advertisingstories himself.

The Cornish Pixie was exhibited in Perth from 3 December until 23 December 1908. He next travelled to Fremantle, was on display for a few days and then headed to Kalgoorlie where he was exhibited from a room on Hannan Street. Coincidentally, the location was once again opposite premises owned by the Brennan Brothers.

At the start of the New Year, Pixie was reported to have arrived in Albany and was shown from a tent on the Parade Street Recreation Ground (see left advertisement). The article describing the exhibition was essentially a carbon copy of previous articles printed in other newspapers.

From Western Australia, Captain Neville and The Cornish Pixie travelled to South Australia in late January 1909 for exhibition at No. 48 Arcade in Adelaide. Articles reiterated his success and one went further, indicating that in the past he had been received by H.R.H. The Prince of Wales, the Kaiser, the Sultan of Turkey, the Khedive of Egypt and the Maharajah of Mysore. Again, while genial to all people, he was noted to be particularly fond of the fairer sex, regularly taking the opportunity to bestow kisses upon them. He was also said to be “decidedly matrimonially inclined.

Jack Johnson, the well-known boxer, was also in South Australia at the time and, while there, decided to pay a visit to The Cornish Pixie. Both were apparently fascinated with the other but Pixie found the upper hand when, convincing Mr Johnson to sit on the floor, he then (supposedly) “hit him full on the nose.

Leaving Adelaide, the group headed to Melbourne for a show at St George’s Hall on Bourke Street in late February and throughout March 1909.

The articles continued in much the same way but with some minor differences. While in Adelaide he was in the matrimonial market, in Melbourne, he was “a firm believer in platonic friendships with the opposite sex.” He spoke his own language in Perth and Adelaide and had only picked up a few words of English and French but in Melbourne he was said to speak English, French and other languages fluently. It is in these slight changes that the story of The Cornish Pixie begins to look rather doubtful.

By April 1909, the group had moved on from Victoria and arrived in New South Wales where The Cornish Pixie was exhibited at 198 Pitt Street in Sydney.

Sydney Ad

Slight differences (perhaps accounting for new audiences) continued. Whereas in Perth Pixie’s age was always recorded in advertising as 45, in Sydney, the age was given an air of mystery by simply leaving it as ‘unknown’.

The language discrepancy also continued. This time, Pixie could speak French fluently but could only understand English and German. Another article stated he had been taught some English and was learning French.

It is hoped that one day he will be able to speak sufficiently well to tell his history; meantime the management offers a substantial reward to anyone who can understand the mannikin’s own language.

Towards the end of May 1909, Pixie was still on exhibit in Sydney and, due to the overwhelming popularity with visitors, had found bigger premises at 498 George Street near Adams’s Cafe. Larger rooms also meant that an additional exhibit could be set up in the window.

Clothes

Positive reports (perhaps written by Captain Neville) flooded the papers wherever Pixie went however, “Fanella”, writing the column ‘Sydney Week by Week From a Woman’s Point of View’ for the Clarence and Richmond Examiner, visited Pixie and provided a description as well as one of the rare accounts where approval was not given.

Fanella

On 12 June 1909, Brisbane newspapers began printing advertising for The Cornish Pixie. He was due to leave New South Wales and was on his way to Queensland with the exhibit opening on 15 June.

Cornish Pixie

At 145 Queen Street in Brisbane, all continued in much the same way as the other States. Pixie was put on display, details of his back-story and the exhibit were regularly printed in the paper, people visited him and, by early July 1909, he moved on. He remained absent from the papers for quite a few weeks until 20 July 1909 when it was announced that he would be on display at Gill Street in Charters Towers (a northern Queensland town located an hour and a half inland from Townsville).

Then, in late July 1909, after about eight months on the road and touring five Australian States, the truth was finally exposed. The Cornish Pixie was not (as was often claimed) a descendant of an extinct race of pygmies from central Mexico, he was nothing more than a monkey dressed up in clothes.

The labor socialist newspaper, People, was first to break the story and used the sham as a means to demonstrate the evils of capitalism.

It was with a true spirit of capitalist enterprise that “Cornish Pixie,” the smallest man on earth, was placed upon the Australian show market. Pixie, after a successful exhibition in many States turned out to be a fraud – and not a freak. But it was a clever deception. Men held him in the palm of their hands; women kissed the “dear little fellow; while many presents were bestowed upon him. Yet Pixie was a fraud – a real genuine capitalist fraud. He was not a twentieth century man at all – Pixie was a monkey.

The paper elaborated and stated that Pixie had been taught several tricks and that his voice was provided by a ventriloquist. Where ‘People’ obtained this information is, of course, never divulged. While it could simply be the writer using Pixie to push the anti-capitalism agenda, it seems likely (given the constant discrepancies in Pixie’s story) that there was more than what meets the eye.

The promoters were said to have been fined £50 for cruelty to an animal and, towards the end, the writer bluntly states “Pixie died“. It is this fact which is at complete odds with the actions of Captain Neville. He was still touring around North Queensland with The Cornish Pixie. Was ‘People’ simply inventing a story?Rumours

Captain Neville attempted to nip the rumours in the bud (left) but, it was too late. The Cairns Post was next to report on the story and provided more detail, courtesy of a letter from their Brisbane correspondent. Despite plenty of opportunities to do so previously, it is the first instance where a writer acknowledges that not many people believed Pixie’s backstory about being shipwrecked on the coast of Cornwall. Details of how the truth came to light (albeit vague) were also printed.

He is supposed to have died, either at Sydney, Childers, Crow’s Nest, Maryborough, or Bunderberg (no one seems to know he went to Townsville some weeks ago), and a magistrate is supposed to have demanded a view of the body, and to have uttered a startling cry on discovering that Dick Trelawney – to give him one of his numerous designations – was nothing more nor less than a monkey, whose face and paws had been shaved and enamelled.

Ultimately, the correspondent believed the story was simply a rumour. But the damage was done. The article set off a chain reaction as the news of the deception broke in newspapers around the rest of Australia.

Truth

The above description was written by a reporter for ‘Truth’ and while they don’t go as far as stating that Pixie was a monkey, they do provide an interesting, contrasting description of Pixie and the exhibition. It paints a far less jovial picture than what was previously portrayed, perhaps enhancing my assumption that other articles were paid for or written by Neville.

Remarkably, by 11 August 1909 and despite the damaging articles in the press, the tour of The Cornish Pixie continued. It was announced he would be exhibited in Rockhampton in Queensland and, by September 1909, he was advertised to show in Bundaberg (one of the towns he had supposedly died in). It was in Bundaberg that Pixie Bundabergwas to end his tour of Australia and, according to The Bundaberg Mail and Burnett Advertiser, was then boarding a ship destined for Europe.

Clearly, this was a ploy to attract customers. He was next noted to be showing in Gympie in Queensland and then, in October 1909, had arrived back in Brisbane for more shows. Rumours of The Cornish Pixie dying and discovered to be a monkey were proving to be quite good for business and even Captain Neville admitted this fact by stating “…we have had an excellent advertisement through all these rumours.

Despite the story of Pixie being a monkey first appearing in late July 1909 and gaining traction throughout August (especially in Perth, where reporters appeared to be rather put out at being tricked) it wasn’t until October that Captain Neville officially addressed the rumours by writing a letter to the Queensland Times. Reiterating the various statements printed in each of the newspapers, he proclaimed them as “damaging” and went on to quote articles where the exhibition had received positive feedback. He hinted at a defamation lawsuit but stopped short of going any further.

After that, I think we can be satisfied, for we cannot lose time in dragging the papers we complain of into Court – where we should probably obtain heavy damages.

Rather telling, in my opinion.

From Brisbane they went to Ipswich (Queensland); from Ipswich to Geelong (Victoria); from Geelong to Ballarat (Victoria); from Ballarat to Hobart (Tasmania); from Hobart to Launceston (Tasmania).

These last exhibits were conducted at whirlwind pace. They whizzed from one place to the other, stayed for a week or so and then moved on to the next town.

Launceston was the last town visited and in January 1910 it was reported that he had officially departed Australia and was now on show in New Zealand. Spending the first half of the year in New Zealand, Pixie visited Invercargill, Dunedin, Christchurch, Wellington, Auckland, New Plymouth, Wanganui, Palmerston, Timaru and Oamaru.

New Zealanders, unlike the Australians, appeared to have been more sceptical and a letter written to the ‘Dominion’ by R. Dentith reflects this person’s doubts.

Although supposed to speak more than one language, I never heard the Pixie do so. He did not even stand on his legs, much less walk. One of the audience wanted to see his leg, but the showman refused the request, on the ground that he only undertook to exhibit the portions of him which could then be seen, viz, his head, face, and hands. Now, why should there be any objection to satisfy the public that this strange being is wholly human?

Leaving New Zealand in May 1910, it was back to Australia where he was exhibited for the first time in Broken Hill in New South Wales. Remarkably and perhaps to throw off any suspicion, a small paragraph was printed in the Otago Daily Times (New Zealand) regarding an RivalAustralian “rival” and what became of him (left).

From New South Wales, Pixie travelled to South Australia where he was first shown at Port Pirie and then once again in Adelaide for a ‘farewell reception’. Leaving South Australia, it was back to Victoria where he was exhibited in the towns of Hamilton, Colac and Bendigo.

This time Bendigo was definitely the final town where Pixie was exhibited. By mid-August 1910, after nearly two years travelling all over Australia and New Zealand, Captain Neville and The Cornish Pixie left our shores and, according to Mr Kreitmeyer (the owner of the Waxworks in Melbourne and the same man who exhibited Jun Gun) they were on their way to South Africa via the SS Persic.

It’s not known if Captain Neville, his wife and Pixie actually reached South Africa. They remained out of the newspapers for about seven months until March 1911 when a brief announcement was printed in the Evening Post (New Zealand).

The Cornish Pixie died in Calcutta on the 8th February. He contracted a severe cold, and died of acute nephritis.

The Cornish Pixie’s death was “official”. There were no more advertisements, no more overwhelmingly positive write-ups in the paper and no more exhibitions. Captain Neville and his wife, presumably, returned from whence they came with (perhaps) much heavier pockets compared to when they first arrived on the shores of Western Australia in 1908.

Initially, one might assume the story was clear-cut. Looking at the evidence of the small frame, the lack of any understandable language, the hands which were described as ‘double jointed’, the often blatant refusal of Captain Neville allowing anyone to closely investigate and the fact that there was constant contradiction of the story itself indicates that something was amiss with The Cornish Pixie. There is no doubt in my mind that what was put on display was a monkey dressed up in clothes. Some questions however remain unanswered. If the truth was exposed due to the death of The Cornish Pixie, why or how did the show continue? Did Captain Neville own several monkeys for the purpose of ‘The Cornish Pixie’ show? Was the story of Pixie being a monkey true but the story of its death simply a rumour?

As with most things when time takes hold, the exhibition of The Cornish Pixie around Australia and New Zealand faded in the minds of most people. Every now and then someone recalled their visit and experience and wrote to the papers. These later articles, unhindered because of the passage of time, shed more light on the story.

I, with others, went to see the Pixie, who was dressed as a boy and sat on a chair on a dais. “He” waved a cane and did a feeble sort of squeak now and again.

The writer was hoping that ‘R. R. Thorne’ would be able to give them more information about what happened to The Cornish Pixie. Thorne wrote back two days later. He knew Captain Neville. He considered him ungentlemanly in his behaviour. He had associated with The Cornish Pixie exhibit over the course of his work and, he confirmed Pixie was a monkey. Then, he went into great detail about how the monkey was mutilated for the show.

A human monster had subjected the little monkey to fearful tortures over a long period. Almost all its teeth had been extracted. Its face and head had been mutilated, carved, stitched and distorted. The skin had been turned inside out.

After healing it had lost the semblance of its natural self and then, with the aid of acids, dyes and paint, the poor thing had been made to look like a puny, flabby and helpless little boy-man.

Its little squeak and its pathetic waving of a small cane should have torn the hearts of spectators, but instead, raised roars of laughter.

G.M.S. will remember that the Pixie was always dressed in a bright green coat well buttoned up. The body and limbs were covered up as much as possible. Its feet were not seen. Its tiny hands were limp and feeble.

If accurate, it’s a sad end to the story of the monkey named Dick Trelawny also known as The Cornish Pixie. It’s also a sad tale of humanity and illustrates just how far some people will go in order to make their fortune. Captain Neville may have been an astute showman but it does not excuse the fact that he still disfigured an animal, exploited it, fooled the public for his own benefit and, by all appearances, managed to get away with it.

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Trove Tuesday – The Karrkaratul

Last week I came across an ABC news article about the sighting of a marsupial mole (Notoryctes Caurinus) by Kiwirrkurra Rangers from the Tjamu Tjamu Aboriginal Corporation. Known as the karrkaratul, it spends most of its life underground and is rarely seen. Reading about the mole and watching the Corporation’s amazing video (above) led me to think about Trove. I wondered what information on the marsupial mole could be found within the historical newspapers. A perfect post for Trove Tuesday!

While the Indigenous people would’ve known about the mole for thousands of years, European people first came across a similar species (Notoryctes Typhlops) in 1888 when Mr Benham (working on Idracowra Station in South Australia) found it amongst the sandhills. Unfortunately for this poor little mole, it was killed and sent to the Adelaide Museum.

Discovery

Hailed as an important discovery in Australian natural history, the mole was first reconstituted and stuffed and then investigated by Dr Stirling (a lecturer on physiology at Adelaide University). Notes were written for a presentation to the Royal Society of South Australia where Dr Stirling stated that it was “evidently an underground burrowing animal, something like a Cape mole (Chrysochloris), but differing in many respects.” He further concluded that the condition of the eyes indicated nocturnal habits while the teeth and remaining contents in the bowel indicated that it fed on insects.

The discovery of a new creature for scientists to study (and the desire to have a better specimen that hadn’t been beaten to death) set off a mole hunting frenzy within central Australia. Less than a year later three more moles (presumed dead) were sent to Adelaide for further study.

Throughout this time Western Australian newspapers barely reported on the discovery of the marsupial mole. Not to be completely excluded however, by September 1900 it was noted that the Perth Museum had been gifted their own specimen; a donation from Professor Baldwin Spencer M.A.

Fast forward seven years to March 1907 and it would appear that the species, Notoryctes Caurinus (karrkaratul) found mostly within Western Australia’s desert country had been captured by Mr P. Trotman.

Trotman

The Aboriginal man accompanying Mr Trotman wanted him to release the karrkaratul back into the wild but, he did not. The mole was instead killed, preserved in spirits and taken to the Perth Museum.

The first meeting of the Western Australian Natural History Society was held a month later at the Museum’s lecture room. The West Australian reported on the events of the meeting and dedicated a considerable portion of the article to the discovery of the karrkaratul. It was stated that “this proved to be the first specimen of the mole that had been collected in Western Australia.

Several more specimens were collected by Mr S. J. Pryor of Wollal [Wallal] in 1910 and 1911 which were both sent to the Perth Museum but, interestingly, the 1911 specimen was noted as being the second mole found within WA with no mention as to what happened to the 1910 specimen.

Pryor

Initially, the moles found within South Australia and Western Australia were thought to be the same species with the scientific name, Notoryctes Typhlops, applied to both. The two types of marsupial mole are considered to be almost identical (it’s nearly impossible to tell them apart in the field) and it wasn’t until 1921 that the karrkaratul (Notoryctes Caurinus) was listed as a separate species.

Species

Throughout the 1920s many more articles about the karrkaratul were printed in the newspapers in order to provide readers with information about the marsupial mole with respect to its appearance and habits.

Description

Tunnels

An interesting snippet from 1927 provided details with respect to the karrkaratul’s tracks (visible in the video at the top of this post) which were said to be like that of small bob-tailed goanna but without the clear footprints.

Track

The rarity at seeing the karrkaratul in the wild unfortunately did not quell the appetite for obtaining specimens. In 1940 Mr Aitken of Wallal sent one to the Perth Museum and, two years later, he sent another three. After this point however the articles continue to be informative and there appears to be no other mention of specimens being collected in Western Australia (of course that doesn’t mean that they weren’t).

Since these early newspaper articles, the fascination with the karrkaratul has not dimmed. The images and video taken by the Tjamu Tjamu Aboriginal Corporation have been shared on Facebook hundreds and thousands of times and there’s been lots of online news articles published (both Australian and International). A creature completely unknown to me, it certainly piqued my curiosity and led me to write this blog post. I guess it’s hard not to be fascinated by the rather adorable karrkaratul.  In a world where everything is nearly always known and visible, the karrkaratul has managed to remain invisible and to this day, still maintains a good deal of its mystery.

Marsupial Mole
The Karrkaratul

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