The sad life and death of D’Jeck the elephant

The plate recording the tragic elephant Maidmoiselle D’Jeck.

The plate recording the tragic elephant Maidmoiselle D’Jeck. - Credit: Archant

Mike Hicks tells the sad story of an elephant

Now, I know it is not April 1 yet but something caught my eye that could well be taken as an April Fool.

It was a small child's plate, just a few inches in diameter with an intriguing picture on it – an elephant with two women riding in a seated area on top.

This plate was being offered for sale at an antiques fair, and it drew quite a bit of attention.

Why? Because it showed an elephant who was later put on trial – for murder.

Allegedly, the story goes like this: in 1829, an elephant with the name of D'Jeck appeared in the Circus Olympic in Paris.

She was then moved to a menagerie at the Adelphi Theatre in London, where she had her debut on December 3 1829. It was in the form of a small play with the elephant described as 'The Elephant of Siam'. It remained at the Adelphi to early April, before starting a tour of Great Britain.

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The elephant then travelled to America and had her first appearance at the Bowery Theatre in New York in January 1831. During her stay, she proved so popular that various would-be promoters took out law suits to see who should have the right to show the animal.

Whoever had done her training while in America had done a very good job, because she had countless encores when she was able to kneel on both front feet and balance herself with her trunk. This sort of thing had never been seen before and D'Jeck was understandably a sensation.

But having returned to England in the early 1830s, tragedy struck on a road journey from Edinburgh to Newcastle where she was booked to appear at the town's Theatre Royal. Accounts report that her keeper, Jean Baptiste, struck her with a harpoon-like stick. The elephant retaliated and crushed Baptiste to death. And here is where the story gets more bizarre. The elephant was charged with murder and put on trial but the judge decided not to carry out any further punishment - but to charge her a fine of 5s (25p)!

It had been reported that there had been several other incidents where she had reportedly harmed people in England and continental Europe. She was said to have killed another man in Bordeaux, injured a baker, broke her keeper's arm in two places and even, bizarrely, set a shed alight in Bavaria. Sadly, in 1837, the elephant was shot.

So, all this just shows that a small collectable item (and only priced at something like £75) might have a wealth of information behind it.

Our kind thanks to Towy Events at for courtesy of the image.

Mike Hicks runs Stalham Antique Gallery at 29 High Street, Stalham (NR12 9AH). You can contact Mike on 01692 580636 or