Leeds nostalgia: The story of the Leeds Tiger

The Leeds Tiger at Leeds City Museum is one of our best-loved exhibits, but how did it get here and was it really once a rug?

By The Newsroom
Saturday, 31st December 2016, 10:25 am
Updated Monday, 9th January 2017, 11:40 am

Thanks to amazing research by Ebony Andrews, (in her PhD thesis ‘The Biographical Afterlife of the Leeds Tiger’), we have the answers to some of these questions.

The Leeds Tiger came from Dehradun in the Himalayas. It was shot in 1860 by an Anglo-Indian Army Officer, Colonel Charles Reid of the Sirmoor Battalion (2nd Gurkhas) and sent back to Britain as a prize specimen.

This tiger is rumoured to have threatened the local population and may have been shot as part of a cull. Former curator Henry Crowther wrote of it ‘having destroyed forty bullocks in six weeks and was considered so formidable that no native dare venture into the jungle where this noble beast reigned supreme’ in a 1906 guide book.

The tiger would have been skinned in the field and then more carefully cleaned, with the head mounted by a taxidermist. At this point, Colonel Reid sent the skin to London, where it was exhibited at the 1860 International Exhibition in South Kensington.

By 1862, the skin had arrived in Leeds, where it was presented to the Leeds Philosophical and Literary Society Building Committee. A local taxidermist, Henry Ward, was commissioned to shape the skin into a full body mount.

It seems that Ward had a difficult task, as he wouldn’t have known exactly what the original tiger looked like. Researcher Ebony Andrews believes that the skin might have been trimmed after it was tanned, leaving missing sections underneath the tiger’s chin, neck and up all four legs.

Henry Ward decided to present a ‘fearsome’ tiger, pinning the ears back, stretching the jaw wide and putting the claws out. We’ll never know for certain whether the Leeds Tiger really lived up to its dangerous reputation, but today it sends a shiver down the spines of visitors to Leeds City Museum.

Recently, during routine monitoring, the museum team discovered larvae of the Webbing Clothes Moth, an insect which feeds on natural fibres including fur and feathers, in some of their taxidermy cases.

As a precaution, a number of animals including the tiger were carefully removed and taken to the Discovery Centre, where they were placed in special deep freeze, which killed the moths and eggs so they could then be removed.

Rebecca Machin, Leeds Museums and Galleries’ Curator of Natural Sciences said: “These incredible specimens come from all over the world and are some of our most popular and historic exhibits, so we take plenty of precautions to prevent any pests from damaging them.

“Unfortunately, something will very occasionally slip through all our deterrents, so to be safe, we removed a variety of animals, including our famous Leeds Tiger, to the quarantine facility at Leeds Discovery Centre.”

The tiger is now proudly back on display in the museum’s spectacular Life on Earth gallery.