Rossetti's Wapping Wombat

As someone who attempts  brand himself as a Renaissance Man (albeit I accept that realistically I should identify more with Danny DeVito and less with Leonardo da Vinci) I take interest in a wide range of subjects. A combination of  having a relative who is obsessed with the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood and spending multiple weeks a year on audit in Birmingham where there is a large collection of Pre-Raphaelite work has meant that I have an unintentional awareness and appreciation for their works.

So I was pleasantly surprised to discover that Wapping’s own Charles Jamrach (best known from the eponymous book Jamrach’s Menagerie, which I own but have never got round to reading) supplied Dante Gabriel Rossetti, one of the Brotherhood, with animals and those included a wombat*, which was named Top, after his similarity to William Morris (nicknamed Topsy after the character in Uncle Tom’s Cabin for his unruly hair). Top and Mrs Morris (with whom Rossetti had a long affair) appeared together in a sketch.

Rossetti described Top as ‘a Joy, a Triumph, a Delight, a Madness’. Unfortunately he died but two months later either as a result of mange or possibly from eating a box of cigars. However, such was his love for the wombat (and probably the price) he had Top stuffed.

So, Wapping may be a cultural desert but it was a gateway to fantastic animals!

Rossetti’s own
drawing of his mourning

Rossetti’s wombat
sat in his master’s lap.
William Bell Scott

Mrs Morris
and the wombat

*As a further admission, I must reveal that I am renowned from my triptych of Australian animal impressions: kangaroo, koala and wombat.


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