Edinburgh tenant kept an elephant upstairs in Old Town flat, archives reveal

A newly unearthed archive letter has told the story of how an early 18th century Dutchman kept an elephant in an upstairs flat in Fishmarket Close.

Thursday, 4th July 2019, 7:55 am
A letter has told the story of how a Dutchman kept an elephant in an Edinburgh flat (Photo: Shutterstock)
A letter has told the story of how a Dutchman kept an elephant in an Edinburgh flat (Photo: Shutterstock)

The letter, dated 23 November 1705, was written by a baker, Adam Kerr, who owned a nearby shop.

In it he complained about how his bakery and oven were being ruined and exposed to dung, with water also causing damage from the flat above as it cascaded down in what was described as "great quantities".

Petitioned the court

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In his letter, Mr Kerr petitioned the Guild Court to visit the owner of the elephant and the tenant of the flat, a Dutchman by the name of Mr Abraham Sever.

Mr Kerr asked the court to force Mr Sever to get rid of the elephant, who in turn asked Edinburgh Town Council permission to show off the elephant to the public.

A letter giving permission to Mr Sever to exhibit the elephant to the public said: “The Council upon ane petitione given by Abraham Sever Dutchman grants liberty to the petitioner to expose his elephant to all persones within the toun and suburbs.”

Elephant had toured Europe

According to the Edinburgh City Archives, who posted the letter on Facebook, the elephant had been toured around Europe in the 1680s and 1690s before being brought to Britain and eventually Edinburgh.

The female Indian elephant’s original owner, Bartel Verhagen, died in 1703. He then left the animal to his assistant, Jan Janszoon, who rented it to Mr Sever.

Edinburgh City Archives said it appears to have died in Broughty Ferry in 1706.