Nondescript by Charles Waterton
This was made by Charles Waterton (1782 – 1865). Waterton was a Victorian eco-warrior. He travelled to parts of Guyana in South America that no European had ever seen before. He studied an arrow poison called curare that was used by local tribes, and created the world’s first nature reserve in the grounds of his home at Walton Hall near Wakefield.
Waterton was an expert taxidermist and had his own special method of making stuffed animals that weren’t stuffed at all! He used a mercury-based chemical to harden the animal skins. This meant he could create his own imaginary creatures.
The Nondescript is one of his most famous creations, made as a practical joke and believed to be at the expense of a customs officer in Liverpool who had impounded the specimens Waterton brought home in 1821.
Whilst in Guyana in 1824, Waterton used his specialist taxidermy skills to turn the rear end of a howler monkey into a strange, primitive human being. He made up a story about how he had captured this wild man of the woods, and wanted to see how the scientific community (and customs) would react. Rumour has it that the face of the Nondescript resembled that of a Mr Lushington – the customs officer who had caused Waterton trouble in Liverpool.
The joke damaged Waterton’s reputation as a serious naturalist – not that he cared about such things. He was so impressed with his creation that he put an illustration of it on the inside cover of his book, Wanderings in South America, published in 1825.
The Nondescript, plus many other creations, and proper animals are on display in the Waterton Gallery at Wakefield Museum.