“Jumboism Is Akin to Jingoism”: Race, Nation and Empire in the Elephant Craze of 1882

2019-08-06T08:03:11Z (GMT) by Peter Yeandle
The Jumbomania of 1882 was the patriotic ‘sensation’ unleashed when London Zoo decided to sell its prized African elephant, Jumbo, to the controversial American showman P.T. Barnum. Yeandle’s chapter analyses Jumbomania to demonstrate how a seemingly trivial media sensation tapped into and articulated popular contemporary racial and imperial ideologies: as the largest elephant in captivity, Jumbo’s size marked him out as an imperial trophy; his ‘taming’ became emblematic of civilising mission; his choreographed refusal to travel demonstrated his patriotism. Jumbomania captured the public imagination, dominating various sites of mass entertainment, literary culture, and broadcast media. Moreover, Jumbo’s symbolic significance was instrumentalised in wider debates about Britain’s imperial health, economic and foreign policy, and moral commitment to combat slavery on the African continent.