Feeding this tigress cost British noble dearly in 18th century
A horse’s head and 24 pounds of beef every two or three days - that was the intake of an iconic Bengal tigress presented to the fourth Duke of Marlborough in Oxfordshire by Robert Clive, according to a set of rediscovered 18th century ledgers.
The cost of feeding the hungry beast presented by Clive, who was then governor of the Bengal presidency, in 1762 was about the same as that of feeding three servants in Blenheim Palace.
It was a time when exotic animals, including lions, tigers and elephants, were considered the ultimate status symbols for the wealthy British aristocracy.
The tigress was immortalised in three paintings by renowned animal painter George Stubbs, who visited the palace to paint her from life. One is on display in the palace, while another was sold for £7.9 million at an auction in 1995.
The tigress was looked after in a special menagerie built at Park Farm on the Oxfordshire estate, and one ledger, now in the British Library, reveals she got through around 24 pounds of beef every two or three days.
“The butcher’s bill for the tiger offers a fascinating glimpse back through history and literally fleshes out the true story of one of Stubbs’ most unusual and rarest paintings,” said Blenheim Palace archivist Alexa Frost.
One account of the bill is: “Meat for the tiger: 24 lbs of beef delivered every 2 or 3 days, at 3/- a time, with sometimes a head 4d. In three spring months, the tiger consumed £4 4s. 2d. worth of beef; in the previous January on the other hand, the six poorest families in Hensington...had been given 12 loaves of bread and 52 lbs of meat by their benevolent Duke, at a total cost to him of £1 3s. 4d.”
The tigress was kept at the palace for a short period of time and there are no clear records as to where she went afterwards, although there is a suggestion she may have become part of a travelling menagerie.
The duke was among several influential figures who received similar gifts from the ambitious and hugely wealthy Clive, who was the commander-in-chief of British India, but became one of the most controversial figures in colonial India.
Blenheim Palace, which has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site, was built in the early 18th century. It was the venue where Prime Minister Theresa May hosted a dinner for US President Donald Trump during his July visit.
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