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Saturday, 24 April 2010


I had a lot of trouble learning about Talfourd Salter, a cousin of sorts. Thanks to a couple of mistakes in transcription by, I spent some years looking in vain for more information about a Talpurd Salter, and later a Salsound Salter. Only very recently did a very helpful correspondent put me right, and suddenly I find a great many references to him online.

He was a QC, and transcripts of several of his cases at the Old Bailey are available. He was a jobbing barrister, and his cases dealt with everything from petty theft and sheep-rustling to bigamy and murder.

The process of the law is a sober and serious business, but even QCs should be allowed to enjoy their work sometimes, as a report in the Times of 17th July 1879 shows.

This was a peculiar and amusing case, and would almost tend to show the advisability of extending the privilege of witnesses to the brute creation under the Attorney-General's new code ; for to-day, for probably the first time in the history of our legal procedure, an elephant appeared in court and gave forcible, if dumb, testimony.

The Nubian Encampment, Alexandra Palace, 1877

The plaintiffs had been visiting the Nubian Encampment, an exotic attraction of North African tents and animals at Alexandra Palace. Rather than pay to go in, they were standing on the wagon they came in, to look over the fence, when the pony pulling the vehicle was startled by an passing elephant. Never having seen such a creature the pony bolted, throwing a Miss Thurman from the cart. She was off work for several months with a fractured collarbone, and was now suing the circus owners, Bertram and Roberts, for her loss of earnings and medical expenses.

Talfourd, acting for the defence, disposed fairly quickly of the case, arguing that they had been warned not to park where they did, that they and their pony should expect strange sounds and sights at a circus, and that in any case the elephant in question was well beyond them when the pony took off. So something else must have been the cause of its alarm.

As a character witness for the elephant, Talfourd then called its keeper Mr George Kibble. When Mr Kibble did not immediately appear in court, Talfourd explained:

Mr. Salter said: I am told he is in charge of the elephant outside, in Palace Yard, my lord.
Baron Pollock [the judge]: Pray do not let him leave the elephant. (Laughter.)
Mr. Salter : I believe the baby elephant has excessively amiable manners, and that he will come into court and get into the witness-box.
Baron Pollock : If so, I think it very desirable that we should see him.
Kibble then entered the box and was sworn, and said he was bringing the baby out by the ear as usual, after the performance on the day in question. He was a "baby," – that was, under 10 years old. Elephants grew till they were 43.
Mr. Hall [Mr Salter’s assistant]: The average age, I believe, is from 100 to 150 years.
His Lordship: Do you know that of your personal experience, Mr. Hall?
Mr. Hall: Happily not, my lord. (Laughter.)

A baby elephant and its keeper:
the famous Blue Peter incident, BBC, 1969

At this point the scene in the courtroom began to resemble a Walt Disney family movie or a  children's TV program.

The baby elephant then walked into court himself, with bells on his head, following Kibble in the most perfect way. He threaded his way through the " mazes of the law" in the body of a crowded court in the most wonderful and clever fashion, like the most accomplished Q.C., and caused some consternation by making his exit at the other side, where no passage had been cleared in the crowd. While he stood, a mute witness for the defence, before the jury, Mr. E. Jones said, cross-examining, "I have no questions to ask," which caused a roar of laughter.
Mr. Salter: That is, I am thankful to say, the last witness in the case.

In the end Bertram and Roberts agreed to pay Miss Thurman’s medical bills provided no blame was attached to them for the accident. Miss Thurman accepted. As always, the judge had the final word.

His Lordship : That is very proper, as the elephant has come to offer his apologies in person. (Renewed laughter.)

Another baby elephant and its keeper
Dumbo, Walt Disney, 1941


  1. What fun! If we all added the interesting things to our family histories, people would actually read them!

  2. I know! All too often is the sad stories that survive, or the grandiose ones, the Big Events. Your comment reminds me that it is exactly the LITTLE tales that I wanted to tell in this blog.


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