Victorian strangeness: The death of a curious monkey

  • 5 April 2014
  • From the section Magazine
American monkeys C.19th drawing

There are many reasons why animal experts might consider it unsuitable to keep a primate as a pet, but an episode from the 19th Century provides a particularly bizarre warning, writes Jeremy Clay.

Rockwell Syrock had a hobby. Jocko rather liked it too.

Together they toured the towns of Victorian North Carolina, whiling away the empty days before the invention of Twitter by joining the crowds of spectators at public executions.

Jocko was a monkey - a cheeky one by all accounts, who was quite a favourite with children for miles around their Goldsboro home. Like his owner, Jocko took a keen interest in the gruesome rituals of capital punishment.

On a summer's day in 1880, the flamboyantly-named Mr Syrock had been cheerfully looking forward to the hanging of a convicted murderer when the state governor thwarted his plans by postponing the execution.

If Mr Syrock was downhearted he made the best of the situation, grabbing the opportunity to take a closer look at the gibbet which was ready and waiting for its indisposed victim.

Jocko, of course, joined him, watching the workings of the scaffold and trap with especially studious eyes.

Back home, the primate scurried off to busy himself in his master's barn. The result of his private endeavours was nothing less than an evolutionary breakthrough. Alas, it was almost instantly annulled by what the Liverpool Echo called "one of the most novel suicides of the century".

Jocko was found dead, suspended by a clothes line to one of the rafters of the building, a victim of his own ghoulish experimentation.

So ended one of the most dismal episodes in 19th Century pet care.

Discover more about what life was like in Victorian times and 10 truly bizarre Victorian deaths.

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