Victorian Strangeness: The drunken monkey that smashed up a bar

"A Monkey's Diversion", Illustrated Police News Image copyright Illustrated Police News

The British Newspaper Archive is a treasure trove of outlandish tales from the Victorian press. Author Jeremy Clay tells the story of a monkey that went on a drunken rampage.

The place was a mess. Shards of broken glass were strewn across the counter and the floor. Bottles were broken. Mirrors were smashed. Chairs were scattered. Tables were upended.

If there was one small consolation for the newly-toothless owner of Reilly's Hotel, as he swept up the debris in the wrecked bar, it was this - the instigator of the brawl had been captured and led away. He was in a cell now. Or a cage. One of the two.

It all began, as these things so often do, with a drink. One drink, which led to another, then more besides. Each one, generously given by a genial customer. Each one eagerly slurped by the monkey chained to the bar.

But after four cocktails the Coney Island jackanapes started to mislay its manners. It demanded yet more booze. When its benefactor refused, it seized a whisky bottle and knocked him senseless to the floor.

The horrified bartender lunged forward and tried to seize the brute but, even with that chain, it was too agile. Grabbing another bottle, it landed a blow on him too.

"The monkey then stood at the back of the bar and pelted everyone with bottles and glasses, several persons being wounded," reported the Manchester Evening News in September 1899.

"The proprietor tried to quiet the beast, but received a bottle of Vermouth in the face, and had some of his front teeth knocked out. The monkey smashed all the mirrors and every bottle of liquor it could reach."

At last, the police arrived. After taking a startled moment or two to size up the scene, they hit on a solution and lassoed the creature. Calm returned to Reilly's. Whether the cantankerous monkey ever did is another matter altogether.

Jeremy Clay is the author of The Burglar Caught by a Skeleton, and Other Singular Tales from the Victorian Press.

Illustrated Police News image provided by the British Library Board.

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